Best Basic Plant Terminologies Every Newbie Should Know!

Plant terminologies can be confusing, especially if you are a newbie. You read a care guide; here are all these strange words like biennials, perennial plants, and annuals. Or you see in your care guide bolting.

What in heaven’s name does it mean? Since I have been on Plantly, I have learned some new words I never knew existed. You then need to open another web page just to search for the word meaning.

So, to help you today, Plantly has compiled a list of some of the most used plant terminologies found in most plant care guides. Hopefully, it will make understanding things a bit easier.

List of Plant Terminologies

Gardening is a rewarding hobby but can become intimidating when you start. You must learn about the different outdoor plants, soils, temperatures, watering, propagation, seed, etc. So, the next time you come across these gardening terms, you will hopefully know what it means, and it will not become daunting.

To make things simpler, we have listed them from A-Z.



The word can mean turning, tilling, aerating soil, or compost piles. Hence, you introduce air to the soil to improve drainage. For example, adding volcanic rock into your garden bed with the soil mix increases aeration. Some other potting media to add are sand, perlite, pumice, or earthworms.


Most plants, from sprouting, flowering, and producing seed to fruit, complete their lifecycle in a year. When you have an annual plant, you need to replant them yearly. You find vegetables and some flowering plants growing as annual. These flowers can self-seed to grow back the next year.

Bareroot (Exposed Roots)


When you buy a plant in its inactive state with exposed roots wrapped in some burlap instead of a container with the soil, you hear the term bareroot. Many fruit trees in nurseries in late fall to early spring are bareroot.

Beneficial Insects Help Produce Fruit

a flower and a bee

An excellent example of a beneficial insect is the ladybug, wasps, bees, praying mantis to green lacewings. They play an essential role in your garden by acting as pollinators, or they eat other pests. Ladybugs can eat 25 aphids in one day and up to ten times more in the larva stage.

Biodegradable Material

It means that material will naturally decompose and break down under the proper conditions. This can happen with the aid of oxygen, bacteria, or fungi. Hence, biodegradable is organic matter. It would be best if you did not confuse it with compostable as not all material is biodegradable, like treated wood, weeds, pet waste, etc.


plant bolting

When a plant flowers, it develops a seed happening at the end of a season. Yet environmental stress from extreme heat or no sunlight can result in the plant bolting early. Hence, the quality of the fruit, texture, lifespan, and flavor decline.


When your plant lives for 2 years, biennials concentrate on creating a robust root system with lush growth in the 1st year of the plant’s lifecycle. It is done to produce flowering/fruiting and developing seed for the second year.



When your plant develops yellow leaves, it has insufficient chlorophyll, and chlorosis can result from different issues. It can result from damaged roots, disease, poor drainage, nutrient deficiencies, or high alkaline soil.

Companion Planting

companion plants

When you use companion planting, you grow a combination of plants together to provide benefits to one another. The benefits can be detering pests, attracting pollinators, providing shade, improving the fruit quality, and more.

Compost for Plant Growth

All that compost is made up off is decayed organic matter. It is deemed organic soil amendment. The compost adds multiple benefits to the plant’s health. It can be from collected leaves, garden waste, and kitchen scraps.

Compost Tea

compost tea

It is a natural fertilizer made by brewing finished compost or adding worm casting in water. Compost tea is a nutrient-rich mixture of garden waste or kitchen waste mixed with water to feed plants.

Cover Crops

cover crops

Cover crops are plants grown to protect the soil in between different seasons or edible crops. These crops provide nutrients to the soil to help fix nitrogen acting as a mulch to reduce runoff, compaction, and erosion. Examples are oats, clover, legumes, cereal grains, etc.

Cool Season Crops

Cool season crops refer to vegetables that prefer chilly soil with air temperatures between 40°F and 75°F to thrive. These are veg like beets, cabbage, turnips, etc. While some of these crops can grow in warm conditions, it will result in bolting compared to places with temperate winter.

Hence, these veg can grow from winter to spring.

Crop Rotation

crop rotation

All that crop rotation means it routinely rotates certain crops in a garden bed or a veg plot. It helps to enhance soil and reduces the need for fertilizers.


A cultivar can mean a specific variety of plants produced by humans and has a particular feature. These include the cultivar Madeley, Dazzling Blue, and more.

Days to Maturity

seed sowing

Days to maturity is the time it takes when you sow seeds developing into plants grown for harvesting.

Damping Off

The term means when a seedling suddenly wilts and dies. It can happen with overwatering, diseased soil, or a fungal disease.


Deadheading tools

Deadheading is a technique of removing spent or dying flowers once the bloom cycle passes. Frequent deadheading gives your plant a tidy look while reducing scatter and helps encourage new growth. Yet, if you want to gather seeds from plants growing annually, leave the flower on the plant to turn brown and dry before doing deadheading.


Deciduous tree

It is deciduous when a plant loses its leaves like fruit trees in autumn to winter and regrows in spring. The opposite is evergreen.

Direct Sow

Planting seeds in the soil outside is a direct sow compared to starting seedlings in a container to transplant outside.



Okay, garden soil and dirt are not the same. Dirt comes from living nutrients and organisms and a well-balanced arrangement in healthy soil.

Foliar Feeding

This is a process when you spray plants or trees and shrubs with liquid fertilizer using a sprayer to form a mist.

Frost Date

frost date

The term can be the intermediate first date in fall or the last date in spring that you receive frost. During this period, instructions recommend planting seeds outdoors at least two weeks before the last frost date in spring. Or you need to transplant your seedlings at least six weeks prior to the last frost in autumn.

Full Sun Exposure

sun flower in full sun exposure

Your plants need at least six hours of full sun a day.



The process is when seeds break out of dormancy to sprout the first growth emerging into a seedling.


Genetically Modified Organism means that a person genetically modified plants in the lab, such as the quality of being pesticide resistant. Prime examples are soy and corn, as they are roundup ready.



When you look at the moon cactus, it is grafted by joining one cactus species with another growing together.

Hand Pollination

It is a process of transmitting pollen from one blossom to another using a paintbrush or cotton swab.

Hardening Off

Hardening Off

Hardening off is preparing your plant indoors to plant outside. It involves exposing your seedlings to the outdoor environment little at a time.

Hardiness Zone

The US Department of Agriculture created the system to show sites in the USA grouped into zones, for example, 3a to 12, based on the climate. The zones identify where you can grow certain plants around the frost and cold temperatures present in those regions.


maple bonsai tree

A bonsai tree is an excellent example of an heirloom handed down in families older than 50 years.


Humus is another form of compost like leaves and food scraps that are completely decomposed and are dark yet nutrient-rich. The compost helps with moisture retention of the soil.


hybrid lily

When cross-pollination occurs between two species of plants, it is called a hybrid plant. It can happen naturally but is mainly done by humans intentionally. Hence, they want to combine the attributes of each plant. You will see hybrid seeds sold as F1 or F2, meaning Filial (first children), and these seeds are not GMO.

Neither will the hybrid seed breed true and not great to use for seed saving.


It is a plant that continues to grow in size. It bears fruit for longer than determinate plants with a shorter life cycle and a concentrated fruit period. The term is used in vining tomatoes that produce fruit for an entire growing season.

Integrated Pest Management

It means removing pests organically and in a sustainable manner that does not impact the environment or the plant’s health. Before using chemicals, the process first identifies the pest and assesses the severity using different preventative, cultural, and physical pest control methods.

Leggy Growth

leggy growth

Your plant grows very tall and looks stretched out, resulting in leggy growth. For seedlings, this is not ideal as they become weak and topple over. Yet, when you provide bright light, it prevents this from happening. A plant will start to stretch when it does not get enough light leaning toward it.

Nevertheless, you can partially bury the stems of your leggy seedlings once they hardened off.

Loam Soil

loam soil

Having loam soil is ideal for your plants and veg to grow. It is a well-balanced mix of silt, clay, and sand. Hence, it provides excellent moisture retention and drainage for excess water to run through. When soil contains too much clay or silt, you mix it with other soil components to give it a loamy-like consistency.


Elements like potassium, nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium are macronutrients. It helps your plant grow healthy. You add them to the soil using amendments or growing cover crops.


Copper, chlorine, zinc, manganese, and molybdenum are micronutrients essential for plant health and growth. You can add it to the soil using organic matter, rock dust, and compost.



It is material placed around trees or plants on the surface to cover up bare soil. Using mulch like bark reduces soil erosion, helps moisture retention, and prevents runoff. Hence, it protects the plant roots.


The term mycor refers to fungus, and rhizae is the root. It is a unique fungus that helps colonize the root system providing beneficial and symbiotic relationships. The mycorrhizal increases the surface area for the roots to receive nutrients and water.


When there is a lack of nitrogen in the soil, you use legumes or specialized bacteria like rhizobia to colonize the plant roots. Hence, you can use rhizobia to form nitrogen nodules at your fava bean plant’s roots.

No-Till Gardening

It is a gardening term to describe a style where the soil is left undisturbed and not turned over every season. When you till the soil, it leads to a loss of structure, increased runoff, erosion, and compaction. Furthermore, leaving the untitled soil preserves the living soil to improve fertility and plant productivity.


NPK fertilizer

When you look at fertilizer, the description on the bottle stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. These three macronutrients are essential to your plant’s health and growth. You see it displayed in different ratios like 4-4-4 or 8-2-1.

Open Pollinated

When you have an original plant and not a hybrid, the seed is a true breed identical to the parent plant. When the plant pollinates with the same variety, it is excellent seed-saving. But when you get open-pollinated seed, it is cross-pollinated with the same plant but a different variety like squash.

These seeds do not breed true.

Organic Gardening


With organic gardening, you grow veg in a natural yet safe manner. You avoid using chemicals and synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Instead, use manure, compost, do natural soil amendments, and introduce beneficial insects to the garden.

Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI)

OMRI is a non-profit organization that helps certify if specific agriculture inputs are safe for organic farming. If you see OMRI-certified on your product, it is acceptable to use in your organic garden. But we recommend using natural solutions where possible.

pH Level

The pH scale helps you determine the acidic and alkaline levels in the soil. The number 7 states a neutral pH, and the lower the number, the more acidic. When the number goes higher, more alkaline is present in the soil.

Perennial Plants

perennial flower

These plants can grow longer than two years in freezing temperatures. When cold, they die back and grow back in spring.


It is a principle that focuses on designing and maintaining agriculturally productive systems, including garden spaces. Hence, it mimics the natural ecosystem like water harvesting, composting, re-wilding areas, etc.



The garden term refers to insects that transfer pollen between flowers and is not only limited to bees or other insects. The term refers to anything that aids in transferring pollen, including humans and animals.


Polyculture is the practice of growing plants from different species in a container, garden space, or garden bed. Hence, a mix of companion plants attracts beneficial insects to create biodiversity in the garden.

Potting Up

All it means is transplanting your plants from a small container to a larger one.


Mass cane propagation

It is the process of taking a cutting or seeds from the mother plant to create a new plant.

Root Bound

When your tree, shrub, or plant grows in a small pot, it restricts root growth leading to stunted growth. When you replant a rootbound plant into a larger pot, it can help to recover it.



It is a stem growing underground horizontally from nodes compared to most plants that grow vertically. Excellent examples are ginger and turmeric. Mint also spreads through underground rhizomes called runners and becomes invasive.

Season Extender

The plant terminology can refer to shade cloth, a frost blanket, or hoops to help protect plants from elements outside.

Self-Seed or Self-Sow

Self-Seed or Self-Sow

When a plant naturally spreads from a seed dropped by the parent plant and allowed to seed, it refers to self-seed or self-sow.

Sheet Mulch

The process works with solid sheets of material using burlap, newspaper, and cardboard to mulch an area. It has similar benefits to traditional mulching but is long-lasting and effective in smothering weeds.

Slow Release Fertilizer

slow-release fertilizer

The fertilizer slowly degrades into the soil to provide nutrients to the plant over time. Hence, it does not give a substantial boost of nutrients at once. Slow release fertilizer you find in granular form or a dry meal form.

You apply it to the top dressing and water it. This feed seldom burns the plant roots compared to using a liquid fertilizer.

Soil Amendments Like Peat Moss

coco peat

The garden term refers to the material used in the soil to increase the nutrient content while retaining moisture in the soil structure. You can add dried plant growth or animal material like neem meal, bone meal, and more. Even peat moss, perlite, and rock dust can be added to amend the soil.


When you live in the northern hemisphere, it is best to plant your vegetation in a south-facing garden for the best sun exposure in all types of seasons. All it means is that your garden is on the south side to receive unobstructed sun as the opposite is a north-facing side.

Rooting Hormone

Using a rooting hormone helps to stimulate root growth when you take fresh cuttings in the propagation process. Furthermore, the rooting hormone protects the cutting from diseases. You can find it in gel and powder form.

You can use cinnamon powder or aloe vera if you prefer a natural way to help encourage root growth.

Terminal Bud

terminal bud

The terminal bud is where new growth appears, often in the middle or the top leader. Cutting the terminal bud can stop or slow down the upward growth to encourage branching done mostly on trees.


Thinning you do to separate plants to provide more space for growth. You do this by pulling apart extra seedlings that are growing crowded.



All the term describes is relocating your plants to a new location or container.

Top Dressing

When you add a top dressing, you fertilize or amend the topsoil instead of turning it over.



All it means is you use worms as compost using worm bins and routinely feed them garden waste or kitchen waste to the worms. The worms eat the garbage to produce compost or worm castings you can add to the garden.


When you see a plant displaying steaks or patches of different colors in white, yellow, or green, it is variegation cloned from another plant by humans. It seldom carries over to a new plant from the seed.



It is called vernalization when exposing seeds or bulbs for a long time to cold temperatures. The main goal is to satisfy the plant’s natural needs for chilling to break out of dormancy and sprout, flower, and bear fruit. Humans perform this technique artificially when storing seeds or the bulb in a freezer to imitate the chilling hours.

The time and temperature needed to vary from one species to another. It can range for several weeks and is done with nut and fruit trees.


While the volunteer gardening term is not used a lot, it is when a plant germinates to grow without your help. The new plant growth comes from a seed previously planted in the vicinity. Yet, you may find that birds and other animals can spread the seeds.

Worm Castings

worm castings

The term is the other word for vermicast or if you want to be direct worm poop. When the waste passes through the worm, it breaks down into bioavailable nutrients with healthy microbes for your plants. Worm castings are a great way to add a slow-release fertilizer to the garden as it does not burn plants.

Furthermore, it also increases soil moisture retention to improve drainage.


When you look at different types of plants like the cactus, you see they are drought tolerant and need little watering. Hence, growing this native plant together with other species that are drought tolerant is xeriscaping. It is a popular trend in western America as it can get hot and dry. You can add stones and rocks to hardscaping features with the plants in the landscaping.

Wrapping it Up

As you can see, there are many plant terminologies, and these are only a few basic ones with many more. We hope that the next time you read any of our plant care guides or other exciting information articles and see any of these terms, you will not need to open another web page to search for the meaning of the garden term as I have required a few times.

Whether you want to buy, sell or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

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