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qa-glossary

At Great Little Garden we totally understand your frustration if, when reading plant descriptions and gardening advice, you throw your hands up in the air and inwardly (or evenly outwardly) shout ‘what does that mean?' Yes, we know the world of horticulture has a language all of its own, with complicated botanical plant names as long as your arm and descriptive terminology that means very little, if nothing, to the average gardening enthusiast.

With that in mind we've written this section to make your reading of our plant descriptions a hopefully more enjoyable experience as opposed to a frustrating one.

We'll keep adding to it as we find more terms that need simplifying. And of course, let us know what you want to know and we'll let you know! 


Garden Glossary:

Half hardy Will survive light frosts but not guaranteed
Acid soil Soil which contains no lime and has a pH of less than 6.5
Acuminate Slender and pointed, usually a leaf
Alba White
Alkaline soil Soil which has a pH of more than 7 and is chalky
Alternate Leaves or buds which arise on one side of a stem then the other - alternating up the stem
Annual Germinates, shoots, produces flower and seed in one season - usually dies after producing seed
Anther Part of the flower that produces pollen
Armed Vicious - has strong thorns
Aurea Yellow
Auricle An ear shaped projection
Awl shaped A narrow leaf which tapers to a stiff point
Axil Where the leaf stalk joins the stem
Basal shoot A shoot arising from from the neck or crown at the base of the plant
Bearded Plant has long or stiff hairs - think of 'Bearded Iris'
Bell shaped Usually flowers - petals hang down forming a bell-shape
Berry A plant fruit that has several seeds
Bi-annual or biennial Shoots and produces top growth in its first season, flowers in second season
Bi-coloured A flower with two colours - think of flowers with pale petals and dark centre
Bisexual Plant that is both male and female - self-pollinating
Bleeding Loss of sap from plant stems or leaves
Bloom A fine powdery or waxy coating, plants looks like its has a fine coating; Also used instead of the word 'flower'
Boss The ring of stamens when it is prominent and decorative
Bract Can look like petals - a modified leaf at the base of a flower.
Breaking bud The stage of growth when a bud bursts through the protective bud scales
Broadcast sowing Scattering seeds evenly over the ground rather than in furrows or drills
Bud An unopened flower or a growth bud on a stem
Bud Blast Fungus that causes buds to turn brown and they do not develop into flowers or fruit
Bulbs Think of onions and daffodils - the bulb is layered with roots at the base and shoots from the tip
Calcareous soil Chalky or limey soil, alkaline pH - moderately fertile
Calcifuge A plant that will not grow in alkaline soil
Callus The scarring which forms over a pruning cut or at the base of a cutting
Calyx The whorl of sepals which protect the unopened flower bud
Cambium A thin layer of living cells between the bark and wood
Canker An area on a stem which is diseased and discoloured
Catkin A chain of tiny male and female flowers with no coloured petals
Chlorosis Yellowing leaves on a plant which can go white due to lack of chlorophyll
Clay soil Heavy, can be blue or red, sticky, holds water so puddles, can waterlog in winter, sticks to your boots, dries rock hard in summer - but, fertile
Climbers Plants that grow upwards using either tendrils, suckers or trellis for support
Cloddy Soil with large lumps, usually clay
Clubroot Root disease of brassicas (cabbages and caulis and other family members) , roots are swollen, stunted growth and discoloured foliage on plant -  See our Diseases Q&A sheet
Columnaris Column shaped
Compost Either decomposed vegetable waste or specific growing medium for growing seeds and plants
Compound A leaf type which is made up of several pairs of leaves either side of the stem
Contact weedkiller A weedkiller that kills by direct contact with the plant - often sprays
Cordata Heart shaped
Corm A solid structure from which leaves and flowers grow - think cyclamen or crocus ( corms are often referred to as bulbs for simplicity)
Corolla The whorl of petals within the calyx of the flower
Crock Pieces of broken pot in a layer at the base of a pot to improve drainage
Cross Young plants arising from cross pollination
Cruciform Usually flowers - four petals in a cross shape arrangement
Cultivar Short for 'cultivated variety', a plant that has been bred
Cultivate To grow, to improve the soil.
Cup shaped Usually flowers - petals face upwards in bowl shape (deeper than saucer shaped) - think Anemone
Cupreous Copper coloured, metallic reddish brown
Cutting A piece of stem cut from a plant and used to grow a new plant from
Damping off Fungal disease, usually seedlings, that causes decay and blackening at base of stem and seedlings collapse
Deadheading Removal of spent/dead flowers
Deciduous Plant which loses its leaves, usually in the autumn
Dieback Death of shoots of trees and shrubs, usually at the end of the shoot -  See our Diseases Q&A Sheet
Dentata Toothed - used when describing leaves
Dioecious A plant which has only male OR female flowers
Dormant A period of time when the plant has naturally stopped growing due to low temperatures and
light levels, usually plants are dormant during the winter
Double A flower with more than a single whorl of flowers
Downy Covered with soft hairs - look at Stachys byzantina or 'Lambs Ears'
Drift A group of the same plants planted for maximum effect
Drill  A narrow, straight furrow in the soil in which seeds are sown or seedlings planted
Entire A plain, smooth leaf
Erecta Upright
Evergreen Describes plants that retain most of their leaves throughout the year
Eye A dormant growth bud or the centre of a single/semi double flower which is a totally different colour
Family A group of related plants
Fastigiata With an upright habit
Feathered A petal with very fine markings, look like brush strokes, on a different background colour
Fertilisation Pollen is brushed onto the flower stigma to induce seed production
Fibrous rooted A root system of lots of fine roots rather than one thick, tap root
Filament The lower part of the stamen in a flower
Fireblight Bacterial disease that attacks trees in the Rosaceae family -  See our Diseases Q&A Sheet
Floret A dense flower head is made up of many 'florets' - think of Viburnum or cauliflower
Floribunda Profuse flowers
Flower The reproductive part of a plant
Foliage Leaves
Foliar feed A fertiliser which can be sprayed onto and absorbed through the leaves of the plant
Footstalk The pedical or stalk of the flower
Forcing Making a plant flower before it normally does - done by putting plants into a warmer environment such as polytunnel or greenhouse or excluding light to 'force' the stems of rhubarb to elongate
Forking in To add compost to the soil to improve it with a fork
Formative pruning Pruning done when a plant is first planted and for next couple of seasons, it helps the plant to develop a balanced structure -  See our Pruning Advice Sheet
Free draining Soil that water drains through easily - often dry
Friable Crumbly soil
Frost hardy A plant that will survive frost down to -5; most shrubs, herbaceous perennials, trees, climbers and bulbs
Frost pocket An area where cold air is trapped during the winter, often at base of a fence or wall; tender plants
are at greater risk here as it's often several degrees colder
Frost tender Plants will not survive cold below 5 deg.c
Fully hardy Plants will survive cold down to -15deg.c
Fungicide A chemical which will control plant diseases caused by fungi
Fungus An ancient form of plant life which causes infectious diseases such as mildew and rust
Funnel shape Usually flowers - petals arranged in a funnel shape
Garlic Two main types of garlic, softneck and hardneck; softneck - stores well
Germination When the root and shoot emerge from the seed
Genus A group of closely related plants with more than one species
Glaucous Covered with a 'bloom'
Grafting A stem or bud of one plant is joined to the stem of another, usually with wax or tape
Ground cover A mat-forming ornamental plant that grows across the ground, used for weed suppressing and permanent ground cover
Hard pruning Removing most of the old growth off a shrub or tree
Hardening off The plant has been grown in a greenhouse under protection, so it is moved in and outdoors to gradually acclimatise it to the outdoor temperatures
Hardy Top growth dies down, roots remain dormant underground during the winter
Head The framework of stems at the top of the single stem of a standard
Heeling-in Temporary planting of a new tree or shrub whilst waiting for the right weather conditions to plant it in its permanent home
Herbaceous perennial Dies down in the autumn and reshoots in the spring
Hirsute Hairy
Honeydew A sticky, sugary secretion deposited on leaves by insects such as white, green and blackfly
Honeyfungus Fungus that grows in the soil; may see mushrooms in autumn; stunts plants growth and causes the death of the plant -  See our Diseases Q&A Sheet
Horizontalis Horizontal
Humus Partly decomposed organic matter in the soil
Imbricate Closely overlapping
Inflorescence The flower head
Inorganic A chemical or fertiliser which is not obtained from from a live source
Insecticide A chemical used to control insect pests
Internode The part of the stem between one node and the next
Involucre A whorl of bracts surrounding a cluster of flowers
Juvenile foliage Young leaves which are different in shape and size to adult leaves on the same plant
Jasminoides Like jasmine
Key A winged seed, think sycamore seeds
Lanceolate Spear shaped
Lanky Long, thin, spindly growth of whole plant or one stem
Lateral branch/shoot A side branch or shoot which arises from the main stem
Leaching When nutrients 'leach' out of the soil, usually by rainwater or watering, can happen with sandy, free draining soils
Leader The strongest, central shoot on a plant
Leaf mould Pea-like material made from partly rotted leaves
Leaflet One of the parts of a compound leaf
Leguminosae The pea family; many of them have butterfly like flowers eg. Sweet pea
Linear Very narrow with parallel sides
Macrophylla With large leaves
Magnesium deficiency Nutrient deficiency -  See our Disease Q&A Sheet
Microphyllus With small leaves
Moisture retentive Soil that retains water - often clay based
Mollis Soft
Monocarpic A plant which dies after flowering and seeding
Monoecious A plant which has both male and female flowers
Mulch A layer of bulky organic material like good old compost, or tree bark chips laid on the soil surface to keep moisture in
Mutation A change in the genetics of a plant which produces a new feature
Nana Small
Native A species which grows wild in this country and was not introduced from elsewhere
Nectar A sweet substance produced by flowers which attract and are a food source for insects
Necrosis Death of plant tissue, caused by fungal infection
Neutral Neither acid nor alkaline, pH 7
New wood Stem growth which has grown during the current season
Nigra Black
Nipponicum Japanese
Nodding Flower hangs downwards; may also be described as Pendulous
Oblong Longer than its is wide, usually refers to leaf shape
Obovate Egg shaped with widest end at the top, usually refers to leaf shape
Odorata Scented
Offset Young plant which grows naturally on the parent plant; can be easily removed and potted up
Old wood Stem growth which has grown before this season
Opposite Leaves or buds which are in pairs along the stem
Organic A chemical or fertiliser which is from a source which has been alive - think horse manure!
Oval Egg shaped with widest part in the middle, usually refers to leaf shape
Ovatus Oval shaped
Ovule The part of the female flower which turns into seed after fertilisation
Palmate Palm like (usually 5 projections as a hand with one thumb and four fingers)
Palmatum Palm like
Peaty soil Acid, pH below 7, moist, does not drain very well, low fertility
Pendula Pendulous – hanging/growing down
Pendulous Hanging or growing downwards
Perennial  Any plant living for at least three years (annual = 1 year, biennial = 2 years)
Perfoliata With the leaf surrounding the stem
Pergola A garden structure over which climbing plants can be grown, usually wooden or metal
Petal The showy, coloured part, several of them make up the flower
Petiolaris With a ‘long’ leaf stalk – petiole
pH The measure of acidity or alkalinity in the soil; below 7 is acid, above 7 is alkaline
Pinching out The removal of the plant's growing tip with finger and thumb (pinch) to encourage bushy growth
Pinnate Type of compound leaf that has a central stem with small leaves arranged on either side of it
Pith The spongy layer at the centre of a stem
Plunge When a potted plant is 'plunged' in a bed of sand, compost or soil in its pot, up to the rim
Pollard A pruning technique where all branches are cut back to the trunk and they reshoot
Pollen Yellow dust produced by the anthers
Pollination When pollen falls/sticks onto the stigma of the flower so fruits develop
Pompom or Pom-Pom or even Pom-pon Many layers of inward curving petals
Potassium deficiency Plant is short of potassium -  See our Disease Q&A Sheet
Pricking out Seedlings or rooted cuttings are planted out into another container or nursery bed
Propagation The growing of plants sometimes in great numbers
Prostrate Growing flat on the soil surface - see Rosmarinus prostrata
Pubescens Downy, with soft hair
Pubescent Covered with soft, downy hairs
Purpurea Purple
Pyramidalis Pyramid shaped
Reniform Kidney shaped
Renovation Renewal pruning - hard pruning done on old, overgrown shrubs to tidy it up, encourage new healthy stems, reduce in size if it's got too big for its space - See our Pruning Advice Sheet
Reticulate Marked with a branching network of veins or fibres
Reversion When a plant 'reverts' it changes back to the colour or growth habit of the parent
Rhizome A large chunky root that grows only partially submerged in soil
Rootball The roots and accompanying soil when a plant is removed from a container or lifted from the ground
Rosea Pink
Rosette Lots of layers of ruffled petals
Rubra Red
Rugose Rough and wrinkled
Runner A stem which grows along the soil surface, rooting as it goes, sometimes has a young plant at the end eg. Strawberry plants
Sagitifolia Arrow shaped leaves
Sagittate Arrow shaped, usually refers to leaf shape
Sandy soil Very light, gritty and free draining, often low fertility as water drains through very quickly taking nutrients with it so sandy soil needs bulking up -  See our Soil Advice Sheet
Sanguineus Blood red
Saucer shaped Petals face upwards in soft bowl shape - think buttercup
Scape A leafless flowering stem
Scree A bed of gravel, peat or soil for growing alpines
Seedling  The reproductive part of a flowering plant
Seedling  A young plant that has developed from a seed
Sepal One of the parts of the calyx
Serrate Saw - edged
Sessile Stalkless
Shrub A multi-stemmed woody, often flowering plant
Silty soil Fine, very prone to compaction, moderately fertile
Single Usually refers to a flower which has a single layer of petals
Smuts Fungal disease that causes pale swellings on leaf. Affected leaves may wither and die
Spadix A fleshy spike of tiny flowers
Spathulatae Spoon shaped
Species Plants which are genetically similar but breed true to type from seed
Spit The depth of the spade blade about 25cm; also something footballers do too often
Sport A plant which is completely different to its parent
Spur A tube like growth on a flower
Standard Either the large upper petal of sweet pea or iris OR a plant with one single stem and head of leaves and flowers
Stellata Star-like in shape or form.
Stigma The part of the female flower which catches the pollen
Stipule A small outgrowth at the base of a leafstalk
Stolon A runner like stem which forms roots and produces a new shoot at the tip
Stool The crown of a border perennial, top of the root ball
Strike When cuttings 'strike' they have formed roots
Style The part of the female flower that connects the stigma to the ovary
Subsoil Soil below the fertile top layer
Succulent A plant with fleshy leaves and stems which are mostly water making them able to withstand very
dry conditions
Synonym An alternative plant name
Systemic A pesticide which is absorbed into the plant and travels in the sap system
Tender Will not survive any frosts, needs winter protection in a greenhouse or dry shed
Tendril A small stem which winds itself around a support on Clematis and vines
Terminal At the tip of the stem
Throat Tube formed by the corolla of some flowers
Tilth A fine crumbly surface layer of soil produced by cultivation
Tomentose Densely covered with fine hairs
Transpiration When a plant loses water from the surface of its leaves and stems
Transplanting Moving a plant from one site to another
Tree Has a single trunk and crown
Trifoliata Groups of three or divided into three
Trumpet shape Usually flowers - petals form a tube which flares out - like a trumpet!
Truss A flower head or a vine of tomatoes
Tuber A solid root structure which is also a food source for the plant
Tubular Usually flowers - petals in a long tubular shape
Tunic A thin, papery covering of corms and some bulbs - think garlic
Umbel Umbellifer– multi stemmed umbrella like flower structure
Variegated Foliage or flowers of more than one colour eg. green and white or green, pink and white
Variety A naturally occurring variation of a species - see cultivar
Vegetative reproduction New plants grown from division of root clump, cuttings, layering
Virus An organism which can't be seen with the naked eye and causes malformation and discolouration in plants
Whorl - flower A circular arrangement of flowers on a stem
Whorled - leaves Leaves in groups of 3 or more around the stem
Weed A plant growing in the wrong place