Gardener's Glossary

This glossary will have you talking like a green thumb in no time at all.

Gardeners speak a language all their own. If you've ever huffily returned a bare-root plant to a garden center because you swore it was dead, this glossary's for you. We're happy to help you master basic gardening terms with confidence. Just promise us you won't think "lettuce and pickle, please" the next time the nursery salesperson tells you to side-dress your purchase.


  • Balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs are field-grown nursery plants dug out of the ground with a ball of soil around the roots; the soil has been wrapped with burlap.
  • Bare-root plants are dormant, deciduous, woody plants that are shipped without soil in late winter. The most common examples are roses and fruit trees.
  • Bolting is what cabbages and lettuces do when the weather gets hot. Instead of staying in a tight rosette, they grow tall and begin to flower; the quality of the vegetable declines.
  • Broadcasting means spreading fertilizer or seeds over a large area, such as a lawn. To ensure even distribution, always use a spreade.
  • Cole crops are simply the members of the cabbage family-broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. It's easy to remember because they grow in spring and fall when the weather is cole.
  • Damping off is a fungal problem that causes young seedlings to collapse at the soil level and die. It's caused by contaminated soil, overcrowding, or excessive moisture.
  • Deadheading sounds like the sport of rock 'n' roll fans, but when gardeners do it, they cut off a plant's spent flowers.
  • Deciduous plants drop their leaves in fall and winter.
  • Hardening off is as close to weaning as you can get with plants. Those that are grown rapidly in a greenhouse may fail if planted outdoors. They need to harden off. Move them outdoors for a few hours each day so they can become accustomed to the temperature and humidity of life outside of the greenhouse.
  • Heading back is not the same as returning home. Gardeners know this means pruning by removing the end of a limb.
  • Heeling in a plant means that you take a potted, bare-root, or balled-and-burlapped plant and cover the roots with soil and mulch. This is a temporary measure to protect the roots from cold and drought.
  • IPM or Integrated Pest Management is the science and practice of monitoring and managing pests and their predators at acceptable levels of damage.
  • Leaf mold is simply composted leaves.
  • Side-dressing and top dressing refer to two ways of fertilizing-along the side or on top of the roots. Topdressing usually involves composted material or mulch.
  • Soil mix and potting soil are both possibilities for filling pots, but they have essential differences. A soil mix is garden soil mixed with sand, compost, or other amendments. Potting soil, a mixture of organic and inorganic ingredients, doesn't contain any actual soil in the mixture. It is light, well drained, and sterile.
  • Sphagnum peat moss is decomposed sphagnum moss, but it is not so fully decomposed that you cannot see the shredded fiber of moss. Peat is very dark with fine particles. Sphagnum is usually more expensive but preferred for amending both garden soil and potting soil.