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Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Recap Part 2

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To complete my recap of the gardening vocabulary that we have covered this year, here are July through November’s gardening terms. See here for January through June’s recap part 1.

To read through each of the individual articles in more detail, here you can access the entire series:
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 1 (January)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 2 (February)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 3 (March)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 4 (April)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 5 (May)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 6 (June)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 7 (July)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 8 (August)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 9 (September)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 10 (October)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Part 11 (November)
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Recap Part 1
Understanding Garden Vocabulary – Recap Part 2


Complete fertiliser – There are three main nutrients, besides water, which most plants need to grow, in varying amounts.  These are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. A complete fertiliser is a fertiliser that contains at least some of each of these three main nutrients. Of course different complete fertilisers will have different levels of each of these nutrients, depending on the plant type the fertiliser has been designed to be used on.

NPK – When looking at buying fertiliser you may see listed on the label somewhere a number that looks something like this;

NPK 5:6:4

This NPK figure basically explains the amount of the three main nutrients, described above under complete fertiliser, that can be found in that fertiliser. The first number refers to nitrogen (chemical symbol N), the second number refers to phosphorus (chemical symbol P) and the third number stands for potassium (chemical symbol K). So 5:6:4 would mean that fertiliser contains 5 parts nitrogen, 6 parts phosphorus and 4 parts potassium.

Deadheading – This is the process of removing dead or near-dead flowers from a plant. There are a few reasons why a gardener will deadhead a plant. One is for aesthetic reasons. Simply put, while flowers are very, very beautiful, when they are dead or dying they stop looking very good, to removing the deadheaded flowers makes the plant look better. Another reason why a gardener would deadhead a plant is to prevent it from forming seeds, which actually encourages new flowers to form. Growing up I would regularly see my Grandma spend 10 to 15 minutes each day quietly deadheading her roses to help foster more flowers to bloom.

Thinning – There are two main times the term ‘thinning’ could be used in gardening.

1)      When many seeds have been planted and have germinated, some are removed to help the other seedlings grow better, ‘thinning’ the amount of seedlings vying for the nutrients that are in the soil.

2)      When a plant is growing, sometimes some new stems or branches are removed. This is for similar reasons to the use of thinning with seedlings. It takes a great deal of energy to grow many stems or branches, if there are less stems or branches, the energy the plant exerts can be focussed on growing the remaining stems and branches.

In both cases, the aim of thinning is to encourage growth. It is similar to the process of pruning, in that sometimes for a plant to grow in a healthy manner, it needs to have less of itself to focus its energy on.


Insecticide – An insecticide is a substance used to kill insect pests that cause problems on plants. Insecticides can be found in many forms. They are mostly liquids or powders but can also be smoke or a vapour. Insecticides need to be used with caution because not all insects have negative effects on plants, and in fact many plants needs insects for healthy growth and reproduction. However many insecticides do not only kill damaging insects but also kill helpful insects.

Inorganic – A term applied to substances not containing carbon molecules, therefore meaning they were not formed by a living organism. In gardening terms, an inorganic substance is usually a naturally occurring mineral that helps plants grow or are manufactured chemicals made to help plants grow.

Organic – Organic refers to substances that are generally created by living organisms and usually contain carbon molecules. They are often used to add nutrients to the soil to help a plant grow. Animal manure and compost formed by rotting plants are prime examples of organic substances which may be added to a garden to make it healthier. Organic substances are not manufactured but are natural bi-products or living, naturally occurring processes.

Drainage – So you have bought a new plant and on its tag it says something about ‘drainage’. Does this mean the plant needs to be planted near a drain? Away from a drain? Simply, no. Drainage basically refers to how fast water will drain away around plants. It refers to how quickly water will soak into the soil when a plant is watered. Most plants require good drainage because too much water hanging around can cause roots to rot. Though plants needs good access to water, they mostly don’t want to be swimming in it. Good drainage means the soil will take in plenty of water but the surrounding plants won’t be unhappy with the amount of water hanging around the roots.


Loam – This is what every gardener is going for when they are working towards improving the soil in their gardens. Loam is the name given to good, fertile soil. Loam is not wet and sticky, nor dry and sandy. When you pick up fertile soil it should hold together but, unless it has just been watered, not leave your hand overly wet. Loam is made up of clay, humus (see below), sand and silt and also is rich with trace elements or minerals that most plants require to grow well.

Peat – Peat is an organic matter which does not contain large amounts of minerals of trace elements, that is added to soil to help improve it. When peat breaks down, it forms humus (see below) and this helps improve the soil. In particular it is good to add peat to dry, sandy soils, to help make the soil less dry and sandy.

Humus – Humus is formed when organic matter breaks down. It is a dark brown residue, particularly formed when vegetable matter breaks down. The term can also be applied to compost formed when leaf litter or grass clippings are partially decayed, which forms a brown, crumbly ‘humus’.

pH – This is a scientific term used in the gardening world to help us understand when soil is healthy. By understanding the pH level of soil we can work out what it is lacking to be considered ‘fertile’. Fertile soil, Loam, has a pH around 6-7. pH itself is a scale that informs us what the level of acidity in any given soil is. pH stands for ‘potential of Hydrogen’. Soils with a low pH are highly acidic and soils with a high pH are highly alkaline, the opposite of acidic.


Family, Genus & Species – For this months definitions I am actually going to tackle these 3 words together. Every single plant belongs to a species, which belongs to a genus, which belongs to a family. There are actually more levels to this classification tree but no more than these 3 is really needed to be known. Let’s take one variety of Kangaroo Paw, the Haemodoraceae Anigozanthos manglesii, as an example. It all looks like double Dutch at first, but let me explain!

Family – Haemodoraceae

Genus – Anigozanthos

Species – manglesii

When you go to a nursery and you look at a plant, it will usually only have the genus and species name as this is all you really need to be able to tell a plant apart. Every species has a different species name. So as an example, someone might tell you ‘you should buy a Kangaroo Paw’. Great you say. So you go to a nursery and ask for one. They then ask you ‘what type are you looking for?’. Basically what they are asking for is what species. The name ‘Kangaroo Paw’ in this example is basically the equivalent of the genus name. There are many types of Kangaroo Paw and each has a different species name. However all but one Kangaroo Paw has the genus name Anigozanthos and the family name Haemodoraceae. As is often the case in English, there are occasionally exceptions to the norm!

3 quick points about botanical names.

The family name of a plant always ends with eae.

The genus name of a plant always starts with a capital letter.

The species name of a plant always starts with a non-capital letter.

Why use botanical names and not common names?

Simply put, what you may know as a ‘common’ name for a plant may not be what other people know as the ‘common’ name. Or what you call one plant in Australia may be what someone in America calls an entirely different plant. Botanical names help clear up this problem, while also helping us to understand how various plants are related. This is important when it comes to cross-breeding. Plants that cross-breed best are ones that belong to the same genus, or in other words are just different species of the same plant.


Propagation – If you start with one plant and you somehow get more plants, you have propagated the new plants. There are 2 types of propagation;

1)      Seminal: This is propagation by planting seeds. One plant produces seeds. You plant these seeds. They germinate and grow into new plants. This is an example of seminal propagation.

2)      Vegetative: This is propagation by cutting or grafting. Sometimes you can cut a piece off of a plant, place it in the soil and it will form roots and grow. In this case you have taken one plant, removed part of it and turned it into two plants. Another example is taking a piece from two different species (but usually from the same genus) and grafting them together, forming a hybrid. This results in a third plant being propagated.

Transplanting – This term simply means moving a plant from one location to a new location. A lot of care must be taken when transplanting. Some plants transplant better than others and almost always more so when they are young seedlings as opposed to older, more mature plants. It is best to make sure you have positioned your plants where you plan them to be forever when you first plant them because there is no guarantee they will survive a transplant.

Hardy – This term is used to describe plants that can survive harsh local conditions. In colder climates, hardy plants are plants that can best survive the cold winter weather, or frosts. In warmer climates, hardy plants are usually plants that can survive hot temperatures and possibly lack of regular rainfall. The term may also sometimes be used to describe plants that are easy to grow, or hard for even the average gardener to kill!

Acclimatisation – Acclimatisation can refer to a couple of situations. The first is the fact that plants can take some time to get used to their new environment after being planted, either as seedlings or more mature plants. It can be said it takes a while for them to ‘acclimatise’. With this in mind, and as I mentioned before, it is best to make sure you place your plants in their permanent position when they are first planted because it is during the acclimatisation period they are most vulnerable to pests and diseases, and also changing local conditions such as lack of water. Another example of acclimatisation is when you move indoor plants, outdoors. It can take a plant that has grown up indoors quite some time to get used to living in a new, outdoor environment.


That is it! 42 words all up. I hope to see you again next year as we continue to build up a glossary of gardening terms!

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