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Gardening Terms: Common and Not So Common

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

Just as every field, hobby, or industry has its own jargon, so does gardening. We lift plants, we divide them, and we fan some of them. They bolt, re-seed themselves, and they volunteer. Plants can be dead, they can be deadheaded, and they can have deadwood. We over-seed. They re-seed. They are annuals, perennials, and biennials. Some are annuals in one part of the world, and perennials in other parts of the world. Biennials are biennials everywhere.

Some Gardening Terms You May Have Heard

Be sure to read the text below. There will be a quiz, actually several quizzes.

  1. lift
  2. heeled in
  3. hardy, hardiness
  4. zone
  5. divide
  6. pass-along plants
  7. fan, fanning
  8. bolt
  9. deadheading
  10. deadwood
  11. honeydew
  12. frass
  13. self-seeding, re-seeding
  14. volunteers
  15. die back
  16. return from the roots
  17. IPM
  18. scouting
  19. inflorescence

Lift

When a plant has gotten too deep, usually from soil being washed onto and around it over time, it needs to be lifted. This is especially true of bearded irises and caladiums.

Bearded iris rhizomes should look like little potatoes lying on the ground. If the rhizomes are too deep, they will eventually rot. Caladiums, leaves on the other hand, will simply get smaller and smaller if they are too deep. Eventually they, too, will rot in the ground.

This is one in a bed or irises that had soil washed over them by heavy rains. The white material of rot can be seen on the part on the right. The main rhizome (on the left) is almost buried, too. I quickly moved all the plants to an area with better

This is one in a bed or irises that had soil washed over them by heavy rains. The white material of rot can be seen on the part on the right. The main rhizome (on the left) is almost buried, too. I quickly moved all the plants to an area with better

Heeled In

If a friend divides her/his plants, and shares them with you, may not have time to plant them right away. You can heel them in until you have time to plant them properly. This means to cover the roots temporarily, with soil in a flower bed, even if it is not the place you intend to be their new home. The photo below shows a bearded iris divisions that can be heeled in.

The photo below shows a bearded iris division that can be heeled in. Just lay it on the ground, and place some soil over the long slender roots until you have time to move it to its forever home. Be sure not to cover the rhizome.

This iris was ready to be heeled in, but my planting bed was not ready for the irises given to me by a neighbor, so I just heeled it in until the bed was ready. I did the same thing with the day lilies she gave me. I laid them on their sides, then co

This iris was ready to be heeled in, but my planting bed was not ready for the irises given to me by a neighbor, so I just heeled it in until the bed was ready. I did the same thing with the day lilies she gave me. I laid them on their sides, then co

Hardy, Hardiness

Often people think a plant’s hardiness is its strength or toughness. In a way, maybe that is true, but the actual meaning of “hardy” when it comes to plants is its resistance to cold temperatures.

Take a look at the tags on plants in garden centers. They will usually say a plant is hardy to 50°F or to 20°F. So you will know that, if your winter temps are going to reach these levels, the plant must be protected.

This is part of the tag from an Encore azalea I bought last fall. This is what to look for on the tags if you are not sure a plant is hardy in your zone.

This is part of the tag from an Encore azalea I bought last fall. This is what to look for on the tags if you are not sure a plant is hardy in your zone.

Zone

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has mapped the country showing the ranges of winter temperatures. Those ranges are divided into numbered zones ranging from 1 through 13. Each zone is further divided into two sections: “a” and “b”.

These zones will probably be changing again soon because of the more rapid increase in climate change. I live in Zone 8b (15°-20°F). Just a few miles north of us is Zone 8a, where it can get a bit colder, and plants are hardy to (10°-15°F). Below is the USDA Zone Map and a link to their site.

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USDA Zone Map

This map and others like it are a great help if you are not sure of your zone.

This map and others like it are a great help if you are not sure of your zone.

Divide

When a plant becomes too large or too crowded, it is time to divide it. There are several ways to do this, depending on the type of plant and its root system. Some can be laid on their sides and sliced in half, then in half again with a butcher knife. Others, such as bearded iris, need to have their rhizomes cut or broken off at joints. Below is a photo of some iris rhizomes that need to be divided. I have drawn yellow lines at the point where cuts should be made.

I have some articles about growing bearded iris on Dengarden. Here’s the link to one of them: https://dengarden.com/gardening/How-to-Plant-Bearded-Iris

Dividing irises

The red lines show where to make the cuts for dividing overgrown or crowded irises. The two on the right should break apart after being cut from the mother plant.

The red lines show where to make the cuts for dividing overgrown or crowded irises. The two on the right should break apart after being cut from the mother plant.

Pass-Along Plants

Plants that have been shared with friends, relatives, and neighbors over the years, are said to be passed along. These are typically plants that are easy to divide and share. Thus, they have become "pass-along plants". They are some of the best kind — free.

I recently shared some amaryllis with a neighbor, and another neighbor shared some irises and day lilies with me. In November, I plan to pass some Siberian irises and amaryllis, plus some day lilies that came from my dad with my daughter. Soon she will have her grandfather's day lilies in her yard. Don't you love pass-along plants?

Dad's Day Lilies

My dad gave me some of these from his yard several years ago. Every time we relocated, I took some with me. Now I will pass some along to may daughter.

My dad gave me some of these from his yard several years ago. Every time we relocated, I took some with me. Now I will pass some along to may daughter.

Fan or Fanning

Irises again: fanning is the act of cutting back the sword-like leaves of bearded irises in late summer or autumn. The cut leaves actually look like a fan. Doing this is especially helpful when dividing or transplanting them, as the leaves get so tall they make the plants top-heavy. Cutting back the leaves removes some of the weight and prevents the plants from falling over while the shallow roots are still becoming established in their new home. Below is a photo of an iris that needs to be fanned.

The yellow line shows where to cut for fanning your irises. This can be done with household scissors, but be sure to sterilize them first by spritzing them with 70% isopropyl alcohol (simple rubbing alcohol).

The yellow line shows where to cut for fanning your irises. This can be done with household scissors, but be sure to sterilize them first by spritzing them with 70% isopropyl alcohol (simple rubbing alcohol).

Bolt

When a plant begins going to seed, it is said to have bolted. With lettuces and herbs that have bolted, they have actually begun to flower, and the flavors will be affected. With both veggies and flowers, you will soon have seeds for next season.

This coleus is bolting. Soon those tiny flowers will die and produce seed, also known as “going to seed”.

This coleus is bolting. Soon those tiny flowers will die and produce seed, also known as “going to seed”.

When my coleus bolts, I often break off the flower buds to prevent them from blooming then producing seeds. Late in the season, before the first frost, I let them produce seed that I collect for next season. Sometimes, I simply take cuttings of the healthiest looking plants, root them over the winter, then take multiple cuttings from that one plant to root for more.

Here’s the same bolting coleus in the photo above. Many seeds, including coleus, are tiny, so this is a good way to catch them for sowing next season.

Here’s the same bolting coleus in the photo above. Many seeds, including coleus, are tiny, so this is a good way to catch them for sowing next season.

Deadhead, Deadheading

Deadheading a plant is the act of removing spent blooms in order to prevent them from going to seed. It also keeps the plants looking nice — who wants to see a lot of brown, spent blooms on flowers or a bush? This is often necessary with marigolds, zinnias, dianthus, petunias, roses, to name a few.

Deadwood

Deadwood is the name often given to the dead wood of roses and other shrubs. While pruning of live wood should be done only at certain times of the year, deadwood can be safely removed at any time.

Honeydew

Honeydew is the name given to the sweet poop from some insects. Because it is sweet, ants often eat it. Unfortunately, they cannot eat it fast enough, so sooty mold grows on it causing the leaves of plants to look black. Below is a photo of sooty mold on a mandevilla and an azalea.

Sooty mold on a trellised mandevilla, causing it to lose many of its leaves.

Sooty mold on a trellised mandevilla, causing it to lose many of its leaves.

Frass

Frass is another name for insect poop.

Sooty mold on an azalea, preventing the leaves from absorbing enough sunlight.

Sooty mold on an azalea, preventing the leaves from absorbing enough sunlight.

Self-seeding, Re-seeding

Plants that drop their seeds in the fall, then come up on their own next spring are said to be self-seeding. Many flowers, especially zinnias, marigolds, vinca, and impatiens, will drop seed all during the growing season, and new plants will emerge as a second or third “crop”. This is really nice, as some of the older ones can begin to look leggy toward the end of the season.

Volunteers

Plants that have grown from dropped seed whether during the growing season, or next season are called volunteers. They are the best because we don’t have to do a thing. They are just there for us in all their beauty!

Just look at all these tiny watermelon volunteers that sprang up when a small melon that was hidden by the leaves and vines went unnoticed, and rotted. Some of these little guys can be transplanted, but there are far too many, so some had to be sacri

Just look at all these tiny watermelon volunteers that sprang up when a small melon that was hidden by the leaves and vines went unnoticed, and rotted. Some of these little guys can be transplanted, but there are far too many, so some had to be sacri

Most Invasive Species Produce Volunteers

This is not always a good thing. Many seeds are scattered by the wind and by birds spreading seed from plants in your yard and/or your neighbors’ yards. Some seeds can be carried on the wind for several miles. One plant that has become a problem for cattle ranchers is lantana. It is highly toxic to cattle.

Lantana has beautiful flowers, but those seeds land in roadside grasses and along fences where mowers cannot reach. The cattle will reach through the fences to nibble on the flowers and leaves. If you live within 20-50 miles of cattle, please do not plant seeded lantana in your yard.

The good news is that the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) has created a cultivar of lantana that does not produce seeds. There are now several colors, and they are sold under the trade name “Bloomify”. They are much preferred to the invasive non-native Lantana camara. To learn more about this sterile, but still beautiful lantana, visit UF-IFAS at https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/lantana.html

Wild, non-native, and highly invasive lantana popped up in my cousin’s yard in central Florida (Zone 9a). She sent me this photo with the question, “This came up in my yard. It’s pretty, but what is it?” (She’s a chemist, not a gardener.)

Wild, non-native, and highly invasive lantana popped up in my cousin’s yard in central Florida (Zone 9a). She sent me this photo with the question, “This came up in my yard. It’s pretty, but what is it?” (She’s a chemist, not a gardener.)

Die Back (Not Die)

In winter, some shrubs and herbs (including banana plants — yes, bananas are technically herbs, but that's for another article) will die back to the ground. In spring, or even late winter, as temps begin to warm again, they will begin to show new growth.

Because this often happens, it is important to wait about cutting off twigs and branches that appear to be dead until a few weeks after the last chance of a freeze. Those plants just may surprise you. Some will put out new growth at ground level, as in the photo below. Others may even put out new growth on the brown twigs.

Return From the Roots

Plants that died back to the ground, then re-emerged in warm weather, are said to have “returned from the roots” because, while the plant appeared to be dead, it actually was not — the roots were alive and well. Those roots simply needed warm temperatures to produce beautiful new growth. My plumbago and bananas did this last spring.

Note the new growth near the center of this plumbago that died back in a freeze. It appeared to be dead, but was not. The photo was taken on March 5, 2022, following a hard freeze in late February.

Note the new growth near the center of this plumbago that died back in a freeze. It appeared to be dead, but was not. The photo was taken on March 5, 2022, following a hard freeze in late February.

This is the same plant. Photo taken June 18, 2022. It recovered nicely, and looks better than ever.

This is the same plant. Photo taken June 18, 2022. It recovered nicely, and looks better than ever.

IPM

This is the acronym for Integrated Pest Management – an activity drilled into the heads of all master gardeners. It is something we should all be doing. In short, it is to respond to pest problems with the most effective, but least-risky actions.

What is IPM? Well, different folks will list essentially the same things in different stages, sometimes broken down into more steps. The short version is:

Identify the pest – is it harmful or beneficial?

Monitor the pest – are there only a few, or is there a huge infestation?

Manage the pest – choose appropriate management actions. Those actions can be cultural or chemical, that is, removal by hand (if only a few are visible) or treating with a pesticide as a last resort.

There is far more information available about IPM. This is it in a nutshell, but for more detailed information, do an online search for “Integrated Pest Management”.

Scouting

Scouting is part of IPM. Daily, or whenever you are in your garden, look for pests on your flowers, veggies, and shrubs. Then follow the steps of IPM for managing any pests you may find. Remember some insects are beneficial, and some of those eat the harmful ones. So it’s important to know a good bug from a bad bug.

Inflorescence

This is the botanical term for the flowering of a plant. It includes the complete flower head, the stem, stalk, and any bracts. The process of blooming is often called inflorescence, particularly by botanists. Now you can show off a bit of your knowledge of botany!

The early stages of inflorescence

The early stages of inflorescence

The completed inflorescence of one of my dahlias from last year.

The completed inflorescence of one of my dahlias from last year.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery

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