Gardening Glossary

LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,210 admin
edited May 2022 in Instant Master Gardener

I thought that with all of the new gardeners starting out, that we should create a gardening glossary. Some of us know what these terms are, but it may be helpful to have a list for others.

Please help me build a gardening glossary below.


  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin
    edited May 2022

    Great idea @LaurieLovesLearning.



    1. This definition varies with certifying body. It technically means raised or grown without synthetic chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or fungicides).

    2. Natural materials, as in biological.

    Organic produce: fruits and veg that have been grown in this manner without the use of any chemical or artificial supplements. If you are selling produce, usually you have to apply for organic status with the government if you want to advertise your produce as being "organic".

    Organic matter: with regards to soil is any waste plant parts (leaves, grass clippings), composted plants & scraps or manure that is added to the soil (or your compost pile) to increase nutrient value or moisture retention.

    Conventional: Grown with synthetic chemical applications


    Soil: the base for gardening and is living dirt or ground

    Tilth: A term used to describe the health of the soil; an adequate balance of nutrients, moisture and air. Soil that is healthy is described as "in good tilth".

    Top soil: the first few top inches of earth on the ground, usually 5-12 inches deep (although in some areas it might be much less or somewhat deeper). Top soil consists of decayed material, earthworm castings, etc. This top layer of soil has the highest concentration of nutrients, microbes and organic matter.

    Heavy soil: Generally refers to a clay type of soil that has poor drainage.

    Potting soil: A basic mix of top soil, vermiculite or perlite.

    Soilless mix: a balanced growing medium that does not contain soil, sand, silt or clay. It is usually composed of peat moss, wood chips, or coco coir, perlite and/or vermiculite. Sometimes it contains a slow-release fertilizer, but often it does not.

    Peat moss: decomposed, acidic material obtained from peat bogs. Added to increase moisture retention in soil and in some cases, to increase soil acidity

    Coco coir: fibres that are found between the shell and outer ciaring of the coconut seed that increases absorbency, water retention and drainage. Often used in hydroponics.

    Perlite: Perlite is hydrated obsidian (volcanic glass) that is has been heated to a high enough heat that it pops like popcorn. It is a white, lightweight, granular substance that looks much like small polystyrene (styrofoam) pieces. It is a cheap amendment that is non-renewable. It is used to improve drainage and aeration, reducing soil compaction, while providing oxygen to roots.

    Vermiculite: a mineral (magnesium-aluminum-iron silicate) that looks like dark grey to sandy brown mica. It improves soil quality and helps seedlings root faster by promoting faster root growth and giving quick anchorage. Safety concerns about vermiculite possibly containing asbestos are addressed in this link, and are said to be a thing of the past:

    Aerobic: Refers to a soil that is well oxygenated for the living organisms in it (worms, good bacteria, mycellium, etc.).

    Anaerobic: Lifeless soil that has no oxygen. This is sometimes due to very wet, soggy soils or an increase in unhealthy microbes that cause roots to rot. May also refer to overly dry soil that has no life or organic material in it to support healthy organisms.

    Soil Test: A test kit will tell you the pH of your soil but will also give you an indication of other nutrients that are in the soil or missing from it.

    pH: Refers to the acidity or alkalinity of soil on a scale of 1-14 with 1 being most acidic and 14 being most alkaline. Neutral pH is 7; the human body is optimally at 7.4. Some plants like it slightly more acidic and some like it a bit on the alkaline side. There are soil tests kits that will tell you what your soil is like.

    Lime: Made from ground up limestone that has a high pH or is very alkaline. It is used to adjust the pH of acidic soil. Sometimes it is referred to as "sweetening" the soil.

    N-P-K: Labeling on fertilizers that indicates the amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the product. The label will indicate the amounts in a numbered series. For example:10-1-1 indicates a fertilizer high in nitrogen or 3-15-0 would indicate one that is high in phosphorus. Fertilizers can be organic (made from decomposed organic matter) or chemical based.

    Nitrogen: Known as "N" and represented by a number on fertilizer packages. Nitrogen provides green growth.

    Phosphorus: Known as "P" and represented by a number on fertilizer packages. Phosphorus improves rooting, flowering & resulting fruiting.

    Potassium: Known as "K" and represented by a number on fertilizer packages. Potassium improves heartiness & vigor by triggering plant enzymes and regulating a plant’s carbon dioxide uptake

    Trace Elements: These are nutrients required by plants in much smaller amounts than the N-P-K formulation. They are often added in amounts separate from a general fertilizer.

    Soil amendments: Any biological additives to be mixed into soil. It is used to increase soil viability and increase either moisture retention or drainage and soil fertility. These can be fertilizers, peat moss, etc.


    Fertilizer: an organic or chemical supplement applied to soil to increase nutrients that are necessary for plant growth. This can be in the form of worm castings or well rotted manure (animal or vegetable).

    Compost: decomposed organic (definition #2 above) materials consisting of organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste, coffee grounds, etc.) that has been encouraged to decay to the point that it has become dark, odorless and soil-like. Compost can be made at home or purchased. Composted manure is also available and is generally made from composted animal waste along with some hay, straw or other bedding material.

    Fish Fertilizer or Fish Emulsion: Generally made from waste fish products (skin, bones, heads, etc.). High in nitrogen, this fertilizer is used to encourage vegetative growth (stems, leaves).

    Worm Castings or Castings: the digest waste of worms used as a slow release, nutrient dense fertilizer, improving the growth of plants. It has the odor of soil. It is an excellent fertilizer.

    Vermicomposting: Encouraging a high concentration of worms (a worm colony) in a compost pile to increase the production of worm composting

    Blood meal: dried blood in powdered form, used to amend soil to give nitrogen. It us considered a compost starter and can be used as an animal repellent.

    Bone meal: Fertilizer containing finely ground bone matter that increases the phosphorus in the soil which is necessary for good root growth. It also increases calcium. Generally used for transplanting.

    Green manure: A crop that is grown for a short time and then tilled into the ground to increase soil fertility or increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. This is usually done a few weeks before planting.


    Mulch: Any type of organic matter that is spread over your garden or crops to hold in moisture or keep down weeds. This could include wood chips, grass clippings, compost, straw, or leaves.


    Heirloom: plant that is grown from seeds that are true to parent, will carry the same traits from generation to generation.

    Hybrid: plant grown from seed produced by cross pollination of different varieties to produce specific traits. Saved seeds not likely to be true to parent. These are not gmo but controlled natural processes for specific results.


    Determinate: plant variety that will reach a certain size and stop growing. Most if not all of it's fruit will mature around the same time.

    Indeterminate: plant variety where grow is not naturally terminated. Plant will continue to grow and fruit as long as conditions allow.

    Annual: Lives for one season only, generally flowering and setting seed within the growing season. (some annuals might be biennial or perennial in warmer climates)

    Biennial: Lives for two years. Usually producing stem and leaf growth in the first year, then flowering and setting seed in the second year.

    Perennial: Lives for longer than two years. Some are short lived perennials, only surviving for a few years and others have very long life spans (centuries in the case of trees).


    Full sun: 6 or more hours of direct sun daily.

    Partial sun/shade: 4-6 hours of direct sun daily.

    Full shade: Less than 4 hours of direct sun daily.


    Xeriscaping: Landscaping with drought resistant plants to conserve water.

    49 More Botanical Terms

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin

    Seems I was typing when you were @LaurieLovesLearning. :)

    Feel free to delete any portion of mine that is overlapping.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,210 admin
    edited May 2022

    @torey I combined both. I liked how you categorized your list, so combined mine with yours & cleaned it up.

    I think any additions below will be added in the same way to keep this list easy to skim though. I will add categories as above as needed. Credit will be given to contributing members. 😄

  • Michelle D
    Michelle D Posts: 1,356 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2022

    @LaurieLovesLearning would it make sense to also add things like determinate and indeterminate? Or heirloom and hybrid?

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,210 admin

    @Michelle D Certainly! Go ahead and write a definition and I'll add them above!

    I'd like this to be a community project to help new gardeners just stepping into the sphere. Sometimes terms can be confusing and it never hurts to be thorough. Any helps we can give them to help them grow, the better.

  • Michelle D
    Michelle D Posts: 1,356 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2022

    (Content moved to above post) Thanks for the definitions...Added!

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin
    edited May 2022

    (Content moved to above post) Thanks for the definitions...Added!

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,210 admin
  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    Love this! Thank you, @LaurieLovesLearning ! Some other good terms here, for reference:

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,210 admin

    @Merin Porter That's a pretty new addition! I will add the link to the glossary area above so people don't have to skim through the comments to find it. I like that it has pictures.

    Keep the terms coming, everyone!

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,396 admin
    edited June 2022

    The names of some tools can be confusing to those who are new to gardening so here are a few of them.

    Garden Tools

    Rain Gauge - A device that collects water to measure the amount of rainfall or the amount of water your sprinkler is delivering to your garden.

    Hygrometer (aka Moisture Meter) - A device that is inserted into the soil to indicate the moisture levels in the soil. Also, a device that measures relative humidity in the air. Not to be confused with a hydrometer which is used for measuring the specific gravity of a liquid (often used in beer & wine making).

    Dibbler - A pointed tool (or stick) for making holes in the soil, to make planting seeds or seedlings easier.

    Hori-hori - A Japanese garden knife with a wide blade that usually has an indented center (like a trowel). One edge is sharpened and the other is serrated to enable easier cutting of roots, sod, etc.

    Mattock - A digging/chopping tool that combines a vertical axe head with a horizontal adze head on a shaft of about 3-4 feet long.

    Pick Mattock - A digging tool that combines a pick (pointed end) on one side with an adze on the other.

    Pick Axe - A digging/prying tool that has a pick on one side and a vertical narrow axe on the other.

    Pulaski - Similar to the mattock, a pulaski has an adze on one side and a axe on the other, but has a smaller head. It is generally used for firefighting but makes a useful garden tool as well.

    Hoe Dag - Short handled digging tool that has opposing hoe or adze shaped blades; one side with a wide blade and the other a narrower blade.

    Cultivator - These tools generally have three curved tines (like a claw) and come in different sizes. You can have a hand-tool size cultivator or a long handled one for easier reach. Helpful for weeding and scarifying the soil around plants. One prong cultivators are also available.

    Wheeled Cultivator - A manual rototiller, this unit has tines that are mounted behind a wheel with long steering handles. It is used for light ploughing, cultivating, weeding, furrowing and hilling.