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Sunday, November 29, 2015

GROW-CAB’-U-LAR-Y, an Introduction to gardening terms

By: Charleen Barr
Colorado Master Gardener in Larimer County

No, it is not a spelling test! Gardening terms are important to know.  They help us understand the workings of a garden. Sometimes we can be confused, even overwhelmed, by the many gardening specific words and terms used by those who are regularly engaged in fooling around with earth and its bounty.  Perhaps a brief introduction to a few often used terms found in magazines, brochures, and at garden nurseries will help in becoming familiar with garden vocabulary.

Leggy – What constitutes leggy? What do leggy seedlings look like? Seedlings become leggy as they are reaching for the sun, usually as they are getting a hint of their second set of leaves but they may be over four inches tall.  They look tall, thin and awkward; they almost make us wonder if the stems will support the leaves.

Soil amendments has nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution, but refers to what one does to correct soil deficiencies and increase the health and productivity of the soil. What you add to the soil is, of course, dependent upon the soil’s present condition and what is, or will be, growing there.  This calls for a soil test. Call your local CSU Extension Office for the form and protocol.

Hardening off describes the process of acclimating plants to outdoor conditions after growing them from seed indoors, or simply keeping them indoors for a period of time. Hardening off plants means gradually exposing them to outdoor temperatures during the day rather than immediately planting them into the garden. Plants should also be protected from full sun while they are being hardened off.  This also applies to plants purchased from greenhouses.

Double digging should not be confused with “double-dipping” that refers to certain income tax or food practices. It means tilling or turning the soil twice, creating a trench with the first dig, piling that soil to the side, and then going deeper for the second dig to provide more soft soil depth within an area. Plants, such as asparagus needing to be placed deeper into the soil, may require double digging.

Native plants or trees have definitions that are as numerous as the number of such species found in any given geographic area. “Native” refers to plants, shrubs, and trees that were present in a defined area prior to European settlement.  A defined area may be a site, state, region, or ecological classification system in the U.S. or North America.  Front Range native species are identified in Colorado Flora, Eastern Slope, 3rd ed. by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann.

Determinate and Indeterminate are terms used to describe the growth patterns and productivity periods of plants. For example, determinate species of tomatoes tend to reach a certain mature size, stop growing, produce fruit over a limited period of time, and then decline. Indeterminate plants continue growing until frost arrives and produce fruit throughout their lifetimes.

An invasive plant sounds very threatening. These plants tend to spread quickly by roots, seeds, shoots, or all three.  Left unchecked, they can literally take over an area, choking out other desirable plantings.  The definition of invasive may depend on the individual gardener’s idea of what they like or dislike.

Loam is really the texture of the soil between fine-particle clay and coarse-textured sand. It remains pliable and well drained but holds moisture, and plants thrive in it.  Loose-textured clay is described as “clay loam.” Loam with many large particles in it is categorized as “sandy loam.” Over many years, loam has come to be called topsoil and vice versa, but it is particle gradation, not a description of fertility.

Cultivar is simply an artificially contrived species not found naturally in nature. The volumes of varieties of roses available are examples, as are lilies and daisies.

pH factor is not the past history of our gardens, but a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of our soil where 7.0 represents neutrality and lower numbers indicate increasing acidity and higher numbers increasing alkalinity. Front Range soils generally range in pH from 7.5-8.5. See Planttalk #1606 Soil Tests at

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) refers to the attempt to use a variety of strategies to keep garden pests under control, while at the same time attempts to minimize damage to the environment. A biological, rather than chemical control (releasing ladybugs to control certain insects) is an example.

Till, spade, hoe, seed and roots are terms we know, but to become successful gardeners, be sure to ask questions about gardening terms that are unfamiliar. Gardening season is upon us and Colorado State University Extension is available to answer your questions.  Visit or call the Larimer County Extension Office at 970-498-6000. Master Gardener volunteers are available to answer gardening questions during the week from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

The author has received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.

Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting. For more information about CSU Extension, Larimer County, telephone (970) 498-6000 or visit

Visit PlantTalk Colorado ™ for fast answers to your gardening questions! PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.

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