Vail Daily gardening: Garden jargon – 15 common gardening words |

Vail Daily gardening: Garden jargon – 15 common gardening words

Peter Alexander
Vail Daily community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

t’s almost time to hit seed catalogues, garden websites, and nurseries to plan for this year’s garden. As you research and read, you’ll come across lots of words that are familiar and some that are not. Gardeners use a lot of jargon – words that are specific to the world of gardening. Knowing the definitions of these words will help you make the best choices for your spring garden.

Annual: An annual is a plant that completes its life cycle – growth, seeds for next year’s plants, and death – all in one season. Good annuals for Summit County include poppies and cosmos.

Biennial: A biennial takes up to two years to complete its life cycle. Pansies are biennials that are often grown as annuals. Parsley, stock, and hollyhocks are also biennials.

Bulbs: Often, “bulb” is a term used for any plant that has a large, underground storage space for nutrients. All bulbs produce plants, and all of them have underground storage space for nutrients. When a plant grown from a bulb fades, it’s important to let the leaves stay so that they can collect sun and nutrients to recharge the bulb for next year’s growth.

Deadhead: We can extend the blooming time of an annual by “deadheading” the faded flowers. We pluck or snip them off after they fade but before they go to seed.

Foliage: “Foliage” is a fancy name for leaves. We use the term for plants that have especially attractive or dramatic leaves, like dusty miller and hostas.

Hardy: In Summit County, knowing a plant’s hardiness is imperative. Hardiness is connected to growing zones, and seeds, plants, trees, and shrubs are labeled by zone. Our climate is special and often extreme. In addition to checking for hardiness according to zones, it’s important to contact a local gardening center to be sure that the plants you select will be appropriate to our area.

Loam: “Loam” is pretty much an equal mix of silt, sand, and clay, and it is essential to healthy gardens. We can have “sandy loam” which has more sand, and “clay loam” that has more clay, but the idea is to have a mix that holds moisture but is loose enough for roots to penetrate easily.

N-P-K: This is a term that you’ll find in fertilizer formulas. These are letters from the periodic table of elements that stand for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Fertilizer N-P-K appears as a ratio, like 12-8-10. This means that there are 12 parts nitrogen, 8 parts phosphorous, and 10 parts potassium. Different plants require different formulas, so it’s important to ask your local nursery center before applying any type of fertilizer.

Perennial: A plant is considered a perennial if it lives for two or more seasons. Plants that are perennial in a warm climate may not be in a harsher climate and vice versa. Some perennials, like peonies, can live for decades under the right conditions, even though they “look” dead over the winter.

Sucker: Some trees and plants grow “suckers” that can cause crowding of the plant’s original branch. Suckers are buds that grow in between the “V” of a branch and the main stem. Removing suckers prevents crowding and ensures that the plant doesn’t spread to unwanted places in the landscape.

With these definitions, you begin planning your springtime garden and landscape.

This article was put together by Peter Alexander of Neils Lunceford Landscape Design/Build ( Peter can be reached at (970) 468-0340, or at

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