Cultivating Knowledge Here's an A-to-Z glossary of gardening terms for those who don't know their genus from their species.

March 16, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Gardening, like any hobby or profession, has its own language. Even if you aren't a horticulturist, you'll find reading, shopping and getting advice from your next-door neighbor easier if you know the right terms.

It's amazing how often the experts throw around lingo they assume you know, like "harden off" or "5-10-10 fertilizer." And before you get a chance to question them, they've moved on to "rootstock."

To help demystify the jargon, we've come up with a list of important gardening terms and explained them briefly - including ones you really need to know if you live in Maryland, like "aphids." So next time the guy at the garden center starts going on about hybrids and cultivars, you can nod your head knowingly and actually understand what he's talking about.

Here we go. A is for ...

aphids:

Insect pests that look like small dots, enjoy most of the plants in your garden, suck their juices and spread viral diseases. Lovely. Some gardeners get rid of them with insecticidal soap, some use organic methods like beneficial predators and some of us just wring our hands.

beneficial predators:

These are our insect allies, which kill off pests like aphids. You can buy them from places like the Bug Store. Call (800) 455-BUGS. Why do beneficial bugs stick around? Well, for one reason, your garden is such a good source of food.

B-and-B plants:

The Bs stand for balled-and-burlapped. These are plants, usually trees and shrubs, that are sold and planted with their rootballs intact and wrapped.

biennials:

Plants that flower in their second year and then die, like sweet williams and hollyhocks.

black spot:

Most common in areas with high humidity (sound like anywhere you know?), this fungus attacks roses and causes - you guessed it - black spots on their leaves. Destroy infected leaves and use a fungicide.

cultivar:

Short for "cultivated variety," or man-produced hybrid. You know the plant is a cultivar if part of the name is in single quotes, capitalized and not Latinized. For example, Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant.'

deadhead:

This isn't as ugly as it sounds; in fact, it's a good thing. If you "deadhead" - pinch or cut off - faded flowers, you encourage plants to produce more blooms.

dieback:

This is as ugly as it sounds. It's when limbs of trees or parts of plants die, usually a sign of something like insects, poor drainage or extreme cold damage.

drip line:

The edge of the foliage of trees and shrubs. Water the ground all the way out there when you water new plantings. This is where the feeder roots are.

espalier:

A shrub or fruit tree trained to grow flat against a wall or trellis. It takes lots of attention and is not for cowardly pruners.

everlastings:

The flowers of these plants keep their good looks long after they've been picked.

fertilizer:

Those numbers are confusing: 5-5-10. 10-6-4. The first number is the percentage of nitrogen (N), the second phosphorus (P) and the third potassium (K). (Don't even ask why "K.") Different plants need different proportions of nutrients; your gardening center will guide you.

genus:

A group of plants with common characteristics believed to have a common ancestor. It's the first word in the scientific name of a plant, and it's capitalized, such as Sedum.

hardening off:

Gradually adapting seedlings and cuttings to the outdoors. Increase the time you leave them outdoors each day until you transplant them.

humus:

L The end product of decomposed organic matter such as leaves.

hybrids:

The offspring of different genera, species or varieties. They can occur naturally or be selectively bred.

integrated pest management (IPM):

A new approach to insect control that combines different methods, starting with the least harmful to the environment.

Japanese beetles:

And speaking of pests ... These metallic blue-green beetles attack many of our favorite flowers and fruits, including roses and grapes. The adults defoliate plants, and the larvae feed on roots. Treatment ranges from shaking adults off to spraying them with pesticides.

King Alfred daffodils:

Yes, it's a cultivar, properly 'King Alfred.' Probably the all-time favorite daffodil, with large yellow trumpets and petals.

lace bugs:

As a Baltimorean, you love your azaleas. Lace bugs also love your azaleas. They damage the plant by sucking sap from underneath the leaves. Unfortunately, the treatment is to spray the undersides of leaves with insecticidal soap, which is as tedious as it sounds.

loam:

This is considered the best kind of soil for home gardens, with the optimum mix of sand, silt, clay and organic matter.

mulch:

Material such as grass clippings or wood chips put down to discourage weeds and hold in moisture. Mulch is great, but beware of Mulch Madness: Too much mulch can prevent water from getting through, and mulching too early in the spring can keep the soil cool and delay growth.

native plant:

A plant found naturally in a specific area. Supposedly, these are the ones that are best adapted to the area, and therefore grow happily without much help.

naturalizers:

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