Gardening Terminology for Beginners

Kate Mitchell

July 10, 2023

Have you ever read a gardening blog and found it full of jargon that you can't understand? Or perhaps the care instructions on a plant at the garden center just don't quite make sense? This beginner's guide to common gardening terminology will introduce you to some helpful words.

Terms for Plants and Seeds

Seedlings in a tray


A plant whose entire life cycle is completed in one season; this type of plant will not usually grow again on its own the following year.


A plant with a two-year life cycle: one year to grow and another to reproduce and die.

Ground cover

Bright green trefoil plants covering the ground

A low-maintenance plant with a habit of spreading that can be used as an alternative to turf to cover large areas of ground.


A hardy plant is one that can withstand colder temperatures. You may see the word hardy associated with Zones; see this blog post for more information.


An invasive plant is one that is not native to the area in question (that is, it did not originate in that part of the world) and that is likely to cause harm if it is introduced (for example by preventing native plants from growing).


A plant that evolved and grows naturally in a particular region. These plants are likely to do well in the area.


Perennial plants live for more than two growing seasons. In gardening terms, this means that a perennial plant will keep growing and blooming for three years or more.


Self-seeding or self-sowing plants will drop seeds before they die at the end of the growing season. These seeds will then sprout and grow on their own the next year.


A shrub is a plant smaller than a tree with several woody stems growing at or near ground level.

Terms for Garden Conditions

Chill hours

The phrase 'chill hours' refers to the number of hours over one winter that a plant will be chilled in temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Many fruiting plants require a certain number of chill hours to become dormant; otherwise buds are not able to develop the following year.

Full shade

Plants that thrive in full shade need less than four hours of sunlight per day. However, some sunlight will still be needed; it's very rare for plants to be able to cope with complete shade the entire day.

Full sun

In gardening terms, full sun means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.

Part shade

Part shade means four to six hours of sunlight per day. However, for part shade, most of that sunlight should be during the less intense morning hours.

Part sun

Part sun also means four to six hours of sunlight per day - but, ideally, at least some of these hours will be during the afternoon, when the sun's light and heat is more intense.


The pH of your garden's soil is a measure of how acidic it is. Some plants thrive in acidic soil and others in alkaline soil, so it's useful to know which you have. Soil amendments can sometimes change the soil type. See our blog post on soil types for more information!

Soil type

Soil type is determined by whether it is mostly made up of sand, clay, silt or loam. Most soils are a combination of these materials. See our blog post for more information!

(Hardiness) Zones

Plant hardiness zones are geographical ranges determined by average annual minimum temperatures. They give a good idea of whether particular plants are likely to do well in that area. See this article for more information!

Terms for Gardening and Plant Care


Deadheading is simply the removal of dead flowers from a plant. There are several reasons why you might want to do this; Fiskars has more information.


A sprinkler mists lush green plants with water

Irrigation means moving water by artificial means to help crops grow. Although it's usually a term associated with agriculture, it can also be used to mean watering in a yard or garden. Irrigation might be anything from a complex system of sprinklers and water channels to a simple watering can.

Pinching out

Pinching is a form of pruning which is carried out by using thumb and finger to pinch off the new growth at the top of a stem. It encourages the plant to grow more stems. This can be useful if you want to increase fulness or to produce more leaves (e.g. with culinary herbs).


A pollinator is something that transfers pollen from one plant to another, allowing fertilization to occur. Most pollinators are insects such as butterflies or bees, but sometimes birds, bats or small mammals act as pollinators too.


To propagate is to create a new plant from a parent plant. It can happen naturally, but the word is often used to mean the artificial production of new plants, for example by cutting or division. This post from Mr Plant Geek has more information.

Thin out

To thin out means to remove some of the plants in a small area so that the remaining ones are able to thrive.


Topsoil is the top layer of soil. This is the layer in which plants typically grow.


To transplant is to remove a plant from its surroundings and plant it in a different location.

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