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Home > Glossory
Glossory of Gardening Terms
Acid soil: Soil with a pH below 7.0 - Most fruits and vegetables grow best in a soil pH of 5.2-7.1.

Aeration: Free movement of air through the root zone; this is prevented in compacted and waterlogged soils.

Allelopathic: Toxicity from a plant that inhibits the growth of other plants.

Alkaline soil: Soil with a pH above 7.0

Amending soil: To improve the soil usually by adding organic matter.

Annuals: Plants that live one year or less.

Axils: The angle or upper side where the leaf is attached to the stem.

Biennial: Plants whose growth span extends over two growing seasons, germinating and growing the first year and flowering and producing seeds the following year.

Blanching: The process of blocking out light around certain plants (such as celery and cauliflower) to improve quality and whiten stems or heads.

Brassica: Cold hardy plants such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts

Broadcast: Scattering seed or fertilizer rather than placing it in rows.

Chlorosis: Lack of green color in leaves, caused by nutritional deficiencies, environment or disease.

Companion planting: Growing two or more plants together in a given area to improve each other`s quality or to maximize the use of garden space with plants that have different lengths of maturation.

Compost: Decayed organic matter.

Cool weather crops: Plants that can tolerate cooler temperatures and light frost.

Corm: Enlarged, fleshy base of a stem, bulb-like but not solid, in which food accumulates.

Cucurbit: Plants in the gourd family such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins or melons

Damping off: A condition in seedlings caused by a fungus that attacks at the soil level, causing them to rot, wilt and die. This usually happens under moist still-air conditions.

Drip irrigation: A method of watering plants so that only the soil in the plants` immediate vicinity is moistened, usually by use of a plastic tube at a low flow rate.

Everbearing: Plants such as strawberries, which bloom intermittently, producing fruit throughout the entire growing season.

Foundation Plantings: Basic structure of a plant bed that is permanent such as bushes and evergreens.

Friable: A term for soil that breaks or crumbles easily when handled.

Green manure: A crop grown primarily to add nutrients to the soil when plowed under, e.g., vetch, clover, or grasses.

Hardening off: The process of acclimating plants to outdoor conditions by gradually lowering temperature and conditioning plants to sun and wind before transplanting outdoors.

Hardy plants: Plants that are adapted to winter temperatures or other climatic conditions of a certain area.

Heaving: A process of alternating freezing and thawing that causes a plant to partially come out of the ground.

Herbaceous plants: Perennial, non-woody plants that die back to the ground each winter but whose roots live and produce new growth the next spring, such as asparagus, rhubarb, hosta, or peony.

Humus: Decomposed organic matter used as a soil conditioner.

Leaching: Loss of nutrients caused by the draining of water through the soil.

Leggy: Weak-stemmed, spindly plants caused by too much heat, shade, fertilizer or crowding.

Mites: Extremely small sucking insects which infest various plants.

Mulch: Organic material placed on the soil surface around plants to conserve moisture, prevent crusting, reduce soil erosion, control weeds and improve soil structure.

Nematodes: Microscopic, worm-like animals that attack roots or stems, causing stunted or unhealthy growth, not to be confused with beneficial nematodes.

NPK: Nitrogen, phosphate, potassium - symbols for the three primary nutrients needed by plants.

Node: Region of a plant stem, which normally produces leaves and buds.

Perennials: Plants that normally live more than two years.

Perlite: A mineral particle used as a soil additive to lighten up and introduce air pockets into the soil.

pH: Chemical symbol used to give the relative acidity or alkalinity of soil.

Pinching: Removing terminal buds or growth to stimulate branching.

Rhizome: Horizontal underground stem distinguished from a root by the presence of nodes and buds.

Rust: Plant disease caused by a fungus and characterized by a round red or yellow lesion.

Scarification: Nicking or chipping a seed to aid in germination.

Stratification: An artificial process of simulating cold temperatures to aid a seed to germinate.

Sunscald: Cracking or splitting of tree trunks and large branches caused by the sun warming them during the winter. Also damage caused by the sun to some vegetables such as peppers.

Tamping: Lightly firming soil over seeds or around newly set transplants.

Topiary: The art of sculpting living plants into ornamental shapes.

Tuber: Thickened or swollen underground branch or stolon (stem) with numerous buds or eyes; thickening occurs because of the accumulation of reserved food, as in potatoes.

Vermiculite: A mineral particle used as a soil additive to lighten up and introduce air pockets into the soil. It also aids in water retention.

Acid rain-Rain containing droplets of nitric acid and sulfuric acid, formed when water molecules combine with gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) or nitrogen oxides (NOx)in the atmosphere and fall to Earth. Is especially harmful to fish and other aquatic life in rivers and lakes.

Acidic-Condition of water, soil, or a solution containing excess hydrogen atoms producing a pH of less than 7; the opposite of alkaline. Sour or sharp-tasting liquids such as lemonade, orange juice, and vinegar are acidic. If soil or water is too acidic, plants cannot grow.

Acre-foot-The amount of water needed to flood an acre of land to a depth of one foot. Acre-inch is one-twelfth of an acre foot.

Acute pesticide poisoning-A toxic condition, usually a result of inhaling or swallowing a pesticide, and characterized by a rapid onset of severe symptoms. Can be fatal.

Adapt-To change to fit a new situation or set of circumstances, as humans, for instance, have adapted to different climates around the globe or as certain bacteria have adapted to antibiotics and become resistant to them.

Algae-Single-celled organisms that live in both fresh and salt water and contain chlorophyll, the substance plants use to make food from sunlight. Algae is the plural; alga is the singular.

Algicides-Synthetic or natural chemical compounds used to kill or control unwanted algae (`cide` means killer).

Alkalinity-The capacity of water to neutralize or buffer acids. A solution is alkaline when its pH value is above 7. High levels in water or soil can lead to problems.

Aquaculture-Raising fish, shrimp, oysters, and other marine or freshwater foods under controlled conditions in water, either in ponds on shore or contained in net cages located in bays or in the open ocean. Also called mariculture.

Aqueducts-Water pipes, channels, or troughs that carry water, usually by gravity. Sometimes cut through rock and out of view, the most famous aqueducts were built of rock by the ancient Romans and towered above the landscape.

Aquifer-Underground layers of rock, sand, gravel, or sediment that trap, store, and transport water. It generally holds enough water to be used as a water supply. Aquifer depletion-Using the water in an aquifer faster than nature can replace it.

Arid-Land or climate that is extremely dry because it has very little rain or snow. Agriculture is impractical in such places without irrigation.

Arsenic-A naturally occurring element that is often used in pesticides and herbicides. It can bioaccumulate to toxic levels, and is known to cause cancer in humans and other living things.

Atmosphere-The mixture of gases surrounding the Earth. It is made up of nearly 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and small amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases. The atmosphere is divided into four layers, from the closest to the Earth to the farthest: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere.

Bedrock-The solid rock that underlies loose material, such as soil, sand, clay, or gravel.

Bioactive-Having the ability to interact with a living tissue or system, such as a human being or other living organism.

Bioconfinement-Efforts to keep the pollen in genetically engineered (GE) plants from escaping (carried by wind or insects) and mating with non-GE-plants.

Biodiversity-One word made from the two words biological and diversity, referring to the many types of plants and animals that live in a region. The more species, the greater the biodiversity.

Bioengineered-Process of having been genetically altered by an emerging new science called biotechnology, in order to introduce new traits to the species.

Biopharming-To genetically engineer a plant or animal to produce a pharmaceutical (or medicinal) drug, vaccine or industrial substance. Such experimental practices create public concern.

Biotechnology-A scientific process by which living things (usually plants or animals) are genetically engineered.

Bloom-To grow or flourish, as algae do at or near the water`s surface (verb). An algae bloom is a visible, colored area on the surface of a body of water caused by excessive growth (noun).

Canal-A human-made waterway that is used for draining land, bringing water to crops by irrigation, and navigation.

Cash crops-Crops that farmers grow to sell rather than to use as food for themselves or as livestock feed.

Climate-Climate is the expected long-term weather found in a region, such as a hot, dry desert or the cold, snowy arctic.

Companion planting-Locating plants, or fields of plants, close to each other, to take advantage of each one`s natural ability to attract beneficial insects, repel harmful ones, aid or discourage growth, and take advantage of certain chemical interactions among plants. For example, the roots of one plant can release chemicals into the soil that can benefit the health of plants nearby.

Composting-Gathering together various types of plant material (e.g., leaves, grass clippings, food waste, sawdust)-usually in a pile-so that heat will break down the materials into a rich brownish-black product called compost. This is then used to naturally fertilize and improve the structure of soil.

Conservation-The protection and careful use of resources and the environment.

Conservation tillage-A land cultivation method used to prepare soil for planting. It leaves some plant residues on the soil surface for erosion control and moisture conservation, instead of plowing them into the soil.

Core samples-Cylinder-shaped samples of rock, ice, or other material from the center of an area drilled or cut into. The purpose of taking a core sample is to determine the composition or history of a geographic area.

Crop rotation-Alternating the crops grown in a given field from one growing season to the next. This is done because the alternating crops take different nutrients from the soil, or because one crop might restore particular nutrients that the other one takes away. Crop rotation can also interrupt the life cycles of pests or plant diseases that prey on a particular crop.

Crossbreeding-Creating a new organism by crossing, or mating, two different varieties within a species.

Cross-pollination-The transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of another for the purpose of fertilization. This can occur in nature or with human intervention.

Deforestation-Destruction of forests, either by logging or burning down trees to make land for agriculture. Since trees provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, destruction of forests affects the atmosphere and is often seen as a major cause of enhanced greenhouse effect. Deforestation also destroys animal habitats.

Dense-Refers to matter close together or thick. Examples include algae that have multiplied into a bloom, a forest with trees so close together that little or no light comes in, and populations in urban areas. A densely populated area has a large concentration of people, houses, and automobiles.

Desalinization-The process of transforming saltwater into freshwater so that it that can be used for irrigating farms and for human consumption (drinking, cooking, bathing). It is an expensive process, so it is not widely used.

Desertification-The change from once fertile land into desert. Causes include overgrazing by animals, deforestation, drought, the burning of large areas of forests or other vegetation to make farmland, and the overuse of water for irrigation.

Drawdowns-The lowering of the water table, or level of groundwater. Drawdowns are evidence of decreasing amounts of available water.

Drip irrigation-A slow, even application of low-pressure water to soil and plants using plastic tubing placed directly at the plants` base. This method results in very little evaporation or runoff, saving water by directing it more precisely, reduced transmission of pathogens, and fewer weeds.

Ecology-The study of the relationship of living organisms with each other and with their surroundings.

Ecosystem-A community of plants and animals living in an area along with the things they need to sustain life, such as a place to live, food, and water. An ecosystem can be as small as a tiny tide pool or as large as a vast desert.

Eroding-Process of wearing or grinding down land surfaces by water, wind, or ice.

Erosion-The wearing away of soil or rock by forces such as wind, rain, or glaciers. Cutting down trees increases erosion because the soil no longer has any roots to hold onto.

Evaporation-The natural process by which water turns from a liquid into a gas as it is absorbed into the air. When irrigation water evaporates, it leaves behind salts and other minerals, which contribute to salinization of the soil, making it unsuitable for farming.

Fallow-Refers to planting nothing in land where crops are usually grown.

Fertile-Refers to land capable of sustaining abundant growth. For example, healthy plants grow in fertile soil.

Fertilizer-A substance that provides nutrients to plants. Some, such as manure, are natural; others are human-made or synthetic. Organic fertilizers come from natural sources, such as animals or vegetable substances. They also hold moisture, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil structure. They work very slowly and offer long-term benefits. Most synthetic fertilizers are derived from petroleum and are highly soluble.

Food chain-A way of showing the food relationships among organisms. The food chain describes what eats what. An example would be that zebras eat grass and lions eat zebras. A food web is the weaving together of food chains, showing all the food relationships in a given area. Any animal eating any part of a food chain is included in the food web.

Genetic erosion-Loss of genetic diversity within the same species over time, due to human intervention or environmental change.

Gleaning-To collect and use unharvested crops from fields instead of wasting them. It also describes obtaining unused agricultural products from food processors and retailers, usually for distribution by charitable food banks.

Gray water-Water that has been used for one purpose, such as laundry, which can then be used to irrigate or water crops. Handling gray water properly is important for public health; toilet water is not gray water.

Green Revolution-The introduction of pesticides, irrigation, high-yield grains, and better farm management during the 1960s and 1970s, which greatly increased agricultural productivity and was intended to help solve the problem of hunger in developing countries.

Groundwater-Water that seeps down from the surface of the ground (from rain and snowmelt) and then is stored and transported underground, often in an aquifer. All fresh water that does not either evaporate or flow into a river, stream, or sewer becomes groundwater.

Habitat fragmentation-The breaking up of spaces that are home to animals into smaller and unconnected segments (due, for example, to a subdivision being built in the middle of a forest, a road through a meadow, or a dam across a river). This can result in the loss of habitat as well as the disruption of an ecosystem.

Herbicides-Chemicals used to kill or control weeds.

High-yield crops-Fruits and vegetables that bring a high profit when taken to market; this profit is immediate and short-term and does not take into account the long-term consequences of the farm practices used.

Humus-That organic portion of the soil formed by the complete decomposition of animal or vegetable matter. It provides nutrients and microorganisms for plants and increases the ability of soil to retain water.

Hydroponics-The growing of plants, especially vegetables, in water containing essential mineral nutrients rather than in soil.

Immune system-The defense system of the body made up of multiple organs and cells that protects the body against disease and fights off infection and illness.

Insecticides-Preparations, natural or human-made, used to kill insects.

Integrated pest management-An ecology-based system of pest control that uses natural predators, pest-resistant plants, and other methods to preserve a healthy environment in an effort to decrease reliance on harmful pesticides.

Intravenously-Refers to how a substance is put into the bloodstream by injecting it directly into a vein.

Irrigated-Land that has been artificially supplied with water for agriculture or landscaping usually through ditches, pipes, or by diverting rivers.

Irrigation-Artificially supplying land with water for agriculture or landscaping, usually through ditches, pipes, or by diverting rivers.

Irrigation canals-Long, narrow channels to carry water from a river, lake, or other source to farm fields.

Irrigation ditches-Trenches dug into land to allow water to flow, sometimes at a great distance from its source. This provides water for crops and for humans.

Leaching-A natural process by which water moves chemicals and minerals downward through the soil.

Mangrove-Trees, shrubs, or forests that grow along riverbanks and ocean coastlines in tropical areas. Their roots provide a breeding ground for plant and animal biodiversity, and also aid in building up coastlines.

Manure-Fertilizer made from animal feces, or bodily waste.

Microbes-A living organism that can be seen only with a microscope. Humans need them to live. They help us digest food and make possible the normal development of our immune system. Microbes include viruses, bacteria, and parasites, which can cause

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