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Some ABCs of garden jargon

When we amend, we're not rewriting the Constitution - and other peculiarities of the landscape lexicon.

The French parterre at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington includes a pool as the central focal point. The word "parterre," of European origin, refers to formal gardens with edged beds, often divided by walks, designed to form a pattern.
The French parterre at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington includes a pool as the central focal point. The word "parterre," of European origin, refers to formal gardens with edged beds, often divided by walks, designed to form a pattern.Read moreSANDRA LEAVITT LERNER / Washington Post

Landscaping jargon often leaves homeowners and part-time gardeners perplexed, and it's no wonder.

In the garden, commonplace words can take on different meanings. For example, exfoliate is not a spa treatment, pools aren't always for swimming, beds are not a place to sleep, percolate doesn't refer to brewing coffee, and suckers aren't lollipops.

So to help cut through the confusion, I've put together a glossary of terms that are frequently used in landscaping and gardening. Keep it for reference. A few entries are slang or abbreviations and may not be found in landscape and garden texts:

Amend. Incorporate materials that improve soil structure, usually natural substances such as compost, gypsum, horticultural limestone, or manure. A soil test before "amending" is always a good idea.

B and B. An abbreviation commonly used for balled and burlapped plants, this refers to how shrubs and trees are dug and moved. Soil surrounding a plant is dug to create a "ball" of roots that is wrapped in burlap to hold soil solidly around roots.

Bed. An area separated from paving and lawn in which trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals are arranged as part of a landscape design.

Broadcast. Scattering landscape materials such as seed and fertilizer. Material that is "broadcast" is prone to drifting in the wind and landing in ornamental areas where you don't want it.

Bud point. A bud point is the raised area or bump on a stem where new growth emerges. Also known as a growth point, this is where a leaf, stem, or major branch is already growing. Always prune just above a bud point.

Bulbs. Plants that grow from large roots, where food from the previous season or year is stored. That food later fuels flowering. Plants referred to as bulbs are often actually corms, rhizomes, or tubers. Lilies, daffodils, and tulips are bulbs. Irises can be rhizomes or bulbs. Daylilies and dahlias are tubers. Gladiolas are corms.

Branch collar. A bulge or flare about a half inch long at the base of a branch where it meets the trunk or main stem of trees or shrubs.

Compost. A dark mixture of decayed organic material used to enrich soil, usually containing well-aged leaves, woody material, herbaceous green matter, and sometimes manure and kitchen scraps.

Canopy. An overhead covering of trees or man-made structures that works to bring a landscape down to people-size proportions.

Container plants. Plants propagated and grown in pots, usually transplanted from smaller containers into larger ones. Some can continue to live in a container - a good way to control growth of over-vigorous flora.

Deadheading. Pruning blooms or entire flowering stems as soon as a flower fades, helping the plant to rebloom or produce more foliage.

Dripline. The outermost edge of a tree's branch spread, including the leaves.

Deciduous. Plants that shed their leaves in fall and winter, and grow new ones in spring.

Elevation. A scale drawing of the vertical configuration of the front, sides, or rear of a structural or garden design.

Espalier. Training a small tree or shrub to grow on a flat plane, such as against a wall or on an arbor, trellis, or other support.

Exfoliating. The nature of some woody plants to have peeling bark, which can provide ornamental interest.

Hardscape. Structural elements of a landscape, including walks, arbors, trellises, decks, sheds, and patios.

Horizon. An expression used in landscape design to describe the area as far as you can see into the distance on your property and beyond, including points at which the earth and sky appear to intersect.

Invasives. Term used to describe plants that grow too vigorously and are not native to a region.

Leaf mold. Partially decomposed leaves, also called leaf mulch, that make an excellent soil amendment.

Microclimate. The weather created in an area by specific local conditions, such as a house wall that offers heat throughout winter. Such microclimates can help support plants that are otherwise not typically hardy in a particular region.

Mulch. A covering of protective material, usually organic, spread over the soil surface to hold moisture and control weeds and erosion.

Naturalize. The process of plants' spreading on their own by stems, rhizomes, stolons, or seeds.

Parterre. Generally formal gardens with edged beds, often divided by walks, designed to form a pattern. Of European origin.

Percolate. To filter or seep through a porous substance, such as gravel, sand, or soil.

Perspective. A drawing of how any part of a garden will appear when completed.

Pesticide. Any herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide used to kill a pest.

Pool. Usually installed as part of a landscape design to grow aquatic plants, raise fish, frogs, and other wildlife, or simply for the sound of moving water.

Root collar. A visible bulge or flare on a shrub or tree just atop the point where the roots join the main stem.

Root prune. The action of using a flat nursery spade to slice deeply into the soil, 12 to 24 inches from the trunk, in a circle around the perimeter of a plant's roots. This is usually done in preparation for transplanting trees and shrubs a year or more in advance.

Section. A drawing that has been cut away horizontally or vertically to show the soil profile and demonstrate how plants should be installed in the garden or the inside of a structure.

Selective pruning. Pruning or trimming by choosing and cutting one branch at a time, such as pinching new tender shoots, cutting off old rose blooms, removing select branches from a lilac, yew, crape myrtle, or other shrub, or cutting huge limbs on trees.

Softscape. The plant material in the landscape.

Sucker. A stem or "shoot" growing directly from the trunk of a woody plant, or from a major tree limb, generally growing straight and tall without branching.

Wet feet. A garden location that leaves plants in constant moisture and may suffocate their roots by keeping oxygen from getting to them.

Xeriscape. The use of drought-tolerant native plants, compost in the soil, mulches, and other water-efficient practices to minimize moisture demands in the landscape.