Garden Speak: Understanding Botanary

August 15, 2011

By Jan Phipps

Gardening definitions

Have you ever been around a group of gardeners who seem to be talking in a foreign language? We gardeners like our slang, language shortcuts and horticultural lingo. Here are some of the more common ones you’ve probably heard, starting with botanary, which is short for botanical dictionary.

Let’s start with the phrase, sleep, creep and leap. This refers to perennials. The first year there is little above-ground growth because the plant is establishing roots. The second year it grows a little, but by the third year it is mature and may be multiplying.

How about M.A.D.? When you put a plant somewhere other than its ideal growing conditions, that plant has to either move, adapt or die. I know, it’s a harsh world out there, even in the garden.

You’ve probably figured out doesn’t like wet feet refers to plants that need good drainage, but why? Roots need oxygen, which is present in air spaces between soil particles. When those spaces are filled with water, the roots essentially drown.

What the heck is a green manure crop, you ask? It is something planted with the express purpose of turning it into the soil to enrich the nutrient level. Green manure crops can be planted anytime, but are most often established in the fall. Grasses are used to provide organic matter. Legumes are used because of their nitrogen-fixing capability, and certain brassicas and mustards are deterrents to various nematodes, fungi, and insects.

A sport is a serendipitous quirk of nature that provides the horticulture industry with new plants. What looks like a malformation on an otherwise normal plant is removed and cultivated. Many of the dwarf varieties of conifers started out as a sport.

Speaking of conifers, did you know those tan tubes at the end of branches appearing each spring are called candles? They contain the new year’s growth.

What is a thug? It’s slang for a plant that reproduces a little too fast, spreading and crowding out the neighboring plants. Beware of friends giving you a pass-along plant with the description, “It spreads a bit.” Perhaps, but it could also be a thug.

During a drought, you may hear gardeners talking about using gray water to water their plants. Gray water is water that has already been used once to do the dishes or as bath water. It is a responsible way to conserve water but keep your garden alive during water restrictions mandated by municipalities.

Are there any other gardening terms that you’ve heard but don’t know the definition? Let us know in the comments.

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