Glossary of Gardening Terms M-Z

Glossary of Gardening Words and Terms

See also: Glossary of Gardening Terms A-L


There are two types, green manure and organic manure, both of which add humus to the soil.


This refers to any fast-growing crop which is planted specifically to be dug into the soil. Legumes, such as French beans or peas, are especially valuable for this purpose as they fix nitrogen in the soil and this is vital for plant development. Italian rye grass can also be used as a green manure. Any plant used for this purpose must be dug in as soon as flowering starts.


These are animal manures and include most of the nutrients which are essential to healthy plant growth. Farmyard and stable manures are perhaps the best known. Manure from poultry farms is not suitable for use in small town gardens as it tends to develop an offensive smell as it breaks down. Vegetable wastes are also organic manures and include spent hops and mushroom compost, leaf-mould and, in coastal areas, seaweed. All of this material will have to be composted before use. Also under the heading of organic manure come the processed manures such as bonemeal and dried blood which are very concentrated and are not used to treat the whole garden. As they are in powder form they add no humus to the soil. They can, however, be added to the soil when it is dug over by being sprinkled into the trench.


Such plants survive for many years, but die after flowering.


Plants in this group have one seed leaf (see Cotyledon).


A soft layer of material such as compost, other plant material or manure which is placed on top of the soil to conserve the moisture in the soil and to prevent the growth of weeds. Non-organic materials such as black polythene and stones can also be used as a mulch.


Substances that provide the plant with nourishment including nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, potassium and magnesium. A soil deficient in these elements will produce poor plants. The three nutrients most essential to the health of the plant are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.


Refers to substances which are derived from the decay of living organisms and which therefore contain carbon.


A large flower cluster made up of many individual flowers, each with its own stem. The flowers of buddleia and lilac are borne in panicles.


A plant which lives for more than two years and produces flowers and seeds annually throughout its lifetime. Examples are Aster novi-belgii (Michaelmas daisy), Campanula spp (bellflower) and Gentiana acaulis (trumpet gentian).

Pinching out

To nip off, usually with finger and thumb, the growing point of a plant to encourage it to make more bushy growth.


A tree cut back hard to the main stem so that new growths bush out in a mop-head arrangement. Willows are often treated in this way.

Potting On

The transference of a pot plant to a pot of a larger size than the one in which it is currently growing. It is time to pot on when the plant’s roots begin to grow through the drainage hole.

This is done by watering the plant, removing it from the old pot together with the compost in which it is growing, and placing the plant and compost in the new pot which is then filled with compost to just above the original compost level. Firm down the compost and water the plant again.

Pricking Out

The transference of seedlings from the pots or boxes in which they germinated to larger pots or boxes in which they have more space to grow on before being planted out in their final position.

Ray Floret

see Floret


A prostrate, fleshy stem with leaves above and roots below. Bearded irises grow from rhizomes.


A term for the tree on which another is grafted. Special dwarfing rootstocks have been developed so that fruit trees, especially, can be grown in a more confined space.


A rooting stem which will form a new plant where it touches the soil. Blackberry and strawberry plants can both be propagated by means of runners.


A seed-bed is made during the spring on soil that was dug and manured during the previous autumn. First fork over the soil. When it is dry firm it down and rake it lightly. Make a shallow drill using the edge of a hoe. Make sure that the drill is straight by using a garden line. Sow the seeds spreading them thinly along the drill. Then gently draw the soil back to cover the seeds using the hoe. Firm down the earth without disturbing the seeds underneath. Label the row before removing the garden line.

Seed Chipping

The process of filing or cutting the outer skin of a very hard seed, eg sweet pea, in order to allow moisture to enter. This process hastens germination.

seedling Seedling

A young plant after germination which has a single unbranched stem. This term is also sometimes applied to an older plant which has been raised from seed.


A perennial plant which is smaller than a tree. It has branches and woody stems with little or no trunk

Soil Testing

You can make a rough estimate of the type of soil in your garden by carrying out the following test. Take a handful of soil and put it in a jam jar which is half full of water. Shake the soil and water together and leave the jar to stand for an hour or two. Sand and gravel will sink to the bottom, loam and clay will be suspended in the middle and humus will be floating on top. The proportions of the various materials will give you some idea of the type of soil you have. You can also tell a great deal about your soil by observing what happens when it rains If the water stays on the surface for a long time it is likely that you have a clay soil. On the other hand, if the rain drains away quickly you are likely to have a sandy soil.

Soil tends to fall into one of the following groups, although you may find that your garden contains patches of different types of soil.

Clay soil

A dense heavy soil which tends to be wet, and is often water-logged during the winter. When you pick up a handful and roll it between your fingers it forms a solid ball. The tiny particles are tightly packed and plants can suffer badly during the summer as their roots are unable to penetrate the topsoil to obtain water from the subsoil. This type of soil can be improved by the addition of organic matter such as peat, leaves and garden compost. Lime can also be added (see Lime). In extreme cases land drains may have to be laid to carry off excess water.

Loamy soil

A balanced blend of sand, clay and humus. When it is rolled in your hand it forms small crumbs. This is the ideal garden soil. The clay content prevents it drying out, the sand content ensures an open texture, and humus ensures a good supply of plant nutrients. Loams can be subdivided into sandy loams, which contain a high proportion of sand; heavy loams, which contain a high proportion of clay; and marls, which contain a high proportion of chalk.

Sandy Soil

A type of soil found mainly in coastal areas. When you pick up a handful and run it between your fingers it trickles through them. It drains very rapidly and as a result nutrients are leached out of the soil. In order to prevent this happening bulky organic material such as farmyard manure, garden compost, or grass clippings should be added to the soil.

Soils can also be divided according to their acid or alkaline content. This is discovered by measuring their potential hydrogen (pH). Seedsmen can usually supply small kits for testing the pH of garden soil. These kits contain small bottles of chemicals which are mixed with samples of soil following the instructions given with the kit and matched to a colour chart which gives the pH. Alkaline soils have a pH of 7 and above, neutral soils have a pH of 6.6-7; and acidic soils have a pH of less than 6.6. Soils are described as very acid when their pH is 4.5 or less. Most plants grow best in soils which are slightly acidic or neutral, that is soils with a pH of 6.5-7.


Fill a box or pot with compost, level it off and firm it down. Sow the seeds as thinly as possible; fine seed can be sprinkled from a piece of folded paper; sow large seeds individually in holes made with a pencil or a dibber.


A sub-division of a genus, abbreviated to sp. in the singular and spp. in the plural. (See also Genus.)


A tree or shrub which has a tall, bare stem several feet long before the first branches. Standard fruit trees usually have a 6-foot (1.8m) trunk, standard roses rather less.


The removal of the growing tip in order to encourage the plant to branch out and become more bushy or to control the size or blooming of the flowers.


A way of hastening the germination of hard-coated seeds by exposing them to frost. The seeds should be placed in layers in boxes of sand and left covered with wire netting in an exposed position outside. Peach stones respond well to this treatment as do the seeds of the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia).


The soil below the fertile top layer.


Any plant which has thick, fleshy leaves or stems in which water can be stored. These plants are adapted to survive in arid conditions.


A shoot which comes up from below ground level, usually from the roots of a tree or shrub. Suckers are a particular problem on grafted plants and must be removed immediately, as they may swamp the plant which is grafted onto the rootstock.


A thick fleshy root that descends for a considerable distance into the soil. Other roots branch off from it. Taproots can become very fleshy as with carrot and parsnip.


A slender clinging stemlike organ which is sensitive enough to twine around anything that it touches.


The fine crumbly surface layer of the soil.


The fertile top layer of the soil.


The process of moving young plants from one place to another to give them more space in which to develop. When plants are moved it is essential to ensure that they are firmly planted in their new position. Test this by pulling gently on a leaf; if the whole plant moves it is not planted firmly enough.


A swollen underground root or stem used by the plant to store food. Potatoes are tubers. Dahlias and begonias are tuberous plants.


A leaf which is marked by regular or irregular stripes in a colour different from that of the leaf or by patches of another colour, such as white, cream or yellow. Such plants are usually grown for their foliage as the flowers tend to be insignificant.


A group of plants which vary from the species type. It may also refer to a cultivar or a member of a hybrid group. (See also Cultivar; Hybrid.)

Vegetative Propagation

This refers to methods of propagation other than by seeds, for example by cuttings, layering, root division or grafting.


See also: Glossary of Gardening Terms A-L

14. May 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Glossary | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Glossary of Gardening Terms M-Z


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