Glossary of Plant Terms

Understanding garden "speak"
is an important step to
gardening success

Glossary of Plant Terms


Accent - Accent plants are utilized to bring attention to a specific plant characteristic and in turn draw the eye to the area of the landscape they occupy. Accent plants offer stunning foliage color, interesting growth habit, unique flowers or a combination of all three.

Aeration - Aeration refers to the amount of air present in the soil. Properly aerated soil allows for the healthy growth of plants' roots, therefore promoting the overall vigor of the plants grown. Water and fertilizers are better able to reach the roots in soil that is sufficiently aerated. Soil that lacks aeration often becomes compacted, and tends to prevent the absorption of moisture and nutrients.

There are essentially two basic methods of aerating soil. One way is by manually digging, tilling or turning the soil, thus incorporating some small pockets of air within the soil. Secondly, earthworms and some other tunneling creatures naturally provide aeration by means of their feeding and movements through the soil.

Angled Cuts - When pruning branches it is recommended to make angled cuts. The angle should be between 45 and 60 degrees to the plane of the branch. The cut should be made slightly above a bud or branch in such a way as to have it angled from the side of the bud or other branch directed down the stem with the lower part of the cut terminating on the opposite side of the bud or branch.

If larger branches of a tree or large shrub are to be removed, it is recommended to make the cut near the collar of bark at the junction of the limbs or trunk. The angle should accommodate the rapid dissipation of moisture from rain or irrigation from the cut surface.

Angled cuts will greatly reduce the risk of dieback and disease and allow the plant to heal and grow in a healthy manner.

Annual - An annual is a plant which grows, blooms, and perhaps, sets seeds within a one year period. Annuals are among the most colorful of all flowering bedding plants. Since all of the plant's energy is directed toward producing flowers and seeds, annuals tend to bloom over an exceptionally long time during their growing season.

Cool-season annuals are those which grow most vigorously during the cooler time of the year. Some, but not all, cool-season annuals are able to withstand periods of subfreezing temperatures.

Warm-season annuals tend to thrive in the warmer months of the year, and generally will not tolerate frost.

Attractant - This plant will attract both butterflies and hummingbirds that are native to your area. The nectar of this plant is a natural food source for butterflies and hummingbirds. When you are planning a butterfly or hummingbird garden, use multiple plants that bloom at different times. This will provide a food source throughout the season. Also remember that butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy fresh water and protected areas to rest, perch and nest.

Balled And Burlapped - Balled and burlapped plants are those which have been grown in the ground for a length of time before being dug with an appropriately sized root ball. Burlap is used to wrap the root ball and is usually secured with rope, twine, wire or combinations of the three.

Planting of balled and burlapped plants is essentially the same as for container-grown plants. Make sure the plant is positioned so that the top of its root ball is near the same level as it was previously growing. Pull back any burlap that may be exposed, as this material could act to accelerate the drying of the root area. Any materials wrapped around the base of the plant should be cut to allow for its growth.

Bare Root (Packaged) - Bare root or packaged plants offer ease of transport and will thrive with just a little extra attention during the planting process. Try to plant bare root plants as soon after purchase as possible. If it's going to be longer than a day before planting, place the plant with its roots in a bucket of water.

For planting, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Form a cone of soil at the bottom of the hole; this will allow you to place the roots in such a way that they will fan outward, allowing for better and faster establishment. For bare root plants already with significant top growth, be sure to locate the growing level of the plant. This can usually be distinguished by a difference in coloration along the main trunk or stem. Make certain the plant is situated so it is growing at the same level as before it was dug.

Biodegradable Pots - Biodegradable pots are environmentally friendly alternatives to more traditional plastic pots. These containers are typically manufactured by compressing natural fibers into a typical pot shape.

Planting items grown in biodegradable pots is made simple since the plant and pot are planted directly into the soil; roots can easily grow through the fibers of the pot and into the surrounding soil. Be certain to make sure the soil in the pot is at or slightly above the existing soil. Any portion of the pot which would protrude above the soil line should be carefully cut away as this material could act like a wick, allowing moisture to be drawn away from the root system.

Bone Meal - Bone meal is an excellent natural fertilizer for a wide variety of plants including flowers, bulbs, perennials, roses and vegetables. It is an excellent source of phosphorus - the major nutrient used by plants which encourages flower and fruit production, root growth and overall plant growth. It also contains a substantial amount of calcium, another necessary nutrient for plants.

Since the phosphorus in bone meal does not travel easily through the soil to plant roots, it is recommended that it be incorporated into the soil that will surround the root system of the plant. For best results, add bone meal to soil when backfilling the hole for a new plant or carefully dig into soil of existing planting areas.

Bud - A bud is basically a point on a plant where new growth can occur.

In the case of many woody plants such as trees and shrubs which are grown primarily for their foliage rather than flowers, buds are the structures which contain new stem and leaf material. They can be found at the tips of branches as well as along the branches themselves. The majority of these buds will swell and open with the onset of the growing season, while some may remain dormant for a year or more depending on environmental conditions.

Flower buds on annual and many perennial garden plants are the unopened structures containing all the parts which will eventually become a flower.

Butterfly - This plant will attract butterflies that are native to your area. The nectar of this plant is a natural food source for butterflies. When planning your butterfly garden, keep in mind they also enjoy fresh water and protected areas for resting. Use multiple plants that will bloom at different times to ensure a variety of food sources throughout the season.

Canes - Canes are woody stems of plants like roses and blackberries which will produce their maximum amount of flowering or fruiting within a one or two year period. These canes are usually pruned severely or removed after their productive stage has passed to allow for new growth to take their places.

Canopy - The canopy is the highest level of branches and foliage providing shade below.

Many plants which flourish with partial or dappled shade are well suited for growing under a canopy. Certain large trees will produce a canopy which will shade their lower limbs causing these branches to diminish in vigor. After these limbs are removed, the possibility could arise for new plantings. Referred to as understory plantings, suitable candidates will form a new architectural level to a landscape setting.

Cold Hardiness - Cold hardiness refers to a plant's ability to survive near-freezing and subfreezing temperatures. Many factors can determine cold hardiness. A plant which is gradually accustomed to cooler temperatures is more likely to survive the cold than a plant which experiences a rapid change from warmth to cold. A plant susceptible to cold which is situated where it will receive early morning sunlight may be more likely to succumb to damage. Also, the overall health of a plant will determine its cold hardiness. A plant which has been fertilized adequately during its growing season will tend to be hardier than one which has lacked sufficient nutrients.

Crown - The crown of a plant is the point where the roots join the stem.

When planting new landscape additions it is important to remember that the crown of the plant should always be planted at or slightly above the existing grade. Planting too deep can cause fatal rotting of the crown and roots.

Days To Harvest - Days to harvest is usually indicated within the growing instructions for vegetables and fruit, and generally refers to the number of days it takes from setting out a transplant until the first harvest can be made.

Days To Maturity - Days to maturity is usually indicated within the growing instructions for vegetable seeds, and generally refers to the number of days it takes from sowing until the first harvest can be made. However, this is not a universally accepted definition, and may refer to the number of days it takes from setting out a transplant or seedling until the first harvest can be made.

Dead-Heading - Dead-heading is a simple type of pruning which involves the removal of a flower or cluster of flowers down to a leaf or set of leaves. The main reason for dead-heading is to discourage a plant from producing seeds. Often, when a plant begins to set seeds, its natural tendency to produce flowers will diminish. By removing flowers before this takes place, one can disrupt the seed-forming process, thereby causing the plant to produce more flowers. Dead-heading is most effectively done when flowers begin to fade or drop petals.

Deciduous - A plant which is deciduous will shed all of its foliage at the end of the growing season. Deciduous plants will then produce a new set of leaves at the onset of the next growing season.

Deer Resistant - A deer resistant plant is considered rarely or seldom browsed by deer. This does not mean the plant is immune to grazing. Deer often eat anything if food is scarce.

Determinate - Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigor and will set little to no new fruit.

These varieties are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes, because they do not continue growing in size throughout the growing season. They are smaller than indeterminate tomatoes, with most growing to a compact 3-4 feet. Despite their compact size, staking or caging is still recommended, since the concentrated fruit set can contribute considerable weight to the branches.

Dioecious - A dioecious plant produces either female or male flowers, but not both, on a single plant. A male plant and a female plant must be planted within a close proximity for the female plant to produce fruit or berries; the pollen from the plant with male flowers is needed to pollinate the female flowers on a separate plant.

Dividing - Dividing is the process of separating plants, usually during a dormant period, which have become crowded over time due to continued growth.

It may be a necessity to divide to keep certain plants performing at their peak, as they may have formed a solid mass which prevents proper uptake of nutrients and water.

Plants may also be divided at the proper time to allow one to plant the divisions to other locations. In most cases, care must be taken while dividing. Each division will need a significant amount of roots and stem growth to survive the process.

Dormant - A plant that is dormant is essentially resting. It is at a point in time when it cannot produce growth, usually due to climatic factors. Temperatures near freezing will cause the majority of landscape plants to enter a dormant state. It is at this time when most plants can be pruned, divided or transplanted most successfully.

Drip Line - The drip line of an established tree or shrub is an outline of the tips of the farthest branches from the plant's center cast downward onto the soil below. It is within this area of soil where the largest concentration of feeder roots is generally located. When fertilizing trees and shrubs, keep the drip line in mind, as this will be the area for most effectively feeding the plants. Similarly, when irrigation is necessary, it is important to know where the drip line is to determine where water can most efficiently be supplied. Also, take into account the location of the drip line when planting new landscaping near established plants because of the possibility of competing root systems.

Dwarf - Dwarf plants are ones which appear much smaller than members of the same species. This is often achieved by grafting a stem of a desirable variety to a rootstock of a different variety. The difference in rootstock and top allows the plant to grow only to a fraction of its usual height and width, allowing it to be grown in a smaller space than its full sized counterpart.

Early Blossom - Blooming plants that flourish in temperatures down to 35 degrees.

Evergreen - Evergreen plants retain their foliage throughout the year. For many evergreens, older interior foliage will begin to be shed with the onset of new growth. It is important to water evergreens thoroughly during winter. Especially during periods of dry and windy weather.

Feature - Feature plants are visually dramatic plants which lend themselves perfectly for use as focal points in the landscape. They should be placed in a prominent area so that their special form or unique characteristic can be admired.

Examples of feature plants include unusual weeping specimens, topiaries (sculptured plants), as well as trees with interesting bark or weeping branches.

Flowering - Flowering landscape plants produce beautiful displays of colorful blooms. Use a single flowering specimen to brighten a shady spot or plant in mass for a burst of color. Utilize varieties with different bloom times to brighten the landscape all season long. Plant flowering plants in highly visible areas where they can be enjoyed. Utilize green-leafed plants as a background to make the flowers stand out where possible.

Foundation/Hedge - Foundation/Hedge plants are perfect for softening the harsh edges associated with buildings. They are also useful to accentuate favorable elements of the home and hide less desirable ones. Many foundation plants provide a natural backdrop to shorter foreground plantings. Hedges are used to create lush green barriers between yards and to increase privacy. Foundation plantings help to reduce the amount of energy used in a home by insulating the house from wind and sun.

GCS - From eye-catching new varieties to time-tested favorites, Lowe’s Garden Club Select plants have been carefully selected and thoroughly tested to ensure peak performance for your exact growing conditions - satisfaction guaranteed!

Graft - To graft is to join together the strong growing roots of one variety of plant with another desired variety's stem for top growth. The resulting union allows for a more vigorous plant than the desired variety would have had if grown on its own roots.

When planting grafted plants it is important to remember that the point of the graft should always be planted higher than the existing grade. Any growth which might occur below the graft is usually undesirable and should be removed immediately.

Ground Cover - Ground covers are low-growing plants used in the landscape to cover large areas of ground.  They are often used to create blankets of foliage in and around shrubs and trees to unify the landscape or as a filler between stepping stones. In addition, they are wonderful for erosion control on slopes or banks, or as a lawn substitute in areas too shady to support the growth of turf grasses. Many ground covers are lower maintenance than turf grass utilizing less water and eliminating costly and time consuming mowing, edging and trimming. This group of plants encompasses everything from vines to low-growing perennials and shrubs. A broad range of plants that range from 1" to 24" tall. Some fast growing annuals can also be considered ground covers for large flower beds. 

Guarantee - If any tree, shrub or perennial you buy at Lowe's doesn't survive a year, we'll replace it. Just bring it in with the receipt.

Hilling - Hilling is a method of protecting roses from harsh winter weather. Before the onset of cold weather, pile a soil and compost mix about one foot high, making sure to cover the point where the plant was grafted. Fallen tree leaves or any suitable mulch should be added on top of the soil mix. Excessively tall canes should be pruned if in a windy location to prevent movement that could cause the hill to become unstable.

Hummingbird - This plant will attract hummingbirds that are native to your area. The nectar of this plant is a natural food for hummingbirds. When planning your hummingbird garden, keep in mind they also enjoy fresh water and protected areas for perching and nesting. Use multiple plants that will bloom at different times to ensure a variety of food sources throughout the season.

Indeterminate - Indeterminate tomatoes are varieties which continue to produce new growth until frost and ripen their fruit over an extended period.

These varieties are sometimes referred to as "vining" tomatoes because of their tendency to produce long stems over the course of the growing season. Indeterminate tomatoes require sturdy support to secure their growth and make harvesting easier. Stout tall stakes and tall cages are recommended. Some indeterminate varieties can be pruned during summer to help stimulate new growth for a late season harvest.

Internal Shoots - Internal shoots are vertical branches within the structure of a plant.

Monoecious - A monoecious plant produces both female and male flowers on a single plant. The plant will be able to produce berries or fruit without the need of another plant. However, in some instances berry or fruit production may be increased by planting multiples of the same variety.

Mounding - Mounding plants grow in such a way as to produce growth both vertically and horizontally, creating a rather rounded appearance. Mounding plants can serve as a transition in the landscape between strongly upright and low, trailing plants.

Native Soil - The soil which occurs naturally in your area is considered native soil. When planting new additions to the landscape, it is highly recommended to add organic matter to native soil. The landscape plants for your area are most likely adapted to your climate. However, most plants will thrive and grow significantly better if given enriched soil conditions, since often times native soil is lacking many necessary nutrients and microorganisms.

O2 For You - An O2 for YOU™ plant will generate oxygen, purify the air of impurities, create a healthier living environment and add humidity to room air during dry conditions.

For more information about the benefits of indoor plants go to:  O2FORYOU.ORG

One-Year Plant Guarantee - If you purchase a plant from Lowe's and encounter problems with it, bring it in, along with your receipt, and we'll replace it at no charge.

Perennial - A perennial plant is one which will last for several years. Perennials will survive winter and return with new growth during the onset of the growing season. Perennials are indispensable landscape additions due to their lasting nature.

Flowering perennials often have a single season of blooming; planting a variety of different perennials within the landscape will ensure beauty over an exceptionally long time.

Pinching - Pinching is a simple method of pruning a plant to encourage branching and bushier growth. It involves using the thumb and forefinger to remove the tip of a growing shoot on a plant just above a leaf or set of leaves. Many annuals, perennials and shrubs benefit from this type of pruning, allowing them to achieve a more rounded shape, produce more stems for flowering and reduce the height as compared to a mature plant of the same type. Pinching can also be used as a way of delaying the blooming of certain plants to provide an appropriately timed seasonal display of flowers. Some houseplants which tolerate lower light levels may also benefit from pinching stems which tend to grow toward a light source.

Plant Trunk - The trunk is the woody, thickened main stem of a plant. Bark acts as a shield to protect the numerous tissues inside the trunk which are responsible for carrying nutrients up to the plant's branches and downward toward the root system. It is important to protect the trunk from injury since damaging the conductive tissues just below the surface of the trunk will result in disrupted growth or dieback of branches and roots relative to the side of the trunk injured. Make sure lawn mowers and line trimmers as well as other potentially damaging tools are kept from striking the trunk. If planted in a lawn area, consider using a trunk protector to avoid damage. Keep lawn grass from growing directly up to the trunk of a plant by using mulch or appropriate herbicides.

Pollinator - A pollinator is the means by which pollen from a flower is transported to accomplish the pollination process. Most plants grown for their edible produce require pollination to set fruit. Bees are common pollinators. Planting a wide variety of blooming plants can help attract natural pollinators in your area to your landscape.

Root Ball - A root ball is the soil and roots of a plant as seen during planting or transplanting. Container grown plants will have a root ball equivalent to the size and shape of the container in which they have been grown. Balled and burlapped plants should have a root ball proportionate to the size of the plant, but with an irregularly rounded shape.

It is essential that the root ball remains intact during planting or transplanting. Many tiny roots which are responsible for the uptake of water and nutrients exist within the root ball. If the ball breaks, damage to these miniscule roots will occur, causing significant stress to the plant. Always handle the root ball carefully, supporting it securely during the planting or transplanting process.

Root Stimulator - A root stimulator is a solution of specific nutrients formulated to encourage the growth and development of the roots of plants. Using root stimulator on newly planted and transplanted landscape additions will help them become established more quickly. A healthy and substantial root system will allow plants to flourish and resist adverse conditions such as extreme heat, cold and drought.

Rootstock - A rootstock is the structure below the crown of a vigorous species of plant onto which a more desirable plant is grafted and grows. Usually rootstocks are used when the desirable top portion to be grown would be less vigorous if allowed to do so on its own roots. Often, a rootstock can limit the mature size of a plant as compared to the same variety when grown on its own roots. This may allow for the growing of naturally large plants in relatively small spaces, sometimes including planters and patio containers.

Screening - Screening plants produce dense growth and significant height, allowing them to provide privacy in urban settings or establish wind breaks in large open spaces. Taller varieties also furnish a vertical element to landscapes, drawing the eye upward. Use screening plants to divide large spaces and create cozy secluded hideaways, block street noise, or hide unattractive views. Tall screens can also afford protection from the wind which can substantially reduce energy consumption in the wintertime.

Semi-Dwarf - Semi-dwarf plants are ones which appear significantly smaller than members of the same species. This is often achieved by grafting a stem of a desirable variety to a rootstock of a different variety. The difference in rootstock and top allows the plant to grow only to a small percentage of its usual height and width, allowing it to be grown in a smaller space than its full sized counterpart.

Shearing - Shearing is the cutting of the tips of the branches of a shrub, either manually with handheld pruners or with a motorized tool, to achieve a desired shape.

Hedges are often sheared to a uniform height and width to add a touch of formality to the landscape. Similarly, topiaries are sheared to maintain their unique shapes. Shearing is usually done on a regular basis during the growing season.

For proper growth, one should shear plants in such a way that sunlight is able to reach all areas of the plants. It is not recommended to shear plants so as to have the top wider than the growth at the base, as this would shade growth further down, causing it to become sparse.

Shrub - Shrubs are woody plants usually with multiple stems arising from or near their bases. Shrubs will not develop a bare trunk like a tree, however, some large shrubs can be pruned into tree-form by removing all but one straight main stem.

Soil Conditioner - Soil conditioners are products used to change the structure and fertility of existing or native soil. They are incorporated into the soil to help improve the vigor and overall performance of plants.

Examples of soil conditioners include compost, manures and mulches along with many others.

Specimen - A specimen plant is one which captures attention with its unique structure, outstanding coloration, significant size or a combination of the three. Specimens are usually planted singly within a landscape setting to draw attention to their uniqueness.

Staked - Plants are staked when a support is needed for upright growth. If a plant's natural habit is to trail or produce vines, it may be staked for guidance toward a structure or wall. Young trees are often staked in areas of high wind to prevent excessive swaying.

Standard - Standard size plants are either grown on their own roots or grafted onto a different rootstock. Either method should not limit the plant from reaching the mature height for its species.

Sub-Tropics - The subtropics are the areas between the tropical equatorial region and the cooler or more temperate regions of the planet. Many beautiful and durable landscape plants can be successfully grown in the subtropics. The subtropical locations near oceans or large bodies of water are the places of origin for some of the most colorful landscape plants.

Superphosphate - Superphosphate is a fertilizer containing only the major nutrient phosphorus. It is an excellent fertilizer for a wide variety of plants including flowers, bulbs, perennials, roses and vegetables. Phosphorus is the nutrient used by plants to encourage flower and fruit production, root growth and overall plant growth.

Since the phosphorus in superphosphate does not travel easily through the soil to plant roots, it is recommended that it be incorporated into the soil that will surround the root system of the plant. For best results, add superphosphate to soil when backfilling the hole for a new plant or carefully dig into soil of existing planting areas.

Tender Perennial - A tender perennial is a plant which will generally survive mild winter conditions, yet may be questionable where temperatures often fall below freezing. Many tender perennial plants can be overwintered indoors, while some may survive in the ground with added winter protection. Applying a thick layer of mulch around the roots of tender perennials for the winter is usually recommended.

Tendrils - Tendrils are sensitive plant structures which grab onto a suitable structure to support climbing and vining plants. The size of the tendril generally determines the diameter of an object around which it can coil. Choose an appropriately sized support when planting vines with tendrils to make sure the tendrils have the ability to utilize the structure.

Thinning - Thinning refers to the pruning of trees and shrubs to help create a more open structure and to allow more sunlight penetration. This may become necessary when older trees begin to shade plants beneath. The appropriate timing for thinning is usually when the tree or shrub is in a dormant state. In areas with colder weather, the best time is usually after the first hard freeze.

Topiary - A topiary is a shrub or tree which has been carefully pruned and trained to give it a unique shape other than how it would naturally grow if left unprimed. Topiaries are outstanding feature plants or landscape specimens. Many topiary plants may be used in planters to accent entryways or add beauty to patio areas. Topiaries are easily maintained if given regular attention and frequent light pruning as needed.

Trailing - Trailing plants produce predominantly horizontal growth with little or no strongly upright branches. These plants lend themselves ideally for foreground planting, massing and as ground cover.

Tropical - A tropical plant is one which comes from a region which does not experience any freezing temperatures, thus allowing it to grow all year in its native environment. The greatest variety of plants originate from the tropical areas of the world.

Tropical plants are used in many climates for many purposes. Houseplants are a prime example of tropicals being utilized outside their native range. Many seasonal landscape color plants and bedding plants are tropical, and are used frequently in annual plantings. Some fruit-bearing tropical plants can be grown in containers which are brought inside during the colder winter months.

Tropics - The tropics is an area in the form of a band with the equator at its center which encircles the earth. Plants from the tropics usually come from regions of consistently warm temperatures with moderate to heavy rainfall.

Upright - Upright plants produce vertical branching which exceeds the length of their horizontal branching. Upright plants are well-suited for background and mid-level landscape plantings.

USDA Hardiness Zone - Depending on average annual minimum temperature, the Department of Agriculture has grouped all locations in the United States into a Hardiness Zone. The zones are numbered with Zone 1 having the lowest average annual minimum temperature with higher numbered zones having warmer average minimums. This information is utilized to determine the range in which plants may be successfully grown. It is recommended to check which zone you live in to help choose landscape plants that will endure your climate's winter.

Vine - A vine is considered a plant that will grow to an indefinite height and/or width while at the same time depending on another plant or surface for support. The support can be an arbor, fence, the ground and even a house. Vines climb by tendrils, by twining or by clinging.  Their climbing method determines the kind of support required. Tendrils are small leafless stems that wrap themselves around most anything they contact like a wire support, wooden trellis or wrought iron fence. Twining vines wind their stems around any available support and are favored for trellises arbors and patio covers. Clinging vines climb by attaching small root-like fasteners to walls, trees, or other textured surfaces.

Water Soluble Fertilizer - A water soluble fertilizer is one that is mixed with water before being applied to plants. Water soluble fertilizers contain nutrients which are readily available for plant uptake, and usually provide relatively fast growth, flowering or fruit production. In general, water soluble fertilizers may need to be applied more frequently due to their ability to be dissolved by water. Rain and irrigation are factors which can influence the longevity of a water soluble fertilizer's effectiveness. Always follow label direction when applying any fertilizer.

Water Wise - Once established, a Water Wise plant can survive periods of limited water availability. These plants are environmentally friendly because they decrease the amount of water needed to maintain a healthy landscape and help lower water bills.