Garden Terminology 101: A Guide for Beginners

Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb or a plant rookie, understanding key garden terminology is crucial. “Knowing basic gardening terms makes it easier to ask for advice or discuss your progress with your gardening friends,” explains Christopher Landercasper, the Director of Farming Operations for the Sonoma’s Best Hospitality Group. “Plus, it helps ensure you are employing the right methods when gardening.”

a person sitting in a garden: Getty / Kathrin Ziegler

© Provided by Martha Stewart Living
Getty / Kathrin Ziegler

So, what should you do when you can’t decipher the meaning behind a common phrase? For starters, horticulturist Amy Enfield of Bonnie Plants recommends looking it up in a good gardening book—or when all else fails, try Google. “Some general gardening books have a glossary of terms in the back of the book for quick reference,” she says. “Or you can look it up online.” You can also check in here: We asked Enfield and Landercasper to explain some basic garden terminology, and here’s what they had to say.

a person sitting in a garden: From perennials to pollination and more, two gardening experts break down the meaning behind some popular gardening phrases and terms.

© Getty / Kathrin Ziegler
From perennials to pollination and more, two gardening experts break down the meaning behind some popular gardening phrases and terms.

Related: Smart Gardening Tips and Tricks


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Annuals, Perennials, and Biennials

Before you can successfully grow any plant, Enfield says it’s essential to understand its life cycle. “Annuals are plants that complete their lifecycle (seed to flower) in a single growing season and then die; therefore they have to be planted new each year,” she explains. “Perennials are plants that come back year after year, while biennials take two growing seasons (years) to complete their life cycle. Biennials do not flower the first year, but flower the second year, set seed, and then die.”


According to Landercasper, germination is the moment the seed ends its dormant state and begins to metabolize, divide cells, and begin its growth cycle. “Germination is most often referred to as a percentage,” he explains. “Most companies test their seeds before offering them for sale and write on the package the germination percent. This is the expected number of the seeds in the packet that are actually viable, healthy seeds. Good seeds are generally in the high 90th percentile.”


Most simply put, pollination is what happens when the pollen from a male flower combines with the stigma of a female flower of the same or very similar plant species. “Pollination can occur by the wind, through an insect, or it can be done by hand if a gardener is trying to cross breed species,” Landercasper explains. “Some plants such as tomatoes and grapes are self-pollinating, where each flower has both male and female parts.”

Full Sun, Part Sun, and Partial Shade

If you aren’t planting your flowers in the right kind of sun, there’s a good chance they won’t grow. “Full sun refers to an area that receives, or a plant that needs, at least six hours or more of direct sunlight daily,” Enfield says. “Partial sun and partial shade refer to plants that need between four to

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