A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening Terminology

I hope that my blog hasn’t fooled you into thinking that I am a gardening expert. (If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed the lack of foliage around our house.) When I moved out of the city fourteen years ago I knew next to nothing about gardening. I don’t know much more now.

This week I am obsessed with finishing the flower beds around the front of the house. My gardening endeavors have gotten mixed results in the past, so I’m not going to share any tips or how-tos. Instead I will explain some gardening terms that would have saved me a lot of time and money had I understood them earlier.

Annuals versus Perennials

Garden centers and nurseries sometimes split plants up into annuals and perennials. They are usually also labeled on the little tag sticking out of their pot. If you aren’t sure, ask. It will be important later.savingpng-2

Geraniums and petunias are popular annual plants. Annuals last for one season and then die in late summer or early fall. You can pull them up and add them to your compost bin when this happens.

Perennials appear to die at the end of their growing season, but they aren’t dead. In fact, they will regrow in the same spot in the spring. Don’t rip these guys out of the ground. Once they “die”, cut them to the ground and toss some mulch on top of them. Popular perennials are day lilies and mums.

Deciduous versus Evergreen


The terms deciduous and evergreen are applied to trees and shrubs. Evergreens keep their leaves or needles all year round. Trees that serve as traditional Christmas trees are evergreens. These include spruce, fir, and pine trees. Rhododendrons and boxwoods are two evergreens that are commonly found in landscaping.

If you need to do leaf removal in the fall, you have deciduous trees on or near your property. Deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves each fall and grow them back each spring. Maple and oak trees are both deciduous. Be careful. Barberry is an evergreen shrub that also comes in deciduous varieties. This is not uncommon. As with annuals and perennials, it’s a good idea to know which you are dealing with.


This is a fancy gardening word that means “type” or “variety”. More specifically, it refers to a type of plant that has been cultivated. The purpose of this is to encourage certain qualities such as size or flower color. For example, I bought some Ruby Loropetalum to plant around the foundation. This shrub was cultivated to be more compact than its counterparts.

                                         Foundation Plant


This one sounds obvious, I know. A foundation plant is simply a plant that goes around the outside of a house to hide the foundation. Foundation plants are an alien concept to many city dwellers. The row house that I grew up in was brick from top to bottom and surrounded by cement in the front and back. The foundation looked like the rest of the house and there was no way to hide it anyway.

Growing Zone or Hardiness Zone

The world is broken into different growing zones depending upon climate. These zones serve as guidelines on which plants can grow in which areas. You really only need to worry about this if you order plants online. Local nurseries and garden centers only stock plants that thrive in their zone.

Self-Seeding Plants

Self-seeding plants drop their seeds on the ground once their flowers are spent. This means that a new batch of the same type of plant will reappear in the same spot each year. Popular examples are poppies and violets.

Dandelion Talks-1The most notorious self-seeder is this yellow nightmare. A dandelion starts as a cheery little splash of yellow. Don’t be fooled. Kill it quickly or it will turn into a white puff of seeds that will scatter across your lawn with the first stiff breeze. In a couple of years you will have more dandelions in your lawn than grass. When the flowers are spent and the seeds have scattered, you will be left with a lawn filled with empty stems. (These always remind me of the paintings of Vlad the Impaler’s handiwork. Anyone else? No? Just me?)


I learned most of this stuff the hard way. I have bought plants that didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I have pulled up perennials because I thought that they were dead. Portions of my foundation are (gasp) not hidden behind a wall of foliage. I have ordered nonnative plants online that didn’t like the Philadelphia area as much as I do. If I have stopped you from making one of these dumb mistakes then…good. It means that I didn’t write this and almost get into an accident taking pictures of dead dandelions from my car window for nothing.

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