Girrrrl…I need your help!” My friend Alanna was on the phone, and I could hear the anxiety in her voice. Turns out she wasn’t having a code red emergency; it was the code green type — the plant type. 

“What’s a perennial?” she asked.

Gardening isn’t just seed, soil, water and sun. There is also code. When you are new to plants, a word like perennial doesn’t yet mean anything. Summer gets hot, so when it’s time for a break, grab a water, find some shade and study up on garden terms. Because, why not? Here are a few ABCs of horticulture terminology to get you started.

Acid vs. alkaline: How soil pH is measured on a 0-14 scale. Most plants are happy between a pH 6.0 – 7.5. Higher readings are acidic, low ones are alkaline.

Annuals: Plants that begin and end their life in one season.

Bedding plants: A variety of plants used to fill large seasonal areas, small hanging baskets and the like.

Beneficials: These are pollinators and insects that prey on garden pests. Pollinators are animals or insects that share pollen among flowers.

Climbers: This refers to the growth habit of the plant. For example, climbers are useful in a small space and to cover a fence or a wall.

Cultivar: Cross-breeding one plant with another.

And to answer Alanna’s question, what’s a perennial? Perennials are plants that emerge from the ground come spring, flower, set seed and die. They usually live three years or longer.

Sure we’ve gone down an, albeit short, rabbit hole here. Garden terminology doesn’t end. Put that smartphone you won’t take your eyes off of to good use this summer. Google the meaning of a plant definition (or 23) you’re unfamiliar with. Just find some shade to do it in.


Abra Lee is a horticulturist extraordinaire and unapologetically passionate about all things gardening. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @conquerthesoil.

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