Do you know your garden jargon? |

Do you know your garden jargon?

I’m a fan of the Oregon State Extension Service. They have wonderful horticulturists there. I just came across an article by Kym Pokorny titled “What Does That Mean? Experts Take on Gardening Jargon.” Since everyone likes to test their knowledge, see how many of the following gardening words you know:

Annual vs. biennial vs. perennial

Open-pollinated vs. hybrids vs. heirlooms

Broadcasting vs. side-dressing

Row cover fabric

Incongruous elements

Hardening off

Hardiness zone

Nitrogen fixing

Hopefully, many of my readers know most of these, particularly things like annual (completes its life cycle in one year), biennial (grows leaves the first year; flowers and goes to seed the second year) and perennial (lives for years). Open-pollinated plants are pollinated by insects, birds, etc. that breed offspring identical to their parents. Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that are 50 years old. “Hybrids are bred from two different varieties for characteristics like disease resistance or higher yield (Pokorny).” Hybrids do not breed true.

When we scatter seed or fertilizer over a broad area, we are broadcasting. If we put fertilizers or compost in a band next to plants and around plants, we are side-dressing. We cover rows of plants with fabric that is permeable to water and air to keep them warm, to shade them and to keep pests out.

I had to give “incongruous elements” a second thought. I hadn’t heard that landscape design term. These are all the random things, whether manmade or natural that we add to gardens, particularly after a fit of enthusiastic, but perhaps unwise, buying at early season or late season sales! Simplicity and congruity are more attractive.

With our crazy weather, we have to acclimate seedlings and newly purchased nursery plants to our hot sun and temperature swings. We “harden off” plants just as we slowly acclimate ourselves to full sun early in the season so we don’t sunburn. I sure hope I have taught my readers about “hardiness zones,” so people only buy plants suitable for our climate.

Nitrogen, a vital plant nutrient, exists not only in soil, but as a gas in the atmosphere. Most plants can’t absorb nitrogen as a gas. Those that can, store it in their roots, releasing it to the soil once they die and decompose. These “nitrogen fixers” are cover crops and green manures (more jargon!)

How did you do on the quiz? There are a few more definitions and greater detail online at (, September 29, 2017).

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at