Basic Landscaping Terminologies


Accent: Using a plant or object to draw attention to or punctuate a space.
Acidic soil: Soil that has a pH value of less than 7.0.
Acre: The unit of area used in land measurement and is equal to 4,840 square yards (43,560 square feet).
Adventitious bud: Latent or dormant bud on a stem or root.
Alkaline soil: Soil that has a pH value of more than 7.0.
Alternate: Single buds, leaves or shoots occurring at a node.
Annual: Any flowering plant that lasts for only one season.
Anther: The part of a plant at the upper end of a stamen that secretes and discharges pollen.
Apex: The tip of a stem.
Apical bud: The bud at the tip of a stem.
Apical dominance: Controlling influence of the apical bud over the growth of a stem, which restricts the development of lateral buds. If the tip is removed apical dominance is broken, and lateral shoots below will grow more vigorously, competing to become the new leader.
Arbor: A shady garden shelter usually made of rustic wood or latticework where vines, roses, etc. are grown.


Baffle: Any structure or planting that slightly obstructs the view into or out of an area.
Balance: The visual weight of the garden as measured on either side of a real or imaginary line.
Ball & burlap: The wrapping of the root ball of a field-grown tree or shrub in a single piece of burlap usually held together with twine. The organic nature of burlap allows it to be left in the hole when planted.
Bare root: Any plant that has been packaged without any soil around the roots.
Bark: The surface layer of the trunk and branches of woody plants.
Barrier plant: A plant that has intimidating thorns or spines used to block foot traffic or other access to the home or yard.
Beneficial insects: Any insect that has positive value in the garden because it preys upon harmful insects and/or pollinates plants.
Biennial: Any plant that grows vegetatively one year, produces flowers, fruits, and seeds the next year, and then dies.
Blade: The broad, flat part of a leaf.
Bleeding: Oozing of sap through a cut or wound.
Bract: A modified leaf usually at the base of a flower, which resembles a petal.
Branch collar: The thickened ring at the base of a branch.
Broad-leaf: Having relatively broad leaves.
Bubble diagram: Crudely shaped drawings on a site map that indicates general use area of a piece of property.
Bud: A condensed shoot containing an embryonic leaf, leaf cluster or flower.
Building code: Any rules, regulations and laws determining exactly where and how a structure or feature is to be built and whether any inspections are required along the way.
Bulb: A fleshy underground plant structure that contains the nutrients, energy and seed to produce a plant. Bulbs are typically buried in the ground at least one season before they emerge. Examples include daffodils, lilies and tulips.


Calcite, Calcitic (adj.): A common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, which is the basic constituent of limestone, marble and chalk.
Callus tissue: The protective tissue formed by plants over a wounded surface.
Cambium layer: The layer of tissue capable of producing new cells to increase the girth of stems and roots.
Canker: A fungal disease characterized by dark sunken areas on trunk or stems.
Canopy: The overhead branching area of a tree, usually referring to its extent including foliage.
Catch basin: A grated structure used to capture surface drainage, which is then channeled elsewhere.
Central leader: The central, upright stem of a plant.
Chlorosis: A symptom of disease or disorder in plants in which a plant or part of a plant is light green or greenish-yellow because of poor chlorophyll development.
Clump: A group of stems or underground shoots with several vegetative buds.
Cold hardiness: The ability of a perennial plant to survive the winter cold in a particular area.
Composite: A flower that is composed of many tiny flowers. Typically, they are flat clusters of tiny, tight floret, sometimes surrounded by wider-petaled florets. Composite flowers are highly attractive to bees and beneficial insects.
Conifer: Cone bearing tree of the pine family, usually evergreen.
Contour: The line created when traced along the site plan at a specific elevation (height above sea level).
Contrast: A principle of design that emphasizes the difference between a plant or an object and its surroundings.
Coriaceous: Leathery in texture.
Corm: The swollen energy-storing structure, analogous to a bulb, under the soil at the base of the stem of plants such as crocus and gladiolus.
Cottage gardening: Gardens based on an English style of gardening in which many plants are placed in a dense and seemingly random fashion.
Cross-pollinate: When the pollen from a flower of a plant fertilizes a flower of a different plant.
Crotch: The angle between two branches, or between a branch and a trunk.
Crown: The part of the plant where the roots are attached to the shoots.
Cultivar: A distinct plant variation that has originated in cultivation, not in the wild.


Deadheading: The removal of spent flowers to tidy up a plant and force it to put its energy into producing more flowers.
Deciduous: Shedding or losing foliage at the end of the growing season.
Decking: Wood planking placed on top of beams to form a solid surface, such as a deck or path.
Defoliation: Loss of leaves.
Desiccation: Drying out of foliage tissues, usually due to drought or wind.
Detention pond: A lined or unlined hole in which surface drainage is captured, held temporarily, and then released steadily.
Dieback: The death of tips of shoots caused by damage or disease.
Dioecious: Bearing male and female organs in flowers on separate plants. Males and females must grow together for pollination and fruiting.
Division: The practice of splitting apart plants to create several smaller-rooted segments. It is commonly used on perennials, bulbs and some shrubs. The practice is useful for controlling the plantÕs size and for acquiring more plants; it is also essential to the health and continued flowering of certain ones.
Dormancy: The state of temporary cessation of growth in plants during winter.
Double-flowered: A flower that has more than the usual number of pedals.
Drainage: The movement of water across a piece of property. Drainage is divided into two basic types: surface drainage, which is visible and above the ground or on top of surfaces such as a roof, patio, or drive; and subsurface drainage, which occurs below ground.
Drain field: The configuration of surface swales and subsurface drain lines necessary to adequately gather and direct all the drainage on a piece of property.
Drip irrigation: An irrigation system that uses low volumes of low-pressure water emitted drip by drip at the base of a plant. This is the most economical and efficient way to water.
Duel leaders: Competing leaders of equal strength.


Easement: The right-of-way claimed by a municipality or utility, usually described as a number of feet from the edge of a road or property line within which the owner of the easement has certain rights and limitations.
Edging: A crisp edge between areas of the garden. Most typically used between a lawn and a flowerbed.
Espalier: Pruning and wiring woody trees and shrubs against a surface to create a specific shape.
Established: The point at which a newly planted tree, shrub, or flower is growing at a healthy rate, with good color, expected flower and fruit production for its age, and tolerance for its environment. This is an indication that the roots have recovered from transplant shock and have grown sufficiently to support continued growth.
Evergreen: Persisting and remains green throughout the year.


Family: In plant classifications, a grouping of related plant genera.
Finial: A decorative piece that goes on top of a post. Commonly used on fences.
Fireblight: A bacterial disease that results in blackened blossoms and stems.
Flower bud: A bud from which a flower develops.
Floret: A tiny flower, usually one of many forming a cluster, that comprises a single blossom.
Foliar: Of or about foliage Ð usually refers to the practice of spraying foliage, as in fertilizing or treating with insecticide; leaf tissues absorb liquid directly for fast results, and the soil is not affected.
Footing: A concrete foundation that extends below the frost line of the soil upon which a masonry structure is built.
Form: An element of design; form is the general shape of a plant or object.
Formal design: Also know as symmetrical design; involves balance in a planting plan with equal parts on each side of a real or imaginary axis. Formal designs usually incorporate geometric shapes and straight lines.
Foundation plant: A plant placed next to a building to hide the foundation or soften the hard architectural lines.
Fountain head: An attachment to a submersible pump that regulates the volume and shape of the spray.
Framing: Framing creates solid border; it is the establishment of visual boundaries that direct or frame a view.
Frost line: The depth below the soil line that will freeze in winter.


Genus: A group of related species linked by common characteristics.
Germinate: To sprout. Germination is a fertile seedsÕ first stage of development.
Graft (union): The point on the stem of a woody plant with sturdier roots where a stem from a highly ornamental plant is inserted so that it will join with it. Roses are commonly grafted.
Ground cover: Plants that are used to cover bare ground; they usually spread to form dense colonies that coke out weeds.


Hardiness zone: Established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The United States and Canada comprise 11 zones, based on average to low temperatures in winter. The hardiness of a plant is the range of zones in which it will grow most successfully (usually listed on plant labels).
Hardscape: The sidewalk, curb, gutter and street covering the soil surface.
Harmony: A principle of design achieved by having a pleasing combination of all the elements of design.
Header: A row of bricks that crosses a path or drive perpendicular to the direction in which the path is heading. Used to slow design movements and to add visual interest.
Heading back: The uniform trimming of the shape of a plant to make it sturdier and bushier. Heading back is simply cutting around the entire shape of the plant. Typically it is done to shrubs and hedges more often than trees to create a tidier, more formal look.
Herbaceous: A non-woody plant in which the top-growth dies to the ground at the end of each growing season.
Humus: Dark, fine textured material that results from organic material, reaching an advanced stage of decay.
Hybrid: A plant resulting from the cross-pollination of genetically dissimilar plants.


Impervious: Incapable of being penetrated. Soil can become impervious through foot traffic, construction, or other activities.
Informal design: An approach to design that does not require equal parts on both sides of a design. It uses asymmetrical balance and curving, natural lines instead of geometric shapes.
IPM (Integrated pest management): IPM is a decision making process using accumulated plant and pest knowledge to detect, monitor and predict out breaks.
Island bed: A flowerbed that you can walk around.


Knot Garden: A type of formal garden design in which lines of different colored or textured shrubs appear to weave in and out of each other.


Labyrinth: A design that is created on the ground. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has a single meandering path that leads to the center and back. There are no dead ends.
Landscape fabric: A synthetic material that allows water to pass through but block light, soil, and weed roots from penetrating.
Larva: The wingless, often worm-like form of a newly hatched insect before undergoing metamorphosis.
Lateral bud: A bud that will form a sideshoot.
Lattice: An open framework made of strips of metal or wood, or the like interwoven to form regular, patterned spaces.
Leader: The main, usually central, stem of a plant.
Limb: A branch of a tree.
Limestone: A soil amendment containing calcium; it slowly raises the pH of a soil so it is more alkaline (basic). Dolomitic limestone is the safest form to use. If soil tests indicate adequate magnesium, then calcitic limestone is the safest form to use.
Line level: A device, about the thickness of a fountain pen, that you can hook onto a taut horizontal piece of string to see if the string is level. Useful in maintaining straight lines when attaching pickets on a fence or when pruning a hedge.
Loam: Textural class name for soils having moderate amounts of sand, silt and clay.
Low-voltage light: A light fixture (or system of fixtures) that operates on 12-volts instead of the standard 120-volt household current. Low-voltage systems use less wattage yet provide comparable performance to many 120-volt, higher wattage light bulbs.
Low water demand: Describes plants that tolerate dry soil for varying periods of time. Typically, they have succulent, hairy, or silvery-gray foliage and tuberous roots or taproots.


Master plan: The fusion of the program and the final design.
Maze: A formal garden planting, usually of evergreen shrubs, that forms a matrix of paths that lead from the outer entrance to the center of the square, rectangle or circle. Unlike a labyrinth, which has one path, a maze includes wrong turns and dead ends, so the route of the center is not self-evident. Typically a maze has walls or hedges at least head height that makes it impossible to see the destination.
Mixed border: A border containing a combination of different types of plants such as annuals, bulbs, perennials and shrubs.
Monoecious: A plant bearing separate male and female reproductive organs on the same plant.
Mulch: A layer of organic or inorganic material placed around plants to hold in moisture and reduce weeds.
Multi-stemmed: A tree or shrub with several main stems arising from the ground.


Naiad: The aquatic nymph of certain insects.
Naturalize: (a) to plant seeds, bulbs, or plants in a random, informal pattern as they would appear in their natural habitat; (b) to adapt to and spread throughout adopted habitats (a tendency of some nonnative plants).
Nectar: The sweet fluid produced by glands on flowers that attract pollinators such as hummingbirds and honeybees for whom it is a source of energy.
Nematode: Any worm of the phylum nematoda, having unsegmented, threadlike bodies, many of which, as the hookworm, are parasitic.
Nitrogen: One of three essential nutrients (phosphorus and potassium are the others) for healthy plants. Nitrogen fuels vegetative growth. On fertilizer packages, it is the N in N-P-K.
Node: The point on a stem from which leaves, shoots or flowers arise.
Nymph: One of the young of any insect that undergoes incomplete metamorphosis.


Opposite: Buds, leaves and stems from which leaves, shoots or flowers arise.
Organic matter: Decaying animal and plant remains, such as compost, leaf mold or aged manure, used as a soil conditioner. See also humus.


Pathogens: Microorganisms that cause disease.
Pattern: An element of design that refers to repeated shapes or forms.
Peat moss: A usually weed-free form of organic matter created by the partial decomposition of sphagnum moss. It increases soil acidity and retains moisture.
Pendulous: Hanging, weeping.
Percolation test: A simple test to check the rate at which water is absorbed by or percolates into and through soil.
Perennial: A flowering plant that comes back every year.
Pergola: A free standing structure with a roof or lath canopy designed to cast shade.
Petiole: The stalk of a leaf, which attaches to the stem.
pH: The reciprocal of the hydrogen ion concentration of a medium. A value on a scale of 0 to 14 gives a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a medium; pH values of 0 to 6.5 indicate acidic conditions, a pH value of 7.0 is neutral and pH values of greater than 7.0 are alkaline.
Phasing: The order in which a master plan is implemented. Phasing can vary from the order of work in a given week to over several years.
Phenology: The science dealing with the effects of climate on seasonal biological events, including plant flowering and insect emergence.
Phosphorus: One of the three essential nutrients plants require. Phosphorus promotes fruiting and flowering. On fertilizer packages, it is the P in N-P-K.
Photosynthesis: The production of organic compounds required for growth in plants by a complex process involving chlorophyll, light energy, carbon dioxide and water.
Pinching: Snipping out (or using fingernails to literally pinch out) the growing point of a plant to promote fuller, bushier plants.
Pinnate: Of a leaf, a compound from a plant or tree to maintain its health, regulate its shape and control flowering.
Pollen: The fine, powder-like material produced by the anthers of flowering plants, and functioning as the male element in fertilization.
Potassium: One of three essential nutrients required for plant growth. Potassium promotes root growth and disease resistance. Also know as potash. On fertilizer packages, it is the K in N-P-K.
Preliminary design: Crude designs used to try different approaches to solving garden design challenges.
Program: A list of specific features, activities, or other attributes you want your garden to have.
Propagate: To create new plants.
Pruning: Removing growth from a plant or tree to maintain its health, regulate its shape and control flowering.
Pupa: The inactive stage in the metamorphosis of many insects, following the larval stage and preceding the adult form.


Raised bed: A bed that is higher than the surrounding area, often contained within a low retaining wall.
Recurrent bloom: Blooming after the main flush of flowers has passed.
Renewal pruning: A system in which older wood is regularly removed in favor of younger growth.
Repetition: An element of design achieved when the same materials or elements of design are used over and over.
Retaining wall: A structure made of masonry, stone or wood used to hold back soil, usually for the purpose of creating a level area in front or behind the wall.
Retention pond: A hole dug to capture and hold surface drainage.
Rhizome: A horizontal stem at or under the soil surface.
Rhythm: A principle of design similar to repetition. It refers to how the various elements of design are combined.
Rise: The term used to describe the height of an individual step in a set of stairs.
Rootbound (or potbound): The condition of a plant that has been confined in a container too long, its roots having been forced to wrap around themselves and even swell out of the container. Successful transplanting or repotting requires untangling and trimming away of some of the matted roots.
Root flare: The transition at the base of a tree trunk where the bark tissue begins to differentiate and roots begin to form just before entering the soil. This area should not be covered with soil when planting a tree.
Root pruning: The removal of part of the root system of a tree to restrict growth and in fruit trees induce fruiting.
Run: The term used to describe the length from the front edge of a step to the back edge of a step in a set of stairs.
Runnel: A long, narrow channel, typically lined with stone and containing still or moving water.


Scaffold branches: The main framework branches on a tree.
Scale: A principle of design referring to the relative size of an area or object in relation to its surroundings.
Scion: Plant, usually a desirable cultivar, that is grafted onto the rootstock of another plant.
Screen: A built structure or planting to block the view into or out of an area or to block the view of a specific object or structure.
Self-fertile: A plant that produces viable seed when fertilized with its own pollen.
Self-seeding: The tendency of some plants to sow their seeds freely around the yard. It creates many seedlings the following season that may or may not be welcome.
Semievergreen: A plant that retains its foliage for part of the winter.
Set back: The required distance from a property line to the point where a structure or planting can be placed. A guideline established by each municipality.
Shearing: The pruning technique whereby plant stems and branches are cut uniformly with long-bladed pruning shears (hedge shears) or powered hedge trimmers. It is used when creating and maintaining hedges and topiary.
Site analysis: The study and evaluation of existing site conditions. This follows a site inventory and includes nonphysical features such as view, smells and sound.
Site inventory: A listing of all physical aspects of the property.
Site map: A scaled drawing of a piece of property that includes all important fixed objects.
Slope: The difference in height between two points, usually given in a ratio such as 1:4, which means the ground drops 1 vertical foot for every 4 feet of horizontal distance.
Slow release fertilizer or slow-acting fertilizer: Fertilizer that is water insoluble and therefore releases its nutrients gradually as a function of soil temperature, moisture, and related microbial activity. Typically granular, it may be organic or synthetic.
Soil: Soil is a living breathing complex mixture of minerals, organic matter and living organisms. It provides support for plant roots, and is a source of water and nutrients essential for plant growth.
Soil compaction: Compaction from foot traffic, construction or other activities crushes small roots and makes soil impervious to invasion by new roots.
Soil structure: The physical texture and content of the soil independent of nutrition. Structure impacts the way a soil drains and holds onto moisture.
Soil test: A simple process by which the basic nutrients, elements and pH of a soil can be determined.
Specimen plant: An individual tree or shrub that is selected, tended and placed to be viewed as a sculptural form.
Spike: A long, usually unbranched flower stem.
Spur: A short shoot or branchlet bearing flower buds.
Staking: The securing of a tree or large shrub using rope or guy wires and wood stakes to hold it in place after planting and usually left in place for one year.
Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower, usually consisting of a filament and an anther.
Succulent: Juicy, fleshy, soft.
Sucker: A shoot that arises at or below ground level from a plant’s root or underground stem.


Taproot: Single, downward-growing root.
Terminal: At the tip of a stem or branch.
Terracing: Creating one or a series of level areas on a sloped site. Terracing usually involves building retaining walls to hold the soil in place.
Texture: An element of design that is both tactile (the way the object feels) and visual (whether it looks fine, medium or coarse).
Thinning out: The selective cutting away of individual branches to create open spaces within the plant, remove dead limbs or branches, produce symmetry and train a plant to look more natural. It also aids in better fruit production.
Transformer: Reduces standard voltage from 120-volts to a safe 12-volts. There is no risk of electrical shock to children or animals if the cable is accidentally cut.
Transit: A tool used in conjunction with a rod to measure slope and grades. A transit resembles a telescope and is mounted on a tripod from which you take readings marked on the rod.
Transpiration: Loss of water by evaporation from the leaves and stems of plants.
Transplant: To dig up and relocate a plant.
Tree: A woody, perennial plant usually with a well-defined trunk.
Trellis: A frame supporting open latticework, used for training vines and other creeping vines. Used to create shaded areas.
Trompe l’oeil: Otherwise know as “fooling the eye,” this technique involves false perspectives or mirrors arranged to create an illusion. This is frequently used to make a space feel bigger that it really is or to create the element of surprise.
Tuber: A type of underground storage structure in a plant stem, analogous to a bulb. It generates roots below and stems above ground (example: dahlia).


Underplant: To plant flowers or bulbs beneath the canopy of a larger plant to add color to the garden without taking up additional space.
Unity: A principle of design that refers to the overall harmony of the landscape and how well the various components work together.


Variegated leaves: Leaves that are patterned in a different color.
Variety: A subdivision of a species.
Vegetative growth: Non-flowering, usually leafy growth.


Weep hole: Small drainage outlet at the base of a retaining wall that allows water to seep out and prevents the build up of water pressure that may damage the wall.
Well drained soil: Soil that drains quickly, even after heavy rain.
Wet feet: A term for a plant that is sitting in waterlogged soil.
White grubs: Fat, off-white, wormlike larvae of several types of beetles the most common of which is the Japanese beetle. They reside in the soil and feed on plant (especially grass) roots until summer when they emerge as beetles to feed on plan foliage.
Woody plant: Any plant that creates branches and stems that do not die in the winter.


Xeriscape: A seven step approach to landscaping that is designed to reduce maintenance and the need for resources such as water and insecticides.
Xylem: Vascular tissue under bark taking water and nutrients up a stem.

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