Choosing the right compost

Gardening is the nation’s favourite hobby. And a hobby, by its very definition, should be a fun pastime. Yet, the world of horticulture is awash with gobbledegook. From herbaceous perennials to biennials and F1 hybrid seeds, we’re bombarded with a tsunami of botanical bewilderment every time we reach for our secateurs. Fear not, however, because garden writer Marc Rosenberg is here to explain those all-important common gardening terms – and it promises to consign any green-fingered gibberish to the compost heap! Read on to discover our gardening jargon buster.

1. Plant Jargon Made Easy

half-hardy annual plants

Understanding if a plant is tough enough to survive outdoors all year-round and knowing how long it will take to flower is crucial to making the most of your garden centre purchases. An annual plant completes its entire lifecycle (grows, flowers, sets seed and then dies) in just one season. It’s a similar story for a half-hardy annual, which is only tough enough to live outdoors during the warmer months and will not tolerate frost. A biennial plant has a two-year lifecycle, spending its first year growing and settling into its new home, then flowering or fruiting in its second year, before dying.

Perennial plants are tough cookies, living for at least three years – these include trees and shrubs that keep their woody framework all year round, while herbaceous perennials die down in autumn then reappear in spring. When shopping for flowers, fruit and vegetables, look out for varieties carrying the RHS AGM (Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit) logo. They’re proven performers that have excelled in trials – there’s more than 7,500 of them!

While most plants are sold in garden containers, roses are also offered as bare root plants – field-grown plants that are dug-up in nurseries while dormant (not growing) and supplied with their naked roots on show. Roses and other shrubs may be sold as standards (think lollipop-on-a-stick shape), where the plant has a long stem with a ball of foliage at the top. Fruit trees on sale have commonly been grafted, where the scion (plant) is joined to a rootstock (underground root system) – this helps to create trees that are customised to be dwarf or vigorous growers.

understanding seed sowing gardening terms 2. Seed Sowing Demystified

Every seed packet has instructions for germination – the process where a seed is coaxed into life. It’s worth forking out a little extra for F1 Hybrids, turbo-charged seeds that produce vigorous and uniform plants. Certain seeds need to be covered with vermiculite, a lightweight, sterile mineral that assists germination by keeping the compost moist and reducing the risk of damping off, where seedlings rot and keel over.

Successional sowing is a handy technique: instead of sowing an entire packet of seed at once, sow little and often, at weekly or fortnightly intervals. Then you won’t end up with a ‘glut’ – where your vegetable plot yields hundreds of tomatoes in the space of a week (or all your flowers bloom at once)! Once growing, seedlings need to be pricked out – moved into flower pots to grow on. Tender young plants raised indoors must be hardened off before they go outdoors, a process of gradual acclimatisation to conditions outside by standing outdoors on frost-free days for a week or two, so they’re ready to plant out without a nasty shock from cooler weather.

Seeds that are direct sown (sown straight into garden soil instead of being started in trays or plant pots indoors) may need thinning out, a simple process of pulling up and discarding excess seedlings to relieve overcrowding, freeing up space for the remainder to grow. Wildflower seed can be broadcast outdoors, which simply involves scattering seed over the ground.

3.Getting to Grips With Grow-Your-Own

grow your own plants

Kitchen gardening yields a fine crop of jargon, so let’s give it the chop. When buying tomato plants, there are indeterminate types (also known as cordon) which are tall varieties with a single stem that needs to be supported by a cane, or determinate tomatoes which are low, bushy types – ideal for growing in hanging baskets and plant pots.

Planning to grow tasty spuds from seed potatoes? They’ll need chitting – placing in an egg box or seed tray on a window sill to sprout ahead of planting, which can lead to bigger crops. Onions are an example of a crop that’s prone to bolting, when an unwanted flower spike appears at the expense of a juicy bulb. Empty vegetable plots can be given a boost by growing a green manure, a crop that’s dug into the soil to enrich nutrient levels for next season’s veggies.

Choosing the right compost4. Compost Conundrums

Choosing the right compost needn’t be confusing. John Innes No.1 is for potting-up young seedlings or rooting cuttings (where parts of an existing plant are snipped off and rooted to make more plants). John Innes No.2 is best suited to growing annual flowers and vegetable plants in garden containers (it’s great for houseplants, too). Choose John Innes No.3 where mature shrubs are to be grown in flower pots for many years. However, plants that like acidic soil conditions, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, should be grown in an ericaceous compost.

Container-grown plants benefit from an annual top dressing, where a thin layer of compost is applied around the base of the plant to replenish nutrients. To track down the most eco-friendly compost when shopping, choose a bag that’s labelled as peat-free – it will contain sustainable alternatives to peat, which takes thousands of years to form in natural bogs.

5. Keeping Your Garden Healthy

keep your garden healthy A flourishing garden is the ultimate goal, so let’s demystify common terms that form the fundamentals of good gardening. Gardeners are often advised to apply a balanced fertiliser, a plant feed that contains equal measures of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) which encourages leaf development, root growth and flowers/crops in equal measure. A slow-release fertiliser distributes nutrients gradually over time, keeping plants evenly fed and is usually mixed into soil or compost at planting time.

Beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds are the gardener’s friend, with a voracious appetite for gobbling-up plant-wrecking aphids. Where pests are running riot, biological controls are effective – these living critters (often called predators) track down and dispatch plant pests. Microscopic nematodes applied in a watering can to control slugs are a good example, and the method is approved for organic (chemical-free) gardening.

The sight of honeydew – sticky secretions from sap-sucking insects as they feed on plants, is a tell-tale sign of pest infestations. Container plants can also sulk if they’re rootbound (or potbound), where packed roots are spiralling in circles or growing out the bottom of a cramped container. If that happens, you just need to repot the plant into a bigger plant pot or garden container.Choos

Are there any other gardening terms that need to be demystified? What terms or phrases would you add to our gardening dictionary? Let us know in the comments.

Marc Rosenberg bio
Marc Rosenburg at Powderham Plant CentreMarc Rosenberg is a freelance garden writer and editor. A former journalist with Amateur Gardening and Horticulture Week magazines, he holds seven Garden Media Guild Awards. Marc has written for publications including The Garden magazine, BBC Gardeners’ World and RHS online.