A quick refresher on garden lingo

By Sandra Mason

I spend a lot of time reading labels. Food labels — how can something so little have so many calories? Clothing labels — is that a fabricated name for that fabric? Plant labels — does it really get that big?

Plant labels, seed packages and seed catalogs can be a wealth of information but can be a bit confusing if you don't understand the lingo of labels. Here's a little help:

Annual

A plant that grows, flowers, produces seeds/fruits and dies in one growing season. Many vegetables such as tomatoes and flowers such as petunias are grown as annuals because they don't live through our winters.

Biennial

A plant that lives two seasons then dies, blooming second season only. For example, parsley and carrots are biennials; however, since we aren't growing them for flowers, they are harvested the first season. Some foxgloves and hollyhocks also are biennials and do not flower until the second year.

Compost

A mixture of soil and decomposed organic matter such as plants, vegetable scraps from cooking, paper or leaves used as fertilizer, mulch or soil improvement. Also a good indicator of garden fanaticism. If your eyes gleam at the sound of "free compost," you are truly a garden fanatic.

Days to harvest

Listed on a vegetable seed packet to include the days it takes from the time the seed grows until vegetables are ready to harvest. Also, the days until you will be on vacation and miss said harvest.

Determinate

Used in reference to tomatoes. Determinates tend to be shorter, more compact plants and branches end in flower clusters creating a shorter plant. Great for small space gardens, container gardens or for those who don't like to do much staking. In contrast, indeterminate tomatoes get tall and need staking or caging. Ends of stems do not end in flower clusters and just keep getting longer and longer and may eat your garage.

Fertilizer

Any natural or manmade material added to the soil to supply one or more of the essential plant nutrients.

Interplanting

Method to get more vegetables from a small garden; early maturing crops can be planted between rows of later or long-season crops. Peas, radishes, green onions, spinach or lettuce can be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage or corn.

Leggy

A descriptive term for plants that have tall bare stems. Also one of the three garden stooges — Leggy, Seedy and Weedy.

Mulch

A protective covering placed on the surface of the soil around plants to prevent weeds and water loss. Mulch may be a variety of materials such as wood chips, compost, coco bean hulls, pine needles or rock (also known as lawn mower shrapnel).

Perennial

Same plant grows each season such as peonies, daffodils, asparagus and rhubarb. These plants will not need to be planted each year unless you paid a fortune for them.

Successive planting

Varied planting dates for the same crop to extend the harvest period and avoid everything ripening at the same time. For example, plant two or three small plantings of leaf lettuce and radishes seven to 10 days apart in early spring rather than planting all seeds at same time.

Thinning

Removal of some of the plants in a row to avoid crowding. Root crops such as carrots, beets and radishes need to be thinned when the plants are little or the roots will not have enough room to expand. Doubtful whether this technique works with the hair of older male gardeners.

Weed

Unwanted plant that competes with garden plants for light, water and nutrients. Usually the tallest and healthiest plant in the garden.

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Butterfly program scheduled

Join us at 7 p.m. May 20 at the UI Extension, 801 N. Country Fair Drive, C, for a butterfly program by award-winning photographers and authors Wayne Richards and Judy Burris. No charge or registration for the program.

Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email slmason@illinois.edu or fax 333-7683.

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