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Don Kinzler, Published December 20 2013

Plant lingo: Translating the foreign language of gardeners

To gardeners, “taking a slip” doesn’t mean you’ve fallen on the ice.

Gardeners have a dialect all their own, and my Christmas gift to you is a glossary of the quirky expressions we use.

For example, I might express concern that my annuals have “bolted” so I need to “dead head” the “spent blossoms” before they “set seed” because I’m afraid the “variety can escape,” depending on whether the seeds “come true” and “establish,” because who knows if they’ve been “cross-pollinating.”

If that made sense, you’re either a gardener or clairvoyant.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  • “Slip” is an old term for a cutting or a part of a plant used to start another.

  • An “amendment” has nothing to do with the Constitution. Rather it’s compost, manure or peat moss that is added to soil to improve its condition.

  • “Dead heading” is the removal of withered flowers to prevent seed production and encourage more flowering.

  • “Leggy” doesn’t refer to Marilyn Monroe’s figure. It refers to tall and spindly growth caused by insufficient light or shrubbery that is in need of rejuvenation.

  • “Rest period” is not what’s needed after an afternoon of weeding. It is the period of dormancy, often in bulbs, when energy is restored to the plant.

  • “Spent blossom” is a flower that has withered and should be deadheaded (removed) before it begins to form seeds.

  • When you think of “media,” TV, radio and The Forum might come to mind. For gardeners though, it’s the mix in which plants are grown.

  • “Friable soil” isn’t meant to be cooked in a skillet. Instead, it’s crumbly and easily worked and cultivated.

  • A “flat” is a shallow greenhouse tray often about 10 inches by 20 inches used for starting seedlings or holding cell-packs of plants. A flat of bedding plants might contain 12 four-packs.

  • “Cross” doesn’t mean you’re irritable. It’s pollen being transferred from one plant to another, rather than between flowers on the same plant, which is self-pollination.

  • If seeds “come true,” the plant produces seeds that will grow into offspring with the same characteristics.

  • “Escape” has nothing to do with a prison break. Some plants escape cultivation and become naturalized, such as dandelions which were first introduced to this country as a cultivated salad crop.

  • “Bolting” occurs when annual vegetables or flowers begin their blooming stage too early at the expense of overall development and begin seed formation.

  • A “volunteer” is a plant that grew from its own seed rather than being planted by us. Volunteer seedlings can be a nuisance, such as ash, elm, and dogwood seedlings sprouting up along foundations and among perennials.

  • If a plant doesn’t like “wet feet,” it resents being in a location that is too frequently wet and poorly drained.

  • “Chlorosis” might sound like a liver ailment, but in plants it’s a condition caused by lack of iron or magnesium leaving leaves yellow with veins often remaining green.

  • “Bedding plants” are annual flowers that are massed in planting beds to be enjoyed for the current growing season.

  • A “border” isn’t your son who’s moved back home to live in your basement, but a continuous planting around the boundaries of a lawn or home often consisting of a mixture of shrubs, perennials and annual flowers.

  • “Hardening off” is gradually introducing plants to outdoor conditions of extreme temperatures, wind and sun after being grown indoors or in a greenhouse.

  • “Forcing” a plant may sound unkind, but it’s simply coaxing it to grow or bloom outside its normal season, such as forcing a pot of tulips for winter bloom.

  • “Cutting back” doesn’t refer to our need to reduce calories after the holidays. It’s the trimming of shoots before transplanting or potting to reduce their height and encourage branching.

  • “Breaks” are new shoots or buds that emerge from along the stem, often when it has been cut back.

  • “Dibbling around” sounds like you’re a slacker, but it means transplanting seedlings into larger containers using a small carrot-shaped dibble.

  • A “runner” isn’t part of the Fargo Marathon, but is a stem creeping along the ground that produces roots in various spots creating new plants at those locations. Strawberries produce runners.

  • A “sucker” is neither a Tootsie Pop nor a gullible co-worker. Usually unwanted, suckers arise from the roots or lower stem portion of plants or trees.

  • “Pot bound” doesn’t refer to an illicit drug smoking addiction. The roots of a plant growing in the same container for years form a dense mass. This signals the need for repotting for some plants, but other plants such as spider plant and snake plant seem to enjoy being pot bound.

    Now I’ll sign off to pot up my pot-bound slips after cutting them back to encourage breaks.

    I truly enjoy our weekly Growing Together chats and wish you a blessed Christmas from the Kinzlers.

    Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com