Don’t ‘Leaf’ the Lingo to the Pros: Learn These 36 Common Plant Vocabulary Words

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Reviewed by Tara Dudley
Updated May 9, 2022
Seedlings in pots on a nursery table
Photo: Jordan Lye / Moment / Getty Images


  • Annuals have one growing season.

  • Biennials have two growing seasons.

  • Perennials return each year.

  • Deciduous trees lose their leaves each year.

  • Evergreen trees remain green all year.

  • Groundcovers are low spreading plants, while shrubs or bushes are midsize.

  • Proper plant care often involves pruning or deadheading, watering, and fertilizing.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones can help you pick plants that will thrive in your climate.

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Are you in the weeds when it comes to learning gardening lingo? Maybe, whenever you chat with your local landscaper or head to the garden center, you feel intimidated and at a loss for words. To sound like a plant pro, just study up on these top terms.

Words for Plant Descriptors

These words will help you describe plants.

1. Annuals: These plants complete their life cycle in one growing season. Add variety to your garden by buying annuals each year.

2. Biennials: These plants grow over two seasons, often only flowering and producing seed during the second year. 

3. Perennials: Including all woody trees, shrubs, and vines, these plants return each year.

4. Deciduous Trees: These plants, such as oaks and maples, lose their leaves each year. 

5. Evergreen Trees: These trees, such as pines, retain their green foliage all year-round.

6. Groundcover: These low spreading plants are ideal for landscaping large areas.

7. Shrubs or Bushes: These woody plants with several perennial stems are usually less than 13 feet tall.

8. Dwarf Plants: This plant type is bred to be smaller than the norm for its species.

9. Cool Season Crop: Annuals, like lettuce, peas, potatoes, and beets, that grow best in daytime temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees.

10. Warm Season Crop: Annuals, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, that thrive in daytime temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees.

11. Invasive: Plants that spread aggressively and can be difficult to get rid of.

12. Variegated: Plants with foliage in different colors.

13. Deer-Resistant Plants: These are plants that deer don’t like to eat.

Words for Plant Forms

Here’s how you can describe the various forms plants can take.

14. Seedling: A young plant started from seed.

15. Cutting: A short piece of plant often stuck in potting soil and kept in a humid environment before planting.

16. Bareroot: A tree, shrub, or vine sold without a pot or soil; find these in the late winter and early spring.

17. Balled and Burlapped: Large trees and shrubs whose roots are wrapped in burlap.

Words for Gardening Activities

Close-up of hands transplanting a succulent plant
Photo: Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

These terms refer to gardening activities.

18. Aerate: You do this to loosen the soil, which introduces air and helps drainage.

19. Deadhead: To remove dead blooms from flowering plants, which encourages new growth.

20. Fertilize: To treat the soil with natural or artificial substances to promote plant growth and health.

21. Prune: To trim a tree or shrub by cutting off dead or overgrown stems or branches.

22. Drip Irrigation: A type of watering where water drips slowly out at the base of individual plants; less water-intensive than sprinklers.

23. Transplant: To move seedlings or plants from one location to another.

24. Top Dress: To spread fertilizer or compost over soil, usually before planting.

25. Amend Soil: To treat soil with compost, fertilizer, or other substances.

Garden Supplies Terms

Learn the lingo to describe what you’ll need to pick up at the garden supply store.

26. Loam: A soil that is fertile and well-drained.

27. Humus: A soil mix resulting from decomposed organic matter.

28. Mulch: A mix of wood chips, straw, and bark that protects soil from erosion, preserves moisture, and keeps plant roots cool.

29. Slow-Release Fertilizer: A fertilizer whose nutrients leach into the soil over time. 

30. Topsoil: A top layer of soil, including organic matter, humus, microbes, earthworms, and insects. 

31. Compost: A fertilizer you make yourself out of organic material.

Plant Environment Descriptors

These words can help you describe growing conditions.

32. Drainage: The degree to which water can pass freely through soil. Most plants prefer well-drained soil.

33. pH: A relative measurement of soil acidity or alkalinity. Different plants prefer different soil characteristics. 

34. Container Gardening: When plants are grown in pots rather than in the ground.

35. Hardiness Zones: A way to group plants based on the minimum winter temperature they can tolerate. The USDA developed The Plant Hardiness Zone Map with 26 hardiness zones.

36. Xeriscaping: This one’s a tongue-twister! It refers to using drought-tolerant plants, like cacti and succulents, for low-water landscape designs.

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