Dirty Words: The Language of Gardening

Do you have a green thumb? Whether you live on a farm or have a pot of herbs on your kitchen windowsill, dig in to this list of grow-cabulary and see what sprouts!

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definitions & notes only words
  1. aerate
    fill, combine, or supply with oxygen
    The creatures are among the most abundant and diverse species on the planet and play key roles, from aerating the soil to pollination and recycling of nutrients.BBC (Apr 23, 2020)
  2. annual
    occurring every year
    Horticultural staff in late May and early June will plant around 50,000 annuals and a few thousand perennials and replacement trees.Washington Times (May 9, 2020)
    Annual means "yearly," and in the case of plants it refers to those that die every fall and need to be started again from seed in the spring.
  3. beneficial
    promoting or enhancing well-being
    Weak and moderate atmospheric rivers bring mostly beneficial rain and typically do not cause much damage.Los Angeles Times (May 16, 2020)
    Ladybugs are a type of beneficial insect in the garden. They eat aphids and other pests that can damage crops.
  4. broadcast
    sow over a wide area, especially by hand
    Broadcast seeding is of particular use in establishing dense plant spacing, as for cover crops and lawns.
    People mostly use broadcast when talking about media like TV and radio — the word podcast is a play on that — but the origin of the word is agricultural. When a farmer tosses handfuls of seed out into a field, that's broadcasting.
  5. compost
    a mixture of decaying vegetation and manure
    Google Trends shows a doubling of worldwide online searches for compost and seeds compared with a year ago.BBC (May 2, 2020)
    Compost is decomposed plant matter, turned back into nutrient-rich soil by bacteria and fungi. Many gardeners have a compost pile where they put kitchen scraps and garden waste to break down, adding it back to the soil the following year. In Old French, composter is the verb for treating fields with manure to fertilize them.
  6. determinate
    not continuing to grow indefinitely at the apex
    It is determinate, meaning that all the fruit ripens over a two-week period with compact growth, perfect for a container.Seattle Times (Apr 26, 2017)
  7. fertilizer
    any substance used to improve the quality of soil
    The practice, which does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, builds soils that are richer in carbon, which in turn boosts crop and livestock yields.Fox News (May 15, 2020)
    The Latin fertilis became the French fertile. Something which makes soil more fertile, adding essential nutrients for plants to grow, is a fertilizer.
  8. graft
    cause parts of different plants to grow together
    Feb. 1 Fruit-tree grafting demonstrations and scion exchange sponsored by the California Rare Fruit Growers, Foothill chapter.Los Angeles Times (Jan 17, 2020)
  9. hardiness
    the property of being physically strong and healthy
    Grow managers will sample them for hardiness, taste and smell.Washington Post (Feb 11, 2020)
    Plants are often rated on a hardiness scale, showing how tolerant they are to frost and freezing. The USDA has maps showing what temperature zone each region is in, which is based on the average coldest temperature every winter.
  10. horticulture
    the cultivation of plants
    "Pests and diseases are among the main challenges we face as climate change affects our gardens and horticulture more widely," he said.BBC (Mar 11, 2020)
    Horticultura is Latin for "the cultivation of a garden." Hortus means "garden" and cultura, "culture," refers to tilling the soil to grow plants, as in agriculture.
  11. irrigation
    the act of supplying dry land with water by artificial means
    The easiest technique is a drip irrigation system that waters automatically two to three times a week.Los Angeles Times (Apr 16, 2020)
  12. loam
    a rich soil consisting of sand, clay and organic materials
    Beneath the loam sat 3½ feet of hard red clay, and below that was the remnant of a petrified forest.Washington Post (Sep 11, 2019)
    An Old English word, Loam refers to soil that's a mixture of clay, sand, and decomposed organic matter (see compost above) that's ideal for growing crops.
  13. mulch
    small pieces of organic material spread on soil
    But if you’re lazy or don’t trust yourself to build good mulch or do a proper compost, National Cocoa Shell’s mulch should suit your needs.Slate (Apr 28, 2020)
    If you've ever seen a ring of shredded bark or wood chips around a recently planted tree, that's mulch. It helps the soil retain moisture and suppresses weeds.
  14. organic
    having properties characteristic of living beings
    Mr. Litvin works for 80 Acres Farms, a company that grows organic produce including cucumbers, leafy greens and herbs at giant indoor farms where controlled environments allow for year-round harvesting.New York Times (May 17, 2020)
    Organic farming refers to agriculture that doesn't use any synthetic pesticides or herbicides.
  15. perennial
    lasting an indefinitely long time
    Smith’s idea – the tapestry lawn – was to plant squares of different hardy, perennial flowering plants.The Guardian (May 12, 2020)
    The opposite of annual, perennial plants come back year after year.
  16. propagate
    multiply through reproduction
    Emma propagated her succulents and so needed more shelf space, and went to the garage to do some carpentry.The Guardian (Apr 24, 2020)
  17. prune
    cultivate, tend, and cut back the growth of
    So workers took to the fields sooner than usual to begin tending the vines and pruning while wearing masks and maintaining social-distancing rules.Los Angeles Times (May 8, 2020)
    From the same Anglo-Norman root as preen, prune originally meant that: the action of a bird grooming itself. Now it refers to cutting and trimming the branches of a tree to help it maintain a particular shape or to encourage new growth.
  18. sow
    place seeds in or on the ground for future growth
    One reason to sow seeds too thickly is to anticipate a poor germination rate.Washington Post (Apr 28, 2020)
  19. swale
    a low-lying area, especially a marshy area between ridges
    The corn follows the topography, rising and falling with the swells and swales in the landscape.Washington Post (Aug 19, 2018)
    Swales are long, low areas, like rounded ditches, dug to collect rainwater and prevent erosion. The opposite of a swale is a berm, a long low mound of earth.
  20. till
    work land as by ploughing to make it ready for cultivation
    Driving through freshly tilled fields in rural Indiana a few years back, I was struck by how low points retained rich, black earth, yet on the hilltops, the khaki subsoil was completely exposed.Nature (Apr 13, 2020)
Created on May 18, 2020 (updated June 14, 2020)

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