If you have ever read gardening advice and felt you were reading a different language, we’re here to help. Below we’ve defined some words that are familiar to experienced gardeners but may be new to anyone starting out. (Watch for more definitions coming soon.)


An annual is a plant that completes its entire life cycle within one growing season.  There are both summer annuals, like petunias (Petunia × hybrida) and zinnias (Zinnia spp.) which emerge in the spring; grow over the summer and die in autumn; as well as winter annuals, like flixweed (Descurainia sophia) that emerge in the fall; go dormant over the winter and then complete their cycle in the spring.


A biennial is a plant that completes its life cycle over two growing seasons. Emerging and growing in the first season; going dormant over the winter months, and then completing the flowering and producing seeds in the second year. Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. Sativus) are an example of a biennial plant.


A perennial is a plant that remains alive over several years. Roses (Rosa spp.), peonies (Paeonia spp.), and chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are common perennials in the Calgary area.


Pollination is the transference of pollen grains from the male part of a flower (called the anther) to the female part of a flower (called the stigma) causing the female organs to produce seeds. These seeds will contain the genetic information needed to produce a new plant.

Some plants are self-pollinating, while others may be fertilized by pollen carried by wind, water, insects, birds, or even bats.

Seeds can only be produced when pollen is transferred between flowers of the same species.


Aeration is when you loosen your soil to better allow oxygen, water, and nutrients to move within the soil and reach the roots of your plants. It can be done by perforating the soil with small holes or by mixing in organic material that will leave small gaps.

Beneficial Insects

A beneficial insect is one that helps the gardener be successful. This help could come from attacking the pests we don’t want or by helping to pollinate.

Bee Hotel

Bee hotels are designed to attract solitary bees that don’t live in hives, but instead nest in nature’s hollows, holes and cracks. They are man-made and can be made from timber, bamboo sticks, old hoses and straws, fence palings, fruit crates. All materials must be non-toxic and have plenty of smooth, cylindrical spaces wide enough (bees range in size from 2mm to 10mm) for the pollinators to seek refuge and at least 15 cm deep. 


Bolting is when a plant that is normally growing leaves suddenly produces a flower stalk which then produces seeds. Most commonly observed in vegetables like lettuce (Lactuca sativa); spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and other common vegetable crops. Once a plant bolts, it stops producing the leafy greens that were the desired crop and it cannot be stopped. Each crop has slightly different reasons why it bolts but, generally, it is caused by something in the environment such as heat, amount of sun, lack of water that triggers the plant to produce seeds.


The term bulb is often applied to all underground food and moistures storage structures of plants that are geophytes: bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots, tuberous stems and rhizomes.

Cut onion use to show the structure of a bulb

True Bulb

A true bulb is a modified underground stem. It has a basal plate from which roots grow. It has a central growth point (bud) that is surrounded by modified fleshy leaves that are referred to as scales. The fleshy tissue allows the plant to remain dormant and acts as a food reserve. A well-known example is an onion. Other examples of true bulbs include garlic, amaryllis, tulips, daffodils, and lilies.

Corms at their center are solid tissue. At the end of the growing season, a new corm typically grows on the base of the spent one, and plants regrow from new corms each season. Examples of corms are gladiolus and crocus.

Rhizomes are stem-like structures that grow horizontally across the ground, forming roots from the bottom while sending shoots upward. Buds form at different parts along the structure, not necessarily at the top. Rhizomes store nutrients for newly growing plants. Examples of rhizomes are bearded irises, canna lilies, and calla lilies.

Tubers are swollen underground stems that have “eyes” or buds on all sides that grow shoots to the surface or roots into the soil. They do not have basal plates like corms or true bulbs. Potatoes and dahlias are examples of plants grown from tubers.

Hardy bulbs are the tough bulbs that keep producing leaves and flowers, year-after-year, after being planted in the ground. Many of them bloom in the spring, and some are the first flowers of the year, like crocuses and tulips. These bulbs spend the winter outside here, no problem, provided they are hardy enough for zone 4a. In fact, many need a period of frosty temperatures in order to bloom the following year. Examples of plants considered hardy bulbs include: crocuses, snowdrops, tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, and alliums.

Tender bulbs are plants that bring beautiful flowers to the garden, but can’t make it through our winters. They don’t need a cold dormant period and don’t want it. In warmer climates, they are perennials, but if we want these tender plants to bloom again here, we have to give them special care over winter. Alternatively, many gardeners grow them as annuals. These tender perennials include: dahlias, calla lilies, elephant ears, caladiums, canna lilies, and tuberous begonias.

Bug Hotel

A bug hotel is part garden art and part winter habitat for beneficial insects, hosting a garden army that helps to keep the bad bugs under control. Gardeners, especially organic gardeners want to be sure that there is a place in the garden for beneficial insects to lodge for the winter. The following spring as they wake up and lay eggs, they will sweep your plants clean of aphids and mites. 

Companion Planting

Planting different plants close to each other to either improve their growth or protect each other from pests.


Compost is organic material (leaves, cut grass, kitchen waste) that has been allowed to break down into smaller pieces that are no longer visible. When mixed into your garden, these smaller pieces provide food to the insects and bacteria in the soil which improves your soils health.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is a liquid solution made by mixing compost and water, much like the process used to make the tea we can drink. Using compost tea is a good way to quickly make the nutrients in your compost available for your plants to consume.

Crop Rotation

The practice of changing where you plant vegetables every year to improve soil health or reduce the chance of disease. Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), for example, are heavy feeders that require a lot of nutrients to be successful. Planting them in the same place every year will reduce your yield as the soil gets depleted.


Deadheading is the practice of cutting flowers off a plant after they finish blooming so that the plant doesn’t expend energy trying to create seed. This is done to make plants continue to produce new blooms over the growing season.

First Frost

The first frost date (or first fall frost) marks the end of the growing season for most plants. Some vegetables like kale, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbage, radishes, and beets will all survive a light frost, but all your summer vegetables will die. In Calgary, the first frost is typically on September 16. 


Germination is the sprouting of a seed, spore, or other reproductive body, usually after a period of dormancy. The absorption of water, the passage of time, chilling, warming, oxygen availability, and light exposure may all operate in initiating the process. A plant seed is the first stage in the life cycle of a plant. Favorable conditions such as sufficient oxygen, water, temperatures between 18-24 °C, and appropriate light conditions will allow a seed to develop. However, it is important to note that these conditions vary between plants. After the seed germinates, the young sprout will grow into a seedling.  

Last Frost

The last frost date is the day in the spring when the last frost of the season occurs (meaning that there will be no more frost until the fall or winter). A frost means freezing temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or below. In Calgary, the last frost is typically on May 21. 


Leggy is a term commonly applied to a plant that has grown very tall, but with few leaves. For some plants, this is simply part of their nature. However, usually it is a sign that the plant is not receiving enough light for proper growth. In the case of seedlings, this growth characteristic could be resulting from insufficient light, inconsistent moisture, too much heat, or a combination of these factors.

Muddling Pond

Butterflies prefer the safety of mud puddles instead of backyard ponds and birdbaths, which can overwhelm them. Even in shallow puddles, butterflies congregate around the damp edges instead of landing in the water. A muddling pond is where water has already evaporated from a puddle, but the ground is still moist. Butterflies like to visit these muddling ponds during the heat of the day, typically between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. 


Mulch is a protective layer of material, either organic or inorganic, used as insulation and protection. Organic mulches break down over time and must be re-applied, whereas inorganic mulches are more decorative in appearnce and are not subject to decay. Mulch is used for a variety of reasons, ranging from the effect of plant growth to improving the look of the garden. The best way to prevent water evaporation is to use mulches on the soil of annual, perennial, and shrub beds and even around trees. Mulches also help control soil erosion, prevent compaction when soil is walked on, and discourage weeds, and as organic mulches break down, they improve the structure and moisture-holding capacity of soils.


Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are nutrients that plants require the most of and are vital to it’s growth. An imbalance in nutrients, particulary in N-P-K , may lead a plant to fail. The 3 numbers most commonly found on commercial fertilizers are the percentage (by weight) of these 3 nutrients.

NITROGEN (N) – vital for vegetative growth such as the leaves 

PHOSPHORUS (P) – Needed for root development, crop maturity and seed production. 

POTASSIUM (K) – Potassium is a nutrient that helps the overall functions of the plant to perform correctly. It is important for a plant’s ability to withstand extreme cold and hot temperatures, drought and pests. It also increases water use efficiency and transforms sugars into starch. 


Pinching is form of pruning that encourages branching on tender young plants. Oftentimes, plants break through the soil as a singular stem as opposed to two stems. When a gardener pinches the stem, the plant is forced into two stems. This allows for a plant to become more lush in appearance.


A pollinator can be anything that moves pollen from the male part of the flower (anther) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma).

Insects and other animals such as bats, beetles, and flies visit flowers for many reasons (food, shelter, nest-building materials, and sometimes even mates). Pollen adheres to the pollinators bodies while they are drinking or feeding on nectar in the flower blooms and is transported from flower to flower.

Pollinator, Animal

Pollinators are animals, mostly insects, and primarily bees, but also birds and bats and a few other animals that help plants produce fruit and seed. Pollinators transfer pollen between the male and female parts of flowers unintentionally while they are collecting food in the form of pollen and nectar. In Canada, most pollinators are insects, with some pollination thanks to hummingbirds. 

Pollinator Friendly Gardens

The purpose of a pollinator friendly garden is to attract more pollinators to your area. Anyone can start a pollinator friendly garden whether large or small, in fact, with only a few flowers, you can attract beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies to your garden. A location that is sunny and somewhat sheltered, a diversity of native species with blooming periods that range from early spring to late fall, and plants with a variety of colors and flower shapes can help attract pollinators. Flowers with bright colors, especially blue, yellow, red, and violet are attractive to pollinators. 


The amount and type of sunlight your garden receives vary, depending on the orientation of the planting areas. For example: 

  • East-facing flower beds enjoy the warmth of the morning sun but escape the afternoon heat. 
  • West-facing beds are shaded in the morning but receive the full force of the sun for the rest of the day until sunset. 
  • South-facing flower beds bask in intense sun all day and can become dry. 
  • North-facing beds against solid fences or houses may receive little or no direct sunlight and will remain cool and moist. 

Full Shade

Full shade is 2 hours per day or less of direct sunlight. 

Full Sun

Direct sun for 6 or more hours per day. 

Part Sun

Partial sun for 4–6 hours per day of direct sun.

Basic Tool Kit for Gardeners

Hand Trowel – A trowel is a small hand tool used for digging at ground level and digging small holes for planting seeds, measuring depths in the soil, and digging up tough weeds.

Hand Fork or Cultivator– Useful for scratching the soil to remove small weeds and rough up the soil, both in the garden and in a container.

Long-Handled Shovels and Spades – A long-handled spade with a straight-edged, flat blade is good for digging straight-sided holes, cutting roots, removing plants and weeds, and making edgings. There are also long-handled garden shovels with pointed, rounded blade; they are useful for digging holes and moving soil.

Garden Rake – A garden rake has metal tines and is used for smoothing out compost or for raking the soil level.

Hand Pruners or Pruning Shears – One of the most essential tool would be the garden pruner. A hand pruner is extremely versatile to cut or trim small branches from perennial plants, shrubs, and trees. Hand pruners can also be useful for harvesting ripe vegetables without damaging the plant.

Wheelbarrow – A wheelbarrow is great for weeding, hauling soil or leaves, collecting debris, and countless other tasks. Watering Can – Able to evenly water plants anywhere, a watering can is best suited for small watering jobs.

Garden Fork – A garden fork (similar in appearance to a pitch fork) is useful for turning over soil and compost, digging out root crops, and dividing perennials.

Garden Hoe – A hoe is used to remove shallow-rooted weeds effortlessly. It is also used to create furrows for planting seeds and to break up clumps of soil.

Leaf Rakes – Rakes are purpose-built: The leaf rake is lightweight and used for raking up leaves and lawn clippings and for spreading mulch.

Proper Attire – A good pair of gardening gloves, knee pads, waterproof shoes or boots with traction, clothing appropriate for the weather and possibly an apron to hold some tools.

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