Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Plant Buzz Words

I recently attended a great horticultural conference in Columbus, Ohio. I was fascinated with some dry erase boards that had been put up for passers-by to graffiti their response to several questions. To be sure, the attendees were all plant geeks enthusiasts. Anyway, the responses were totally positive and some almost spiritual. "Plants make me feel: complete/at peace/connected to God" and "Plants are important because: they transform me." Pretty moving stuff, wouldn't you agree?

I started thinking about how some people new to gardening might fill in those blanks. I know people that would say "intimidated", "scared that I'll kill them", "nervous", etc. I wondered, too, what would cause that reaction in something so crucial to our survival and the quality of our lives. I realize part of it may be the terms that plant people use, making the assumption that everyone knows what they mean. Shame on us! Let's rectify that assumption and demystify some key garden terms.

Annual - n. A plant that grows, flowers and completes its life cycle in one year. Or more simply, it needs to be planted every spring. Examples: Marigold, petunia, begonia.

Perennial - n. Can be grown from seed or division of another plant. Can have a "regular" root system, or can originate from a bulb, and is often confused with annuals. Plant a perennial and it lives for multiple years. Examples: Peony, Iris, daisy, Hosta, ferns.

Biennial - n. As you might suspect, falls sort of in between annual and perennial. Good to know, but there aren't a lot of them. Grows from seed and makes a mound of leaves one year, flowers, produces seed and fulfills its destiny the second year. Then, it's gone. Examples: Some foxgloves, hollyhocks.

Deadheading -  v. The removal of spent flowers and part of the stem. If the flowers are allowed to stay on long enough the plants will set seed. Once that happens new flower production slows or stops. Deadheading encourages rebloom of annuals and those perennials that have rebloom potential. You also enhance the aesthetics of your garden when plants aren't cloaked in discolored, water-soaked, petal-dropping flowers.

Cosmos before and after deadheading
Deadleafing - v. The removal of unattractive, diseased or dying leaves. You could deadleaf a rose with black spot-infested leaves or a daylily that was losing leaves after summer bloom is finished. Again, serves a hygiene function as well as an aesthetic one!

Disbudding - v. Is different than deadheading. It's an optional practice that increases flower size. For example, dahlias, tuberous begonias and peonies have a large center bud flanked by smaller secondary flowers on either side. Careful removal of the secondary buds (as soon as you can handle them) directs energy to the remaining central flower, making it larger. Want more color? Leave all flowers on and don't disbud. Want larger, but fewer, individual flowers? Disbud.

Dahlia not disbudded, left. Disbudded, right

Tuberous begonia not disbudded, left. Disbudded, right

Amendment - n. Any material (preferably organic) that is incorporated into soil to improve structure and enhance microbial activity. Examples: Compost, dehydrated manure, leaf mulch, cotton burr compost.
Mulch -  n. Any material (preferably organic) that is applied to the soil surface to: reduce weeds, watering and compaction, buffer soil temperatures, improve soil structure (as it breaks down) and frankly, look good. Examples: leaf mulch, shredded: hardwood, cedar or pine bark, compost. You're right, the answer is yes, some materials can be used for both amending and mulching.

Feeling less intimidated? Good, because plants and planting make you feel ______________________ . What would your write-in be?