University of Illinois Extension

Horticulture Speak

No matter what profession or hobby you are involved with, it seems that each one has its own special vocabulary, said Greg Stack, a University of Illinois Extension horticulturist.

"In the world of gardening and horticulture there are plenty of terms that look confusing if not intimidating," said Stack. "To the new gardener these terms, if not understood, can result in making the wrong choice of plants for the garden. And then on the other hand, if they are understood will make your gardening a lot more enjoyable, productive and successful.

Understanding the terms

"To get you started with "horticulture speak" here are a few terms that you will run across not only in catalogs but also on seed packets and perhaps while shopping for plants in the store. These terms can be seen used with vegetables, flowers, shrubs and many other types of plants and help guide you in selecting just what you need."

F1 Hybrid: Denotes seeds that are from the first generation of a cross between two know varieties. Seed collected from F1 Hybrids do not remain true to type in future generations so saving seed from F1 Hybrid varieties will not give you the same thing you had the previous season. These do, however, offer varieties that are often grown for specific traits such as color, flavor, size and disease resistance.

OP: Open Pollinated: This is a variety that breeds true from seed. This means seed saved from the parent will produce plants that are true to type. OP seed is produced by allowing a natural flow of pollen between different plants of the same type. Seed from these plants can often be saved for replanting in next season's garden with acceptable results.

Heirloom: These are open pollinated varieties that have been around a long time (often 50 years or more). They have evolved by natural or human selection over time. These varieties are showing up more frequently in catalogs and offer some really interesting plant material in both the vegetable and flower world.

TMV, F, V, EB, N, A: These letters often appear after a tomato, pepper or other vegetable variety name indicating that the particular variety has resistance or tolerance to some of the commonly occurring disease issues. This is a good way to help grow a crop if you garden where these diseases may be present. Treatment for them may be difficult as many of these are soil borne.

Determinate: Seen with tomato variety names. These plants tend to be shorter and tend to spread out and make little or no growth after fruit is set. They tend to produce fruit that ripen all at once. Good for small space gardens and containers as they are easy to manage.

Indeterminate: Again a tomato term used with varieties that tend to grow tall and are best staked or caged for best management. Plants keep on producing new shoots and blossoms even after fruit sets and allows harvest over an extended period of time.

Days to Harvest: A number that is printed after a variety name for example 78 days. This means that for plants that are set out into the garden as transplants you can expect to start seeing harvestable fruit about 78 days after plants are set in the garden. For seed-sown plants this generally refers to the time needed after seedling emergence. This is of course all tempered by weather and other growing conditions but is a good way to estimate when you can start expecting harvest.

Gynoecious: Seen with cucumber varieties. These are special hybrids that produce only female flowers thus they may be earlier and higher producing than standard varieties because every flower is a potential fruit. This is not the case with standard varieties where both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant. Only the females are capable of producing fruit. Great for small space gardens where production efficiency is important. A seed of a standard variety is often included in the seed packet and seed is often a different color (pink or blue). Make sure to sow some of both of them so you will get the needed pollen source from the male flowers to pollinate the gynoecious variety.

Plant in Hills: Often refers to vine crops. This means that several seeds (three or four) are planted in a three to four inch circle. The next circle is then planted the recommended spacing from the first circle. These spaced circle or seeds are referred to as hills. You don't necessarily mound up the soil into a physical hill.

Succession Planting: Making staggered sowings of seed to spread out the harvest over a period of time. We have all experienced the reality of sowing all of our radish, lettuce or bean seeds at one time. The result, a large amount of produce is ready all at the same time often in quantities too large to use efficiently. So instead, make succession plantings, meaning sow smaller amounts of seed at two week intervals to spread out the harvest resulting in quantities that can be used more efficiently.

Four, Six or Eight Inch Plants: These designations are often used with transplants or flowering gift plants or houseplants. The size does not refer to the size of the actual plant being sold. It refers to the size of the pot that the plant is being sold in. This is a sales and marketing term. So if you are buying a four-inch marigold for your garden those plants will be growing in and sold to you in four-inch pots.

"Knowing a little bit about some of the words that are found in the horticultural world will help to make you a more educated and hopefully a better gardener," said Stack.

Tomato Plant