Basic Gardening Terms: Types of Plants

Whether you’re a beginning gardener or a more experienced one, you’ve probably come across terms that are unfamiliar to you in gardening magazines, websites or even on plant labels.  In an effort to demystify gardening, we’ve put together a list of basic garden terms with brief explanations. Click here if you’d like to download a PDF version of Basic Gardening Terms Part 1 which deals with types of plants and plant forms.

Annual plants: Annuals only grow for one season.  Many cut-flowers and most vegetables are considered “annuals”

Biennial plants: These are a bit tricky to understand and are often grouped with perennials. Basically they take 2 seasons to complete their growth cycle.  If it starts as a seedling the first year, it won’t bloom until the next. Most biennials self-seed, meaning that after their bloom cycle ends, their blossoms create seed heads which then drop to the ground and start the cycle again.  Common biennials include hollyhocks, dianthus and campanula.


Volcano phlox are herbaceous perennials, coming back each year

Herbaceous plants: Plants whose stems are soft and green rather than woody.  Most herbaceous plants go dormant over the winter.  Volcano phlox are a good example of a herbaceous plant.

Perennial plants: perennials are plants that last more than one year, generally coming back season after season.  NOTE: some plants are “perennial” in warmer climates but in colder climates may be considered a “tender perennial”, meaning that although it may perform well all summer, it won’t make it through a cold winter.

spring-blooming bulbs

Daffodils bulbs are planted in the fall and are considered “spring blooming” bulbs

Bulbs: They’re basically a swollen underground stem. The outside of the bulb wraps around an inner heart of the bulb to protect it and supply food.  The two major categories of bulbs are spring blooming which are planted in the fall, and summer blooming which are planted in the spring.

uses for garden containers

Tropicanna cannas (and other cannas) are grown from rhizomes

Rhizomes: Often confused with bulbs, rhizomes grow horizontally either under the ground, or along the ground, sending out new shoots above ground and roots under ground. Tropicanna canna is an example of a rhizome.

Tubers: These are fleshy oblong or rounded outgrowths of a stem or rhizome that remains underground.  Potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes are examples of tubers.

Bareroot plants: Some perennials, trees and many roses are often sold as bareroot plants, meaning that they’ve been dug from the ground during their dormant stage; the soil’s been removed from the roots and the plant’s been wrapped in some sort of protective covering for shipment or delivery.  Barerrot plants are often sold via mailorder and online sources.  It’s important to read and follow the directions before planting bareroot perennials, shrubs, roses or even trees.

Ornamentals: Refers to plants that are decorative rather than edibles.  Ornamentals generally include perennials, annual flowers, shrubs and roses.

Hardy Plants: Hardy plants are ones that tolerate difficult weather situations and continue to perform. Used most often when referring to plants that withstand cold winter temperatures and deep freezes.

Hybrids: Hybrid plants are created when cross breeding takes place.  Growers create hybrids  with the goal of producing a plant that contains the best traits of each of the plants that were crossed. It can also occur naturally through cross-pollination within members of the same plant species (two types of tomatoes, two types of corn, etc.)

GMOs: Unlike Hybrids, GMO plants are the result of genetic engineering during a process in which the plant’s DNA is altered.  GMO stands for genetically modified organism.


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2 Responses to Basic Gardening Terms: Types of Plants

  1. Pamela Gideon-Hawke June 5, 2016 at 11:47 pm #

    I bought a Tropicanna and a Tropicanna Gold. Now that the flowers have fallen off, where do I cut on the stem – or – how should these be tended when the flower has died?

    • Your Easy Garden Team June 6, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

      Hi Pamela, You can cut off the dead bloom, being careful to not new adjacent shoots. The plant will continue to send off new blooms throughout the summer. If you haven’t fertilized it yet, you can do that with some time released fertilizer to keep those blooms coming! If you live in a cooler zone, this post includes some tips for overwintering your Tropicanna

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