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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gardening definitions explained in simple terms, part 1

I'll bet there are times especially when you read the tags attached to those pretty little plants at the garden center when you're scratching your feeble head and thinking "Why do they have to make everything sound like Greek?" Actually it's Latin but that's neither here nor there. It's those confusing garden terms which are giving you trouble. I can clear it up for you if you're willing to listen.
What's a biennial?

Some of you perhaps do not know the difference between a perennial and a biennial, between a semi-hardy annual and a tender perennial nor the difference between a tuber, corm, rhizome and a bulb. While it's not essential to know these definitions in order to have a stunningly beautiful garden it might provide you with some answers like why that Foxglove didn't come back when it looked so pretty last year.

Let's start with the term perennial. When a plant is called a perennial it simply means it will live through the winter. They will go dormant but reemerge in spring. That technically would make your Japanese Red Maple just as much a perennial as your Rhododendron and your Peony. Each one of these gets its own category with its own definition.

Trees in general are deciduous perennials. These drop their leaves in autumn, sleep through the winter and grow them back in the spring. In a separate sub-category there is the evergreen which retains its leaves, or more likely needles in the case of pines and spruces. Rhododendrons and some azaleas are evergreen shrubs because they keep their leaves through the winter.

Now we come to the herbaceous perennial. The Peony, being it dies down to the ground every winter and comes up afresh in spring, is an example of the herbaceous perennial. In the case of the peony it is a long-lived perennial because it will live for several decades if provided with some essentials, water, nutrients and sun. The roots remain alive and well even through bitter cold winters and reawaken in the spring. Some others included in this category are Shasta Daisy, Daylily, Iris, Hosta and Coreopsis.

But not all perennials always make it through the winter unscathed. That's when we get into the tender perennials. These are plants that come back year after year but only up to a certain point can they tolerate the cold rather a bit like me. I am Caribbean born and would wilt quicker than a Poppy in water if I was sent to Alaska.. That is where understanding the plant label will help you make the right choices. You must first know in what zone you are planting.

Next time: Part 2

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