For the beginning gardener, descriptive gardening terms can be confusing. While there is an extensive glossary, defining some of those basic terms will provide confidence to a first-time gardener.

Plants come in three types. Annuals are plants that complete their entire life cycle in one season. Perennials are plants that come back year after. Biennial plants live for only two years, growing leaves the first year and adding flowers the second. After the second year this plant usually dies.  

Knowing plant behavior is important. Aggressive plants can be a friend or foe. These plants have the potential to take over a garden and make your life miserable. A good example is the herb Mint. Knowing that it spreads allows you to plant it where you can control it. Invasive plants are plants that have gone wild. (Examples are those sprayed by your county weed board.) They are a threat to native plants and should be avoided.

Trees and shrubs are classified as either evergreen plants that keep their leaves throughout the winter, or deciduous plants that drop their leaves in the fall or winter.  

Plants grow in several structural forms. Woody trees or shrubs develop a permanent structure that supports their foliage. Herbaceous plants grow from the ground every spring and die back in the fall or winter. Their structure is fleshy and temporary.

Good plants tags will give a gardener the information that will aid in choosing and placement of specimens. Allow me to clarify this further.

• “Deep, dense or full shade” on a tag does not mean no sun. It means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered light the rest of the day. Locations such as the north side of a building or under trees with low branches and dense leaves are ideal.

• “Partial shade” plants require direct morning sun (on the east side of a building) or afternoon sun (west side of a building) but no sun from about 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

• “Part sun” requirement is the same as partial shade, except plants will tolerate some midday sun.

• “Light or dappled shade” is the environment under trees with high branches or sparse foliage.

• “Full sun garden” location provides at least 6 hours or more of sun exposure and includes midday sun.

• “Mature height and width” as well as the “spacing” requirements of the plant are important for placement. You do not want one plant overpowering a neighboring plant.

• “Habit” is a term that describes the shape of the plant, whether it grows upright, mounds or spreads.

• “Common name” is what the plant is generally called, while the scientific name, given in Latin, describes the group, species and cultivar.    

• “Hardiness Zone” is the region where a plant grows the best. It is critical to know your region’s zone.

Water requirements and animal resistance are also given as aids to the gardener in choosing plants that will thrive in a garden. And now you have the basics!

Share tips from your outdoor or indoor plant experience, give us a tour of your plant site, or tell us about other plant topics of our region and people who grow them. Contact Attn: Brenda Johnson or write P&D, 319 Walnut St, Yankton, SD 57078, Attn: Brenda Johnson. Also see “Plant Exchange Blog” for past articles at  or on Plant Exchange Facebook page.

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