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  • allelopathic
          Plant that produces chemicals affecting other nearby plants' growth. Usually used to indicate a negative effect, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) trees inhibit the growth of many other plants.

  • basal rosette
          Ground level ring of leaves (single or multiple layers) around the plant's central stem where it joins the roots.

  • bunchgrass
          Grass that grows as distinct plants that get larger over time. Also called clump-forming grass. Contrast with spreading grass (also called sod-forming grass), which expands using running roots that create new plants from existing ones.

  • climax ecosystem
          The ecosystem that will eventually overtake a certain area of the globe, perhaps after the landscape has moved through a succession of other ecosystems, and will persist indefinitely thereafter, ending the process of succession. Also called the dominant ecosystem.

  • clump-forming grass
          Grass that grows as distinct plants that get larger over time. Also called bunchgrass. Contrast with sod-forming grass (also called spreading grass), which expands using running roots that create new plants from existing ones.

  • cool-season grass
          A grass that greens up and grows during the spring, sets seed in early summer, then goes dormant until fall, when it begins growing again. A second dormancy may occur during cold winter weather.

  • crown
          On a clumping plant, the point at which the main stem (or stems) and the roots join together.

  • deciduous
          Perennial plants whose leaves die all at once (and usually fall) at the end of each growing season, to be replaced by new leaves at the next growing season. Most deciduous plants are broad-leaved, though a few, such as Larix laricina (Tamarack), have needles. Plants whose leaves live year-round are evergreen.

  • dioecious
          Species in which male and female reproductive organs are found on separate plants. Most hollies (genus Ilex) are dioecious; female plants will only bear fruit when a male grows nearby, and male plants do not bear fruit.

  • drip line
          On the ground, the line that marks the outer edge to which a tree's (or other plant's) branches spread. The drip line usually signals a change in microclimate, where the area under the tree, which sees less precipitation, sunlight, and wind and may also be subject to competition from the tree's roots (see root zone), meets an area that isn't sheltered by the tree.

  • dwarf varieties
          Varieties bred to grow smaller than their parent plants. Dwarf plants may lose the ability of the parents to set fruit (Bailey's dwarf highbush cranberry, Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey's Compact'). They may not resemble miniatures of their parents (dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca var. albertiana 'Conica').

  • ecosystem
          Stable, though not necessarily permanent, community of plants that have developed interrelationships with each other and with native wildlife to form a distinct, self-sustaining system. A few examples of ecosystems are tallgrass prairie, boreal forest, estuary, and oak savannah. Though ecosystems are a useful concept, in real life a "pure" ecosystem is unusual; more common are areas in which several ecosystems overlap to various degrees.

  • ephemerals
          Plants that emerge and bloom during one season, then die back for the remainder of the year. Many spring ephemerals bloom in woodlands, including trillium and ladyslipper.

  • evergreen
          Plants whose leaf cover remains alive year-round, though individual leaves may die and fall. Includes species, such as Rhododendron, whose leaves go dormant and change color at the end of the growing season, then green up again for the new season. Other evergreens, such as Pinus banksiana (Jack Pine), discard batches of leaves periodically. Evergreens may have needles (pine and spruce, for instance) or "broad" leaves (holly and rhododendron). Perennial plants whose leaves all die at once (and usually fall) at the end of each growing season (i.e. maple trees) are deciduous.

  • forbs
          Flowering herbaceous plants that are not grasses and sedges. As grasses and sedges do produce (relatively inconspicuous) flowers, the term "forbs" is often used (instead of "flowering plants") to specify the plants with conspicuous flowers the grow among the grasses in a meadow or prairie. Technically, this use of the term excludes small shrubs (such as leadplant, Amorpha canescens) that may grow among the grasses and forbs, produce flowers, and have a form similar to herbaceous plants.

  • habit
          The entire aboveground shape characteristic of a plant (such as a vase-shaped or columnar tree or a mounded shrub) and aspects of its pattern of growth that might influence the three-dimensional shape of it in a landscape (whether it forms colonies, for instance, or loses its lower branches with age, or tends to be flattened by a hard rain).

  • herbaceous plants
          Unlike woody plants, herbaceous plant stems do not add new growth each year. Many herbaceous plants die to the ground in winter, then grow new stems and leaves in Spring, but others stay evergreen. These may steadily increase in size by adding leaves and stems, but the stems do not gain hardness or grow in circumference with each new growing season. Herbs are not all herbaceous plants; some common herbs, such as lavender (Lavandula sp.) and sage (Salvia sp.), are technically shrubs because their woody stems increase in size each year when grown in climates in which they are winter-hardy.

  • herbs
          This term has two different (and incompatible) definitions.
    (1) In common usage, herbs are plants used by humans for cooking, medicine, or ritual. Herbs can be herbaceous plants or woody plants, annual or perennial, deciduous or evergreen. Some trees (such as willow) can be considered herbs under this definition.
    (2) In the field of botany, the terms "herb" and "herbaceous plant" mean the same thing, and that meaning is listed under the term herbaceous plants above.

  • homeoclimactic
          Regions that may be miles or continents apart but share similar climates. Lauren Springer writes, for example, "My northern Colorado garden mirrors the extreme climate of the steppes and dry mountains of Central Asia and the eastern Mediterranean."

  • invasive
          An introduced (non-native) plant that disrupts the local ecosystem and isn't checked by climate, grazing, or other natural means. Extreme examples include kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata), which can grow 35 feet in one season and which the American Horticultural Society's A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants calls "the vine that ate the South".

  • limb up
          Prune off lower branches of woody plants to (further) expose the main trunk or trunks.

  • mowing strip
          Edging placed between a lawn and a planting bed or patio, set just below ground level to provide a flat surface for one wheel so the lawnmower blades can cut to the edge of the lawn, saving the later step of snipping the edge grass with scissors or a weed-whacker. Mowing strips are commonly made of bricks, pavers, or poured cement.

  • nitrogen fixer
          Some plants (notably many legumes such as clover, peas, beans, and alfalfa) have the ability to transform nitrogen from the air into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. As nitrogen is a key nutrient that often limits growth, nitrogen fixers can influence the fertility of the surrounding soil and the growth of neighboring plants. The actual "fixing" or chemical transformation is performed by bacteria that live in nodules on the roots of the host plant.

  • parasitoid wasp
          Many species of wasp prey on other insects. They deposit their eggs into the larvae or pupae of the host insect, and the wasp larvae then consume the host. These wasps are correctly termed parasitoid rather than parasitic, since they kill their hosts. Parasites or parasitic animals live off a host without killing it, in a relationship that could be viewed as a type of symbiosis. Read more about specific parasitoid insect species.

  • plugs
          Young seedlings grown in roughly one-inch-across and four-inch-deep tubular holes, generally grown in a "plug pack" with six such holes or a "plug tray" with three or four dozen. Growers can sell the entire plug pack or plug tray, or they can transfer the seedlings to larger individual pots.

  • regionally appropriate
          Plants that are winter- and summer-hardy in your area (check the USDA plant hardiness zone rating, a number between 1 and 11) and are not considered invasive by state or federal authorities.

  • rhizomes
          Roots that travel underground laterally and send up new plants. An example is the perennial sweet woodruff (Galium odorata), which travels laterally an inch or so underground, then breaks the surface to grow a new stem.

  • root ball
          The clump consisting of the main roots of a plant and the soil (or other growing medium) clinging to them. The root ball should be kept intact when transplanting.

  • root zone
          The area of ground under which a given tree's (or other plant's) roots spread. Often the root zone covers the area encircled by the drip line; that is, the roots often spread underground to the same distance that the tree's branches extend above.

  • savannah or savanna
          Grassland with scattered trees, fairly common in the central plains of the U.S. before development. Bret Rappaport writes, "...it is theorized that humans are genetically predisposed to favor open grass-type landscapes as an artifact of our species' development on the savannas and grasslands of East Africa."

  • sedges
          Plants of the genus Carex, which includes over 1,500 species; sedges look similar to grasses.

  • suckers
          On woody plants, new stems that emerge from the roots. These can occur next to existing stems or many feet distant, depending on the species and how far the roots spread.

  • sod-forming grass
          A grass that spreads by creating new plants from existing plants by running roots across or under the ground (stolons or rhizomes, respectively), creating a dense turf. Also called spreading grass. Contrast with clump-forming grass (also called bunchgrass), in which single plants get larger over time but do not create new plants.

  • specimen or specimen plant
          A plant that is grown in relatively open ground with little competition and therefore develops an unnaturally (in most cases) broad spread and dramatic form. Contrast with masses, drifts, thickets, or groves of plants, in which individual specimens intermingle with each other and may even be hard to distinguish from each other.

  • spreading grass
          Grass that spreads by creating new plants from existing plants by running roots across or under the ground (stolons or rhizomes, respectively), creating a dense turf. Also called sod-forming grass. Contrast with bunchgrass (also called clump-forming grass), in which single plants get larger over time but do not create new plants.

  • stolons
          Surface roots that travel laterally and root at the joints, growing new plants. An example is ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea, also called creeping Charlie).

  • tapestry hedge
          A closely spaced row of mixed species of shrub.

  • taprooted
          Having one main fleshy root that extends straight down into the soil. Examples include carrot and dandelion.

  • understory trees
          Small trees that grow well under larger ones. Common understory trees in a birch-poplar-spruce forest include ironwood, mountain maple, and serviceberry. Other common understory trees in a mixed maple-hardwood forest are witch hazel and black cherry.

  • warm-season grass
          Grass that grows and "greens up" in summer, sets seed in fall, and goes dormant (loses its green color and stops growing) during winter and spring. According to Easy Lawns, most warm-season grasses are bunchgrasses and will not tolerate any shade.

  • woody plants
          As opposed to herbaceous plants, woody plants have a year-round structure of live stems and branches, and these woody parts increase in diameter each year. Includes both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, even small ones that may look like herbaceous plants.

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