There is so much to learn about gardening, and in fact I would say no one knows everything, least of all me, but it does help to know the meaning of some terms. Different soils, different phrases – it can all seem a bit bewildering and daunting, but here are a few terms that might be useful if you are a ‘newbie’ to gardening.
My way of gardening has been to get a plant, stick it in the ground, slosh on some water and hope for the best – not very technical I admit, so I thought I would look a few things up to perhaps increase my chances of success!
A few basics about soil, in particular pH – I found out that pH stands for ‘potential of hydrogen’. Soils are often described as acidic (sour) or alkaline (sweet). It is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in a substance. The pH scale was devised in 1923 by Danish biochemist Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen. A pH of 7 is neutral, above 7 is alkaline (sweet), and below 7 is acidic (sour). Most plants prefer soil that is slightly acidic with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Yes, I can feel you glazing over already, so the best thing to do is get a soil testing kit, to ensure you are planting the right plant in the right soil!
Clay soil has 25% or more of clay, and it will feel heavy and sticky when wet, and heavy and hard when dry!
It is poor at draining and has few air spaces, but is suitable for some plants, notably fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs.
Sandy soil feels gritty, and although it drains well, it tends not to hold nutrition in the wet seasons, so would benefit from ‘mulching’ (see below). Excellent for root crops – carrots, potatoes etc.
Mulch – this is a form of top cover for soil to keep it moist and to conserve the quality of the soil, usually bark, wood chips, straw, moss or leaves. Silty soil feels soft and soapy and is usually full of nutrients, and holds moisture. Good for most plants.
Ericaceous - a type of soil for plants that prefer acidic soil and will not grow successfully in alkaline soils. Lime or chalk-based soils have an alkaline pH, meaning plants such as blueberries would struggle.
Loam is a rich soil in roughly equal parts of sand, silt, and clay, in a ratio of 40:40:20. It is considered the best of soils – doesn’t dry out in summer and doesn’t get waterlogged in the wetter months.
Vermiculite was always one that bothered me – It’s described as ‘a light, spongy mineral (also called ‘mica’) that has been heated to the point of expansion and that can hold water and air’. Vermiculite can be used in place of soil in various settings, including seed germination, or when rooting cuttings. It encourages more rapid root growth and helps to control moisture levels.
Germinating- means making a seed grow, it can be by putting a seed in soil, in water or sometimes a piece of damp paper (remember making cress grow?). Usually in soil in a pot, dampened, and covered with plastic until it starts to shoot.
Scarifying - Also known as de-thatching. Using a rake, scarifying removes the dead ‘thatch’ that builds up over time on a lawn - it removes the dead grass, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate the soil to encourage healthy grass to flourish.
How about plant life – ‘annuals’ have a plant life of one year, ‘biannuals’ have - yes you guessed it - a 2 year life, and
‘perennial’ means a plant that lives for numerous growing seasons. ‘Deciduous’ means the plant loses its leaves each autumn or winter, ‘evergreen’ means it doesn’t lose any.
Heirloom or hybrid? Heirloom means the plant hasn’t been modified or changed from its original form, hybrid usually means a plant has been deliberately crossed to grow better or produce a particular trait.
And lastly, Humus - Decomposed plant matter that has broken down in the soil. Not to be mixed up with hummus, an edible paste made from chickpeas!