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Horticulture-speak

Published February 15, 2012

"In the world of gardening and horticulture, there are plenty of terms that look downright confusing if not intimidating," said University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist Greg Stack.

"A new gardener who does not understand these terms could make the wrong choice of plants for the garden. On the other hand, understanding the vocabulary can make your gardening a lot more enjoyable, productive, and successful."

To get you started with "horticulture- speak" and help guide you in selecting what you need, here are a few terms that appear not only in catalogs but also on seed packets and in stores that sell plants. These terms can be applied to vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and many other types of plants.

F1 Hybrid: These are seeds that are from the first generation of a cross between two known varieties. These varieties are often grown for specific traits such as color, flavor, size, and disease resistance. Seeds of F1 Hybrids do not remain true to type in future generations, so saving the seeds and replanting them will not give you the same thing you had the previous season.

OP: Open Pollinated (OP) refers to plant varieties that breed true seed. This means seed saved from the parent will produce plants that are true to type. OP seed is produced by allowing a natural flow of pollen between different plants of the same type. Seed from these plants can often be saved and replanted in the next season's garden with acceptable results.

Heirloom: These are open pollinated varieties that have been around for a long time (often 50 years or more) and have evolved by natural or human selection, often into very interesting vegetables and flowers. Many catalogs offer them.

TMV, F, V, EB, N, A: These letters, which appear after the name of a tomato, pepper, or other vegetable variety name, indicate that the variety has resistance or tolerance to some of the commonly occurring, mostly soil-borne, diseases. If you garden where these diseases may be present, check these letters when you choose your plants.

Determinate: Used with tomato variety names, this term refers to plants that tend to be shorter and to spread out and make little or no growth after the fruit is set. Their fruits usually ripen all at once. Determinate varieties are good for growing in small gardens and containers, as they are easy to manage.

Indeterminate: This term is used to describe tomato varieties that tend to grow tall and are best staked or caged. The plants keep on producing new shoots and blossoms even after fruit set, allowing harvest over an extended time period.

Days to Harvest: This number (e.g., 78 days) is printed after a variety name. It tells you how soon you can expect to start seeing harvestable fruit after setting plants in the garden as transplants. For seed-sown plants, this generally refers to the time needed after seedling emergence. This is, of course, is tempered by weather and other growing conditions but is a good way to estimate when you can start expecting a harvest.

Gynoecious: This term refers to cucumber hybrids that produce only female flowers. These plants may flower earlier and produce more fruit because every flower is a potential fruit (unlike on standard varieties, where both male and female flowers are produced on the same plant and only the female flowers are capable of producing fruit). They are great for small gardens where production efficiency is important. Seed packets often include seeds of a standard variety, which will be a different color (pink or blue). Make sure to sow some of them so you will get a source of pollen from the male flowers to pollinate the gynoecious variety.

Plant in Hills: Often applied to vine crops, this term means that several seeds (three or four) are planted in a three- to four-inch circle. The next circle is then planted the recommended spacing from the first circle. These spaced circles are referred to as hills, even if they are not made into mounds.

Succession Planting. When radish, lettuce, and beans are sowed at the same time, the result is that all the produce is also ready at the same time, often in quantities that are too large to use efficiently. Succession planting is sowing smaller amounts of seed at staggered intervals to extend the harvest over time.

Four-, Six-, or Eight-Inch Plants: These designations are often used with transplants, flowering gift plants, or houseplants, and refer to the size of the pot in which the plant is being sold. If you are buying a four-inch marigold for your garden, the plant will be growing in and sold to you in a four- inch pot.

"Knowing a little bit about some of the words that are found in the horticultural world will help to make you a more educated and, hopefully, a better gardener," said Stack.

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