Getting Ready for Gardening

In This Chapter

^ Understanding how plants are named ^ Examining flowering plants ^ Checking out trees, vines, and shrubs ^ Managing your lawn

Zl/o matter what your main gardening interest — be it growing vegetables, making your yard colorful with flowers, picking out just the right tree, or aspiring to have the most gorgeous roses on the block — chances are that you care most about the plants. Sure, gardening can also involve landscaping and lawn care (see the chapters in Part III of this book), or being able to grow your own food (Part IV), or just having a great excuse to play in the dirt (Part V), but for most people, the plants make everything worthwhile.

Of course, keeping your plants alive and making them look their best involves a lot of preparation. This book contains information on caring for your garden plants throughout, but you should especially read through the first few chapters if you really want your plants to grow, thrive, and look their absolute best.

Okay, yeah, I know, you already know you need to plan and prepare your soil to get your garden going, but you really just want to read about plants right now, right? In that case, the rest of this chapter is devoted to the most basic explanations of the kinds of plants you may encounter in the world of gardening. Later chapters in this book go into much more detail about the various types of plants, trees, bushes, and vines, but here I help you get a sense of how plants are similar and different — the first step in turning a brown thumb green. First, though, I explain a bit about names.

Playing the Name Game

What's in a name? For gardeners, plenty. Gardening is a blend of horticulture and botany, common names and high science, and the names can get a bit confusing. Whether you're looking at plant anatomy or simply want to know what to call a plant, understanding a bit about naming can help you wade through the aisles, ask better questions, and treat your plants right.

"Hello, my name is... Getting used to plant nomenclature

Whenever you're talking about plants, knowing how they're named can help you avoid getting tangled up in the Latin. Generally, when looking for plants and flowers, you encounter two types of names — botanical and common. Read on for some info on how the naming system works, and then carpe diem — pluck the day!

Botanical names

The botanical name is the proper or scientific name of a plant. It consists of two parts: the genus name and the species name. The species name is kind of like your own first name (except it comes last in a plant's botanical name). The genus name is similar to your family name (except in botanical names, it comes first). For example, in the plant name Hosta undulata, Hosta is the genus name, and undulata is the species name. Hosta describes an entire genus of famous, mostly shade-loving plants named hostas, and undulata describes the type of hosta it is — a hosta with an undulating leaf shape.

Sometimes the botanical name has a third name, right after the species name, known as the variety. A variety is a member of the same plant species but looks different enough to warrant its own name, such as Rosa gallica var. officinalis.

Still another botanical name that sometimes comes up is the cultivar, or cultivated variety. Cultivars are usually named by the people who developed or discovered them, and they're often maintained through cuttings, line-bred seed propagation, or tissue culture. In other words, they're cultivated (humans grow, improve, and develop them). An example is Lychnis coronaria 'Angel's Blush.'

^iWlfi^ A hybrid plant is the result of the cross-pollination between two genetically ** different plants, usually of the same species but different varieties. This com bination can happen because of cultivation, or it can occur naturally through bee pollination between two different plants.

Sharing names with distant relatives

If you want to be absolutely sure of the plant you're buying, then remember that the botanical or scientific name, including the cultivar name, is the most exact one. Some common names, like common basil, are very specific. All common basil has the same genus and species, Ocimum basilicum. However, a common name like daisy is so general that it may not be very helpful. This term can apply to plants very faintly related found in various genera (genuses). For instance, a "daisy" can be an African daisy (Arctotisor Gerbera), Dahlberg daisy (Dyssodia tenuiloba), English daisy (Bellis perennis), painted daisy (Chrysanthemum coccineum), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum superbum), and many others. If you're shopping by common names, read labels to make sure this particular kind of plant can grow for you.

Botanical names are more common with some types of plants than others. For instance, you frequently run into them with herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs but much less so with roses, annuals, and vegetables. You can find botanical names on the labels and in many garden references.

Common names

Common names are what you're most likely to encounter when shopping for plants to put in your garden, and they're what you mostly encounter in this book. You can find these names prominently displayed on seed packets or on seedling trays of plants that are for sale. They're kind of like botanical nicknames that gardeners use to describe a certain type of plant without going into a great amount of detail. For example, the Hosta undulata fits into the genus Hosta, so most gardeners merely refer to these plants under the common name of hostas. And you may know that Hemerocallis is actually the genus name for the common daylily, but chances are that most gardeners you encounter just call them daylilies.

Anatomy 101: Naming plant parts

Beyond recognizing the names of plants, knowing the various parts of plants is also useful. Figure 1-1 shows a nice, healthy perennial plant with the basic parts displayed. You probably already know most of them, but keep these parts in mind, because you need to know them to understand some of the things I discuss in the rest of this book! In the figure, the taproot is the main root of the plant; the stolon, or runner, is a horizontal stem that spreads through the ground to help some perennials propagate.

When you know the parts of plants and the difference between all the plant names you run into, you may be ready to get the lowdown on the types of plants out there!

Figure 1-1:

The basic parts of a perennial plant, above and below ground.

Figure 1-1:

The basic parts of a perennial plant, above and below ground.

Basic Parts Plant
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