Basic Gardening Terms: Types of Plants

Whether you’re a beginning gardener or a more experienced one, you’ve probably come across terms that are unfamiliar to you in gardening magazines, websites or even on plant labels.  In an effort to demystify gardening, we’ve put together a list of basic garden terms with brief explanations.

Annual Plants

Annuals only grow for one season.  Many cut-flowers and most vegetables are considered “annuals”.

Biennial Plants

These are a bit tricky to understand and are often grouped with perennials. Basically they take 2 seasons to complete their growth cycle.  If it starts as a seedling the first year, it won’t bloom until the next. Most biennials self-seed, meaning that after their bloom cycle ends, their blossoms create seed heads which then drop to the ground and start the cycle again.  Common biennials include hollyhocks, dianthus and campanula.c

Herbaceous Plants

Plants whose stems are soft and green rather than woody.  Most herbaceous plants go dormant over the winter.  Volcano phlox are a good example of a herbaceous plant.

Perennial Plants

perennials are plants that last more than one year, generally coming back season after season.  NOTE: some plants are “perennial” in warmer climates but in colder climates may be considered a “tender perennial”, meaning that although it may perform well all summer, it won’t make it through a cold winter.


They’re basically a swollen underground stem. The outside of the bulb wraps around an inner heart of the bulb to protect it and supply food.  The two major categories of bulbs are spring blooming which are planted in the fall, and summer blooming which are planted in the spring.


Often confused with bulbs, rhizomes grow horizontally either under the ground, or along the ground, sending out new shoots above ground and roots under ground. Tropicanna canna is an example of a rhizome.


These are fleshy oblong or rounded outgrowths of a stem or rhizome that remains underground.  Potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes are examples of tubers.

Bareroot Plants

Some perennials, trees and many roses are often sold as bare root plants, meaning that they’ve been dug from the ground during their dormant stage; the soil’s been removed from the roots and the plant’s been wrapped in some sort of protective covering for shipment or delivery.  Bare root plants are often sold via mail order and online sources.  It’s important to read and follow the directions before planting bare root perennials, shrubs, roses or even trees.


Refers to plants that are decorative rather than edibles.  Ornamentals generally include perennials, annual flowers, shrubs and roses.

Hardy Plants

Hardy plants are ones that tolerate difficult weather situations and continue to perform. Used most often when referring to plants that withstand cold winter temperatures and deep freezes.


Hybrid plants are created when cross breeding takes place.  Growers create hybrids  with the goal of producing a plant that contains the best traits of each of the plants that were crossed. It can also occur naturally through cross-pollination within members of the same plant species (two types of tomatoes, two types of corn, etc.)

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