Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

December 8, 2016
More gardener insider terms

Insider trading is illegal. When one has “insider” knowledge of what will be happening in a company, industry or in the market, and uses that knowledge to profit personally, that’s a legal offense punishable by law. Thankfully, having a good working knowledge of the (insider) terms associated with gardening and horticulture is a good thing. It allows us to expand our knowledge, link together what we do know about different gardening disciplines, and to express ourselves (at least with other gardeners) precisely with a minimum of words.

This is the second in the series of vocabulary builders. Like any discipline, horticulture and its related sciences have both words and jargon that can be confusing, but have developed over time to accurately describe the gardening universe. Take on this second list to see how many of this batch of 10 expressions or words you know partially or well already, and how many are new to you. They are: 1.) rhizome, 2.) nematode, 3.) humus, 4.) chlorotic, 5.) stratification, 6.) tendril, 7.) stomata, 8.) calyx, 9.) macronutrient and 10.) hybrid.

Rhizome — Many people confuse rhizomes with roots. One of the most commonly known plants that multiply via rhizomes are bearded iris. A rhizome is actually a stem that grows horizontally, usually just below the surface of the soil, or slightly on top of it. A rhizome grows continuously, and will put produce shoots and roots. Rhizomes can usually be easily transplanted, which is good or bad, depending on whether you want more plants or not. Cool-weather turf grasses usually produce rhizomes as well, filling in adjacent spots. A bonus term is “stolon,” which is a lateral shoot like a rhizome, but it grows above ground and is green. No charge for that one.

Nematode — No, this is not a type of frog! However, it IS a type of organism. As a matter of fact — there are just about 20,000 species of Nemata (another cool word for you). They are the most plentiful multi-celled creatures on the planet, and are generally quite small, requiring a microscope to see. However, they can range to over 20 feet! They are thread-like in shape, and can be described as a tube within a tube. A small scoopful of soil will likely contain thousands of them. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are parasites of animals, plants or insects. Many a carrot grower has been plagued with an infestation of Northern Rootknot nematodes, leading to forked or misshapen carrots. On the good side, nematodes are a substantial part of the food chain, and are responsible for a significant amount of the breakdown of organic materials in the soil, producing humus. That’s our next term.

Humus — This is NOT gardening humor (or attempts at it, as just demonstrated). It’s pronounced much like “humor” and not like “hummus.” Humus is the dark organic material that is formed in soil when plant and animal matter decays and breaks down. Soil microorganisms (like nematodes) decompose this matter. Humus is not a type of soil, but is fully mature compost. It is “slow” compost that is now without form (amorphous), and will not break down any further. It is highly nutritious for plant growth and is used for planting as well as soil amending.

Chlorotic — When leaves of a plant, shrub or tree produce insufficient chlorophyll, it is said to be chlorotic. Since chlorophyll is what makes leaves green, chlorotic leaves will be very pale. Chlorosis can occur from light deprivation or poor soil drainage. The most common cause of it in our area is iron deficiency due to our alkaline soils that tend to make iron unavailable to plants.

Stratification — The seeds of many plants will not germinate without going through an actual or simulated winter. This is to protect them from germination late in the season, just before killing frosts. Stratification is the process of exposing seeds to winter-like conditions (two months will do it for most seeds). If this period of cold is not experienced, many of the seeds will not break dormancy and sprout. Depending on the seed, there are several stratification-associated practices that are used to get germination to occur. These include soaking seeds in water, exposing them to hot water for a short period of time, or abrading the seed coat (called scarification — as in scarring, not scaring!) to allow the seed to hydrate and germinate.

Tendril — Ever worked with Virginia Creeper or a grapevine? Then you know about tendrils! These specialized structures allow plants to firmly grasp supports and structures. They are actually sensitive to touch. When they encounter an object, the tendril will spiral towards the item. If substantive, the tendril will grow tougher over the next few weeks, creating a firm grasp on the object. Some invasive plants have tendrils that they use to overrun other plants in their competition for space and sunlight. Tendrils can also be seen in friendlier plants such as melons, cucumbers and even passion flowers.

Stomata — This word sounds like something that relates to the stomach. In actuality, stomata is the plural form of stoma — a word that finds its origin in the Greek word for mouth. Stomata are the minuscule openings on the surface of leaves that allow for the exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Photosynthesis takes a lot of work with plentiful resources. The plants breathe in carbon dioxide and release waste oxygen — a good thing for us! Water vapor moves in and out of the plant as well. During the heat of the day, or during drought conditions, the plant’s stomata will close to preserve moisture in the plant.

Calyx — When I first heard this word, I thought it was some type of mineral or gem, like onyx. Nope. The most familiar type of calyx would be found on the next tomato you look at. It is not the stem, but the group of leaf-like structures at the base of the stem and laying on the top of the skin of the fruit. It’s actually found at the base of a flower (which the tomato was before pollination) or top of plant stalks. It’s usually green in color, but can be the same hue as the flower.

Macronutrient — Every bag of fertilizer that is legally labeled will display three hyphenated numbers. Those numbers represent percentage of composition by each of the three macro (major) nutrients in the package. The three are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K). These are the three main “nutrition” resources that plants commonly need. So, a 21-0-0 sack of ammonium phosphate contains 21 percent nitrogen and zero phosphorus and potassium. And, yes, there are micronutrients — about seven of them. That’s a discussion for another day.

Hybrid — No, this is not a vehicle that runs both on a battery and some other fuel — at least not in this context. However, what I’ve just described does give a clue to what a hybrid is in the horticultural world. Hybrids are common in food crops. Plant breeders selectively cross-pollinate two different varieties of the same plant species. The goal is to get an offspring — a hybrid — that has the most desirable characteristics of the parent plants. Cross-pollination occurs naturally within the same plant species as well and is different than genetic modification — which is done at the DNA level.

That, my friends, is this round of vocabulary builders. We’ve only given the basic information on each term. For those of you that want to know more about any of these topics, they are easily found using online searches. Have fun.

Lastly, good news! It’s getting closer to the beginning of another Master Gardener Class. The new class will commence the first part of January and will go for 14 weeks on Tuesday nights. This is a FANTASTIC gardening and horticulture course that will give you the knowledge and resources to take your gardening and landscaping results to a new level. You’ll meet great like-minded people and “rub elbows” with some of the top-notch agricultural specialists and educators from the northern Utah USU Extension team. Watch for more details over the next few weeks. I’ve completed the course once, but intend to audit many of the classes again — it’s that good. Won’t you join me?

Jay Cooper can be contacted at, or you can visit his channel at for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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