Landscaping Terms

Before You Plan, Know the Lingo

Backyard Pool with Landscaping has created this library of terms and information to help you through the landscaping process.

Botanical Terms

Botanists have established terms that describe plant anatomy and physiology. Plants are often differentiated by their botanical features. The life cycle and reproductive means of plants are often important aspects to consider for the landscape.

Annual: Plants that complete their lifecycle in one season — grow from seed, flower, produce seeds and die within one year.

Biennial: Plant that complete their life cycle in two seasons; in the first year they produce vegetative growth.  In the second year they produce reproductive growth (flowers) then die.

Deciduous: Plant that lose their leaves during the fall or early winter. New foliage emerges the following year.

Dioecious: A plant species that has sexually independent flowers; “male” flowers (staminate) on male plants, and “female” flowers (pistallate) on female plants.

Dormant: A state of plant rest; a non-growing period, which typically occurs in winter.

Cone: The fruit of conifers; made up of scales that bear one or more seeds.

Conifer:  A cone-bearing seed plants like fir trees and pines.

Scale: A leaf-like segment of a cone.

Sucker: A stem originating below ground from the roots, forming a new shoot of the main plant.

Pool with PlantsPlant Forms

Some plants have a natural habit resembling a familiar shape. Plant forms can occur naturally or with the help of careful pruning to achieve a desired shape. Varying plant forms create visual interest in a landscape.

Espalier: A plant that has been trained (pruned) to grow in a flat plane, often along a wall or trellis.

Conical: Cone-shaped growth habit.

Columnar: Narrow, upright growth habit.

Globose: Rounded or globe-shaped growth habit.


Plants are often known by more than one name.  The proper Latin-derived names are often difficult to pronounce and to remember, but it is helpful to be able to recognize and distinguish scientific and common names.

PlantsScientific Name: Internationally recognized plant name consisting of Latin-derived genus and species; e.g., Acer rubrum.

Common Name: Plant name recognized locally or regionally which may vary from one location to another.  These are often easy to remember but may not be easily recognized outside a given region; e.g., red maple.

Genus: The first word in a scientific name; a group of plant species with well-defined basic traits but with some differences in lesser traits; e.g., Acer.

Species: A group of plants sharing many characteristics and interbreeding freely. Species are identified by both the genus and species or specific epithet; e.g., Acer rubrum.

Specific Epithet: The second part of a species’ scientific name; e.g., rubrum.

Cultivar: Variations within a species that are propagated asexually.  The word is derived from the term “cultivated variety;” identified in the scientific name with single quotes; e.g., Acer rubrum “October Glory.”

Variety: Subdivision of a species having a distinct, though often inconspicuous difference, and reproducing (by seed) true to that difference; e.g., Acer rubrum var. trilobum.

Landscape Terminology

The landscape industry uses many specialized horticultural terms. Becoming familiar with these terms can help you communicate with your landscaper. Do not hesitate to ask your landscaper to define a term or explain a process so that you can fully understand the care and maintenance your yard requires.

Bare-Root: A plant has been dug from the ground and the plant roots have been washed or shaken clean of soil for shipping purposes.

Ball and Burlap:A ball of soil is left around the roots of a tree when it is dug for transplanting and the soil and roots are wrapped with burlap to hold the ball together.

Flat: Common container for annual bedding plants. Multiple plants (usually 18 to 48 plants), each with its own root ball, can be grown in one flat.

Drip Line: An invisible circle on the ground indicating the outer canopy edge of a tree where the majority of the tree’s roots are concentrated.

Host Plant: A plant on which a specific disease or insect lives.

Mulch: Any material used to cover soil for weed suppression and moisture retention.

Soil Amendments: Materials added to the soil to improve moisture retention, drainage, nutrient availability or soil texture.

Soil pH: A measure of relative soil acidity or alkalinity.

Transplant: To move plants from one growing location to another, often for the purpose of providing more space for plant growth and development.

Trickle Irrigation: An irrigation method by which water is applied at very low rates directly above the plant root zone; recognized as a water-wise, efficient irrigation method.

Weed: Any plant growing where it is not wanted.

Landscape Styles

Pool LandscapeYour landscape style can be an expression of your personality. Garden spaces may be defined by one particular style, though you can also express multiple styles in a single landscape. Your landscape style often determines your plant selection process, since plant characteristics may favor one style over another.

Xeriscape: Using plant materials and landscape practices to minimize water use. Xeriscapes often utilize plants that are native to a particular area.

Woodland: A garden maintained under a deciduous tree canopy; shade-loving perennials are ideal for woodland settings, which also often provide wildlife habitats.

Cottage Garden: A carefree garden packed with colorful flowers and herbs; often accented with a picket fence, arbors and rustic ornaments.

Rock Garden: Groundcovers and perennials are planted among rocks.  Plants that prefer hot, dry conditions are generally well suited for a rock garden.

Formal: A garden design featuring conventional lines and symmetrical or geometrical plantings.

Informal: A garden design with flowing or curving lines and gentle contours.

Oriental: A centuries-old garden style that relies on several essential elements, including stones, sand or pebbles, water and appropriate plantings.

Landscaping PlantsPlant Uses

Depending on growth habits, ornamental features and the size they will reach when they mature, plants can be selected to meet your specific landscape needs. The key is understanding which “plant use” best suits your landscape.

Specimen: A plant with unusual foliage, flowers, bark or growth habit; often used for accent.

Foundation: Any plants used on, against or near the foundation or walls of a building that provide an aesthetic transition from the rigid building to the softer landscape.

Massing: Plants spaced close enough to look like a blanket of color, increasing the visual impact of a bed.

Screening: The use of plants as a substitute for fencing or walls; most often created by a hedge of evergreen trees or shrubs.

Ground Cover: A low-growing plant used as a substitute for an area of grass; often used in locations such as steep banks or densely shaded spots where lawn grass is difficult to establish.

Street Trees: Trees that are suitable for planting along the street; often selected for their resistance to pollution, diseases and insects.

Windbreak:A type of plant screen intended to diffuse wind gusts or reduce wind speed.