Basic Gardening Language and Terms

You don’t need to be a gardening language expert to start gardening, but it would be highly advantageous to know some of the commonly used terms found on plant labels and garden center websites.


Annuals are plants that last for only one season. They grow from seed, then flower, produce seed, and die. Annual plants fall into two categories: hardy and half-hardy.

Hardy Annuals

Hardy annuals are plants that can withstand the cold. You can sow them outdoors in the spring, and once the soil warms up enough, they will germinate and flower. Hardy annuals usually flower earlier than half-hardy annuals.

Lupin Flowers
Lupin flowers

Half-hardy annuals

A half-hardy annual is a type of plant that does not tolerate cold weather and is susceptible to frost damage. They cannot be planted until after the last frost. Once planted, they continue to grow and flower until the first frost in autumn, which ultimately kills them.

French Marigold Honeycomb
French Marigold – Honeycomb


Biennial plants are those that take approximately two years to complete their life cycle and flower. You will sow them in one year, and they will flower in the following year. While some biennial plants complete their life cycle within two years, others may last for several years.

Digitalis purpurea Excelsior – Foxgloves


A perennial plant is a type of plant that typically lives for two or more years. These plants usually die back to their rootstock every autumn, but then regrow in the spring. It’s worth noting that some perennials do not die down in the winter, which can cause confusion.

Hardy perennial

A hardy perennial is a type of plant that can withstand cold weather and can be left in the ground throughout the year. It is not affected by frost and can tolerate the cold. These plants can even be left in the ground for a few years before needing to be dug up and divided.

Toad Lily
Toad Lily – Tricyrtis hirta
Red Hot Poker
Potted Red Hot Poker – Kniphofia uvaria 

Half hardy perennial

A half-hardy perennial is similar to a hardy perennial in many ways, but there is one key difference – they do not tolerate cold weather well. While they can survive for years, they are susceptible to frost damage and may not survive the winter. As a result, half-hardy perennials must be kept indoors or in a heated greenhouse during the winter months.

Dahlia variabilis
Dahlia variabilis

Bedding Plants

Bedding plants are plants that are used for temporary decorative displays during a specific season. They can be used in a variety of ways, such as in beds, containers, borders, and hanging baskets. Bedding plants can also be used to fill gaps in the garden.

These plants can be grown from seed and transplanted, or they can be purchased as plant plugs, multipacks, or cellular trays that are ready for planting. Half-hardy annuals, half-hardy perennials, bulbs, and even shrubs can be used as bedding plants.

As an example, many public gardens change their bedding plant displays twice a year, replanting in late spring for summer and early autumn for winter/spring.

Woody Plants

A woody plant is a type of plant that produces wood as its structural tissue above the ground. This category includes trees, shrubs, and climbers. Ivy is an example of a woody climber.

Siberian Dogwood
Siberian Dogwood – Cornus alba Sibirica

Deciduous Plants

Deciduous plants are a type of plant that lose their leaves in the autumn each year, only to regrow them in the spring. Trees are a common example of deciduous plants.

Evergreen Plants

Evergreen plants are plants that retain their leaves throughout the year. While it is true that they may shed old leaves periodically, they generally maintain their foliage year-round.


Semi-evergreen plants

A semi-evergreen plant is a plant that is sometimes labeled as such. These plants can be indecisive when it comes to retaining their leaves. In a mild or sheltered location, they tend to keep their leaves, but in a cold or exposed location, they may shed their leaves.