BACTERIA: These are microscopic primitive organisms existing in their countless millions everywhere, soil contains vast numbers of them, mostly beneficial to plants. Aerobic bacteria require air to exist and break down decaying matter in the soil into soluble foods which can be taken up for healthy plant growth by the roots. Anaerobic bacteria can live without air, generally thrive in soggy sour soil and conditions of poor cultivation, and sometimes do more harm to plants than good. Other less desirable members of the bacterial fraternity can cause diseases in plants, but, in general, bacteria are some of a gardeners best friends.
BARE ROOT: Plants dug out of the ground during the dormant season (usually late autumn to early spring) to transplant them are known as bare root plants. Because the plants run a risk of their growth being checked by this method, many commercial growers now use containers, or offer plants with a protected rootball.
BARK: The outer protective layer of the mature stems of woody plants, usually brown, but sometimes other quite spectacular colours and often of interesting textures, for which two reasons alone many ornamental plants are grown. Bark from stripped timber is now being shredded or pulverized and compressed and sold for mulching purposes, or as a substitute for peat.
BED: Usually an island area of soil in a garden, for stocking with ornamental plants, or sometimes edible crops. It can be surrounded by lawn, paving, gravel, or other decorative surfacing and can be edged with a dwarf hedge, or with bricks, tiles, or similar.
BEDDING PLANTS: Those usually raised in seed trays under glass or in nursery beds and planted out in a mass for temporary display — this is known as a bedding scheme. Bedding plants are usually planted out in the autumn for a spring display (e.g. wallflowers, forget-me-nots) or in late spring and early summer for the summer and early autumn period (e.g., French marigolds, stocks, petunias). A winter bedding scheme of hardy winter-flowering pansies has become very popular.
BERRY: Technically, this is a seed or seeds enclosed in a juicy pulp (e.g., tomato). Just to confuse the issue, the fruits we call berries (raspberries, blackberries and the like) are correctly known as drupes, but by regular usage the term ‘berry’ has become applied to many soft fruits that are botanically not berries at all.
BIENNIAL: A plant which in one year undergoes germination and develops leaves; flowers and seeds in its second year and then dies (e.g., foxgloves, carrots, cabbages). Many perennials are best treated as biennials (e.g., wallflowers and sweet williams). These are sown one year and encouraged to make sturdy unflowered plants that season, for replanting in bedding schemes to flower the following year, after which they are replaced. Left to their own devices they will continue to grow and flower every year but will gradually get more and more straggly and unmanageable, hence it is better to pull them up after their first year’s flowering and start again.
BLANCHING If a green plant is put into darkness by covering it with some light-excluding material or soil, it loses its green colour and turns white. This is often done to certain vegetables (e.g., leeks, chicory, celery) to make them sweeter and more tender.
BLEEDING: The leaking of sap from a wound when a plant is cut or damaged. It often occurs when pruning is done if a plant is not fully dormant and the sap is rising. It is not usually harmful, unless it is excessive; and can be stopped by applying cigarette ash to a small cut, or a sealing compound (or even oil-based paint) to a large one.
BLIND: A plant is said to be ‘blind’ when it stops growing at the growing tip. This usually occurs after an injury of some sort, ornamental plants will usually bush out from buds lower down the stem, vegetables should be scrapped. This term is also applied to flowering plants which fail to flower for some reason.
BLOOM: Another term for blossom, or flower. It can also refer to a waxy or powdery coating on some fruit (e.g., grapes and plums).
BLOSSOM: A flower or a collection of flowers.
BOLTING: This occurs when a vegetable produces its flower prematurely, and, in doing so, becomes unusable. It generally follows a check in growth, caused by something such as drought or root rot, and should not happen under conditions of good cultivation.
BORDER: An area of planted-up ground running around the edge of a feature such as a lawn or paving.
BOTTOM HEAT: The application of warmth to soil or potting compost from below, these days usually by means of soil-warming cables such as those incorporated into heated propagators. The warm soil encourages the germination of certain seeds, and the speeding up of the formation of the roots in cuttings.
BRANCH: Woody shoots of a tree or shrub not forming a single trunk in the case of a shrub, and usually growing from the upper part of the trunk in the case of a tree.
BRASSICA: A member of the cabbage family (e.g., Brussels sprout, cauliflower, wallflower stock).
BREAK: The formation of Side-shoots in a plant. Also a bud at the moment of its opening is said to be breaking.
BROADCASTING: Scattering seed all over an area (for example, when seeding a lawn), instead of sowing in straight lines.
BROAD-LEAVED: A term used to describe plants with broad, flattish leaves, instead of spike or sword-like ones (e.g., grasses) or needles (like some conifers).
BUD: The part of a plant containing embryo leaves, flowers and/or stems.
BUDDING: The implanting of a growth bud in the bark or outer layer of stem of another plant. The resultant plant will have the characteristic flowers and leaves of the plant from which the bud was removed, but the growth habit or vigour of the rootstock. This is still the most widely used method of propagating roses.
BULB: This is strictly speaking a swollen, modified leaf base which acts as a food storage organ for the plant during its dormant period (e.g., daffodil). Like the term berry, the definition of the word bulb has been widened to refer to any fleshy modified stems such as those produced by gladioli and crocuses (which are really corms), and roots, like those of the dahlia and some begonias (which are actually tubers).
BUSH: A woody plant with a group of stems, as opposed to a tree, which usually has only one stem, or trunk. In gardening terms, the word bush is generally used in connection with roses and fruit, the word shrub being applied to the remainder.
BUSH FRUITS: These are produced on low bushes (e.g., currants).