A glossary for gardeners

KENNEWICK -- It's probably wishful thinking, but the new gardening season will be here before we know it.

However, we still have a some down time that we can take advantage of by planning our gardens and ordering seed.

The Mailorder Gardening Association offers a catalog glossary to help gardeners interpret the gardening "language" you may not understand. Not a bad idea, so here are some that I often get questions about.

Determinate (D) and Indeterminate (I): This is a term used to describe the different growth habits of tomatoes. If a variety is labeled as "indeterminate," it means the plant will keep growing as long as it stays warm. Indeterminate varieties are the vigorous vine types that are hard to contain. Large cages or trellises will work best in keeping the vines off the ground. Determinate varieties of tomato grow to a certain size and stop. They are more compact and easier to contain. Most of their fruit ripens around the same time. The fruit of indeterminate varieties ripen over time as the vine keeps growing.

OP or Open-Pollinated: You're likely to see this term used in catalogs that focus on heirloom vegetables and flowers. It means these varieties have been left to nature for pollination to occur. If the seeds are saved from these varieties, they'll produce plants and fruit that are identical to the parents. This is how heirloom vegetables can be handed down from generation to generation. Using the right techniques, you too can save their seed from year to year, without needing to buy the seed again.

Hybrid: Hybrids are in a way the opposite of open-pollination. They are varieties that have been created by controlling the pollination between two different varieties. This isn't genetic tinkering on the cellular level, but is controlled plant breeding. Hybrids are the result of cross-breeding two varieties. When the seed of hybrid plants are saved and planted, the progeny will likely not be identical to the parent hybrid plants.

Quarantine:Some catalogs will note that they can't ship certain plants into the state. It may seem like discrimination against Washington gardeners and our venerable state, but it isn't. They can't ship into our state because they're abiding by Washington State Department of Agriculture quarantines. The quarantines are aimed at preventing certain diseases, insect pests and weeds from entering our state. This is especially important because of the importance of agriculture to our state's economy and the impact these pests could have on our commercial agriculture, especially the wine grape and tree fruit industries.

If it's an ornamental tree, shrub or perennial, the nursery may simply not want to go to the trouble or expense of having the plants inspected for evidence of an infestation of certain insects pests. The Japanese beetle is one of these pests. WSDA requires that each shipment of plants from any of the 34 quarantined states must be "accompanied by an official state or federal certificate certifying that the regulated article has been treated by WSDA-approved methods and procedures to ensure that all Japanese beetles have been eradicated." These quarantines are made with careful consideration to protect not only Washington agriculture, but also Washington gardeners and their plants.

Resistance: Some types of vegetables are susceptible to certain plant diseases. Plant breeders have endeavored to create varieties that are resistant to the diseases most troublesome to a particular commercial vegetable crop. It's important to point out that resistance is not immunity. Listed after the variety name, "V" indicates resistance to Verticillium Wilt, "F" to Fusarium Wilt, "N" to Nematodes, "T" to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, "A" to Alternaria alternata (crown wilt disease), and "L" to Septoria Leafspot.

In our area, I would look for varieties that are at least "VFN," that is resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and nematodes.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.