Common terms explained

The following alphabetical glossary includes some of the basic definitions and terms that we use everyday, but realise that it may not be obvious to everyone else!

Bare Root

Plants grown in the open ground and lifted. Roots are loose – with no surrounding soil.


This is the surface layer of the tree or plant stem, and is largely there to protect the layers that lie immediately beneath. These delicate layers, also called phloem, are responsible for the transportation of fluids between the leaves and the root system – nutrients and water coming up from the soil, and processed carbohydrates being channeled back down again for storage or to be converted into energy as part of the growth process. If the bark is damaged, then these vital channels can be interrupted and impair the overall vitality of the plant. See also Girdle/Ring Bark below.


Small plant grown in a mini container – minimal disturbance to roots on planting.

Container grown

Plants that have been grown in their containers and have an established root system.


Plants generally grown as bare root plants which are then put in a container with compost and soil around them – the plants will not be rooted into the compost.


A term which refers to the cutting of trees or shrubs down to a stump with the desire for them to re-grow as a multi-stem plant.


Small tree with side branches.

Girdle/Ring Bark

If you cut the bark of a tree all the way round the stem you have girdled it. This is non repairable and the affected plant or tree will die very quickly.

Girth Size

The girth size of the tree is a measure of the girth or circumference of the stem at 1 metre above the ground. It is measured in centimetres, but also gives a very basic idea of the height of the tree in feet (a girth of 12-14cm equates approximately to a height of 12-14ft).

Heel in

Digging in of bare root plants. A trench is dug and bundles of bare root plants are placed in it.The roots are them covered over by soil. Plants can be stored like this for several weeks.


An old method of cutting hedges to make them more stock-proof. Typically, this is a technique which uses hazel stakes, cut from coppice woodland, to support the hedging trees which have had their main stems cut half-though and are then woven together to form a live fence.


This is a layer of organic material which is placed around a plant to improve the fertility of the soil, reduce weed growth, and reduce water loss – all of which will ultimately improve the growth rate of the plant.

Mulch Mat

This is a layer of woven organic or inorganic material designed to perform the same function as employing natural organic mulch.

Notch Plant

This is the term which refers to the method of planting whereby a spade is used to create a slit in the ground into which a tree’s roots can be inserted and then heeled in.

Pit Plant

This is the term used to describe the method of planting where a hole is dug to accommodate the tree or shrub’s root system. This is then filled in gently to hold the tree firmly.


Trees which have been cut down to approx 12 ft tall with the objective of encouraging them to re-grow into a short, branchy tree with a round crown. This used to be a traditional method of growing firewood quickly.

Pot Size

Measured in litres – please see this page for details of sizes and what they look like.


A plant that has been grown out in the field and is then dug up with its roots and surrounding earth intact.The rootball is carefully lifted and normally wrapped in Hessian and wire.When planting these, care should be taken not to disturb the rootball, leaving the Hessian on (it will rot), but untying the wire around the root collar and folding it back (the wire is ungalvanised and rusts very quickly).

Root Control Bag

This is a bag designed to be set into the nursery soil and into which a tree can then be planted. This gives the appearance of trees properly planted in the ground, but the bag prevents large roots from developing, and spreading too widely. When the tree is eventually lifted, only very small roots will have extended beyond the Root Control Bag. These can be pruned off, leaving the customer with a very strong, healthy root ball.

Root Trainer

Seeds are planted in tiny pots approx 80ml and the resulting young tree is termed as a root trainer. Typically these trees are quite small but they do have a good planting success rate.


A one year old plant which has been grown very close to its neighbours in a seed bed and then lifted for one year. This makes for a very small plant and root system.


A term which refers to a mechanical loosening, or “spading” of the soil, designed to prepare the soil for tree planting rather than using a rotovator. Typically this is done to a depth of 12 inches or 20cm. Ideal for planting hedges.


Trees grown with substantial upright stem clear of branches with a balanced crown above – shape will depend on species.


When stock is finally planted out in the site where it will spend the rest of its life, a very small percentage may fail to become properly established and can die back. These plants are said not to have “taken”. To improve the “take”, plants need to have a robust root system and be correctly planted. Please see our page on recommended Planting procedures and follow these in order to give your stock the best possible chance of success.


A plant that has been grown and pruned to a shape that is unnatural for that particular type of plant – normally species such as box and yew pruned into balls and spirals etc – see section on Topiary.


Bareroot planting stock which has been grown as a seedling for one year is then transplanted into a new nursery bed. These Transplants are allowed to grow and develop within the nursery soil for another year until they are ready to be lifted for sale. This method of plant production makes for a large fibrous root system which makes the plant more likely to succeed.


Larger transplant with straight stem and occasional side branches. Usually 2 to 4 years old.

8 Litre Pot

A bare-root transplant, typically when it has reached approximately one metre tall, is planted into an eight litre pot and grown on for one further season in the nursery. This generates a very robust root system and hence the “take” is extremely good. Pots can either be rigid or floppy.

Lost for Words?

If you have any questions relating to Tree Terminology that you may have encountered, either here on our own website, or elsewhere, please send us an email requesting an explanation. We will reply to your enquiry, and then post the answer here for the benefit of others.