On Pistils, Peat Moss, and pH

As crocuses and daffodils emerge from the frozen winter, you may choose to keep a garden journal. Be as careful with your spelling as you are with your seedlings. Here are a few forget-me-nots for perennial mis-spellers.

Aerate: When loosening your soil so your plants’ roots can breathe, you may think you are “airating,” The correct spelling (with an e as the second letter) has its roots in Latin.

Biennial/Perennial: Flowers that die each winter are annuals. If they come back for a second year or more, they are biennials or perennials. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the vowel change (from a to e as the third letter) is due to a Latin phonetic law that states that in the “unaccented and closed radical syllable of the second element of compound words,” the original a becomes e. How obvious!

Chlorophyll: This is a spelling champion’s nightmare, with a second h, o, and l. It describes the green substance in plant cells that uses solar energy to make food.

Deadheading: This verb, which describes the act of pinching off wilted flower blooms, is one word and requires no hyphen.

Drip line/Topsoil: The compound noun, “drip line,” remains two words while the compound noun, “topsoil,” collapses into one. It’s as mysterious as Mother Nature herself.

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