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Common Landscape Terms

Like other industries, we have a lot of words whose meaning may be unclear to people outside the landscape industry. These terms vary from place to place and region to region.


as it implies, anything "hard". This includes structures, concrete, masonry, stonework, walls, etc.

Infrastructure: buried items that aren't visible. These may be either new or existing, and tend to be functional things like electrical conduit, drain lines, gas lines, irrigation lines. etc.

Lace Out

Trim a tree artistically so that its structure is more visible.

Plant Material

This is just another word for plants. Sounds more technical this way, apparently.

Restoration, Ecological Restoration

Returning a site to a condition as close as possible to what it was before it was disturbed. This process should consider soil structure, drainage patterns, plants and adjacent activities that may affect the site. A much more involved and expensive process than revegetation.


Planting species similar to what existed before the site was disturbed, typically native plants, and ideally native plants grown from seed collected in the area. This term is often preferable to restoration because the new landscape may differ from the original in soil structure, topography, drainage, etc.

Shade Structure

Any built thing that casts shade, typically over a patio or use area.  Can be wood, metal or other. Gazebos can fall into this category, as long as they have shaded seating. If they’re tiny, they’re usually just called gazebos.

Sustainable (or green)

A design philosophy minimizing negative effects to the environment, both locally and globally. Some designs can also be regenerative, where they restore or create environments or functions that the site did not previously have. Examples would be using local materials instead of stone shipped from the other side of the planet, using non-invasive site adapted plants. Pervious paving that allows water to infiltrate the soil, roof gardens and cisterns are other features often used in sustainable designs.


This is an invisible line, defined by an agency, that limits where structures can be placed. Easements also limit what can be built, and where. In practical terms, it means you are not normally allowed to placea tall wall or structure next to your fence or along the street in front of hour house.

Water Feature

This is any kind of fountain, but also includes swimming pools and spas, ponds and streams. These are typically manmade, with recirculating water.

Water Saving Landscapes

There are a lot of terms for gardens designed to minimize water use.


Greek for "dry" + "scape" - often called "zeroscape". Often, they're water wise, wonter conserving, low-water. Sometimes they're lumped into "lawn replacement", a rather vague term but water-saving nonetheless.


To make things bureaucratic, there's MWELO, California's "Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance" - a set of rules that determine what can (and sometimes can't) be installed in California.


MWELO incorporates MAWA - "Maximum Allowable Water Allowance" to calculate water use for irrigation design, calculated from WUCOLS (Water Use of Common Landscape Species) and CIMIS (California Irrigation Management Information System). Put together these things are kind of an accounting system for landscapes. Like filling out a 1040 form only with plants, ET rates and irrigation devices.



After writing the same thing over and over, architects and designers tend to use a lot of abbreviations. Some of them are not immediately obvious.

A/C: Air Conditioning.

A.C. Asphaltic Concrete, a.k.a. asphalt, the black tarry stuff on roads.

BODY. The thing that nozzles screw onto, typically a POP-UP

CIMIS. A government agency providing climate data for irrigation in California.

CONC. Concrete

CMU. Concrete Masonry Unit. = concrete block, typically 8x8x16.

DRIP. An irrigation system that works by slowly emitting water, as opposed to shooting it out of a nozzle. Drip irrigation systems require filters and pressure reducers.

EQ. Equal.

FOW. Face Of Wall. Usually a reference point for measurements or alignment.

HEAD. An irrigation nozzle and pop-up body.

IN/HR. Inches per Hour. Amount of water an irrigation nozzle applies to the soil. Can be used to help calculate how long a station should water, depending on the plants being irrigated.

NOZZLE. A part that screws onto a pop-up body or shrub adapter which determines the irrigation pattern. Can typically be switched to change system characteristics without replacing the pop-up body.

O.C. On Center.

OR EQUAL. Something that can be substituted with a similar product, typically by another manufacturer. If it's your project, you should personally verify that the substitues are of equal or better quality to the item specified.

POP-UP. A device used for irrigation that pops up four, six or twelve inches when it's watering, then retracts into the ground when off. A nozzle screws onto or fits into the body to determine the water application pattern.

SIM. Similar. Used often on details instead of drawing two separate details.

STATION. The number of a specific valve in an irrigation system. Irrigation controllers also state the number of stations (valves) they can control.

TYP. Typical. Allows something to be labeled only once on a plan. The trick is to find the note followed by, "TYP.".

WUCOLS. "Water Use Common Landscape Species" or something like that. An online listing of plants in California showing their water needs by climate. This is a great resource to check on how much water a plant might need in your area.

Terms from Science

Terms related to plants and biology can often be confusing or unclear.


The number of different species growing or living in a defined area. The more species - plant, animal and other - sharing a space, the better.


A variety of a plant species specially selected for some desirable or unusual characteristic, like purple leaves, compact growth, larger flowers, etc. Salvia clevelandii is a species of sage, but Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' is a selected variety of this species.


The result of crossing two or more related plant species. Hybrids often have fewer pest problems. Salvia 'Pozo Blue' is a hybrid with Salvia clevelandii as a parent.

Plant terms

Invasive Plant

Some exotic plants do too well here and have moved into wild areas, where they crowd out native plants and reduce biodiversity. Plants on noxious plant lists should not be planted, even if it seems they can't spread. Sometimes the seeds can travel a long distance through a storm sewer pipe, come out in a wetland, germinate, and crowd out native plants. These plants are especially bad - not that anyone would want to plant most of them:

Giant Reed (Arundo donax). Virtually unkillable, grows in wet places.

Scotch Broom, Pampas grass, Gorse, Fountain grass, periwinkle and ivy are some other invasive plants.

Locally Adapted Plant

any plant that grows well in the climate and soil where it is planted without requiring large amounts of water or energy to sustain it in good condition. Example: a mesquite tree in the desert would be adapted; a redwood would not, even if it could be made to grow there with additional water.

Mediterranean Plant

A plant adapted to a Mediterranean climate, characterized by having cool, wet winters and dry summers. There are five places in the world where this climate type occurs: California, the Mediterranean, Chile, Australia and South Africa. Plants from these regions may thrive in your garden with minimal care - but they may also be too well adapted and become invasive plants, like broom, eucalyptus and others.

Native Plant

Technically any plant native to wherever you plant it, meaning the plant was growing there before Columbus reached the New World. However, California has a wide range of habitats, so just because something is native does not mean that it will grow without any care in your back yard.

California native plants

These can be well adapted or not, due to California’s diverse habitats from cool northwest forests do blazing hot deserts. For example, coast redwood trees are native, but without irrigation would not live long in the Central Valley, and even less in the Mojave Desert.

To further complicate things, many plants have gone wild (naturalized) all over the state and are considered by many to be native. Eucalyptus trees, native to Australia, are a classic example of this, as is California Pepper.

Water Conserving Plant

A plant that requires little or no additional water to thrive in the climate where it is planted. Sometimes called "drought tolerant plants", but this is not a good term, as a water conserving plant is adapted to a lower water environment and is not "tolerating" it. The difference between this plant and a locally adapted one is that the latter considers the site's soil and the plant's adaptation to it.