Glossary of Lawn Care Terms

Properly caring for a lawn and property in northern Illinois includes using a variety of terms and services that you may not be familiar with. To help you better understand your lawn care professional and the terms they are using, here are definitions to some of the more widely-used terms. This includes vocabulary for lawn care, pest control, and tree & shrub care.

Definitions of Lawn Care Terms

  • Acidic – A term used to describe soil with a low pH, which can hinder proper turfgrass growth. A soil test can determine the pH level of your yard.
  • Aeration – A method of creating air gaps within soil to allow improved movement of nutrients, oxygen, and water. Aeration can benefit compacted or clay soil.
  • Alkaline – A term used to describe soil with a high pH level, which can hinder proper turfgrass growth.
  • Annual A plant that only lives for one growing season.
  • Application – A term used to describe a treatment of a lawn or plants.
  • Arboriculture – An area of specialty that has to do with the care and treatment of trees and shrubs.
  • Arborist – A specialist in the field of arboriculture, an arborist has experience and expertise in caring for trees and shrubs. This includes diagnosing and treating diseases, pruning, and insect control. ISA arborists are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.
  • Blight – Browning and death of the leaves & branches of a shrub or tree. This is a symptom of a disease affecting the plant.
  • Broadcast Application – A type of treatment that is applied to large sections of your property, as opposed to pinpoint locations.
  • Broadleaf Weeds – A family of weeds with wide leaves. The most common broadleaf weeds in Illinois include clover, spotted spurge, and dandelion.
  • Cabling – A form of supporting a tree’s branch or trunk to strengthen it and prevent damage to the tree or property.
  • Canker – A fungus that attacks the bark and tissue of trees. Symptoms can include yellowing and premature drop of leaves.
  • Compaction – A term used to describe a dense, compacted soil that has little or no room for air, water, or nutrient movement. Core aeration is used to help reduce soil compaction in a lawn.
  • Core Aeration – A system of aeration which removes thousands of small plugs of soil and grass from your lawn. Core aeration allows better penetration of oxygen, water, and nutrients into the soil. Allowing for improved root development and depth.
  • Crabgrass – An aggressive weed that is native to Illinois, crabgrass grows quickly in the summer months and is usually found in thin weak areas of your lawn with poor soil conditions. Developing a healthy thick lawn and using pre-emergent crabgrass treatments are the best defense against this weedy grass.
  • Dandelion – A perennial broadleaf weed, dandelions are known for their yellow flowers and distinct puff of seeds. The weed must be destroyed at the root, otherwise it will continue to come back each year.
  • Deciduous – Trees and shrubs that shed their leaves each year.
  • Dethatching – A method of removing excessive thatch from a lawn, which promotes better turfgrass health.
  • Dormant – The state in which plants are not actively growing. During dormant periods turfgrasses will turn brown and shut down in order to withstand excessive cold, heat or drought conditions.
  • Drought – A period of time with limited rainfall. Turfgrass can lay dormant during these times, preserving resources to keep the plant alive.
  • Drought Tolerance – The amount of adaptation or resistance a plant has towards periods of limited water.
  • Ecosystem – A community of organisms that share locations and resources with each other. Water, air, plants, and animals living in close proximity to one another can constitute an ecosystem.
  • Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) – An invasive species of beetle that attacks ash trees. Native to Asia, EAB was first discovered in Illinois in 2006, and has destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of trees across the US. Read our Guide to EAB »
  • Encephalitis – A mosquito-borne virus that is found in Illinois. Symptoms include fever, headache, disorientation, and tremors. It can be more series and even fatal in elderly individuals.
  • Ehrlichiosis – A bacterial illness carried by ticks in Illinois. Symptoms are mild and may include muscle aches, fever, and headaches.
  • Erosion – The removing of soil by wind and or water.
  • Evergreen – Trees and shrubs that keep their leaves/needles throughout the year.
  • Fertilizer – A treatment that adds nutrition to the soil to promote plant health and growth. The most common fertilization treatments are made up of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and are chosen based on the soil’s pH and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Fertilizer Burn – Scorching that appears on a leaf or blade of grass that is a result of excess fertilizer salts. Burn can develop when the wrong fertilizer is applied, too much fertilizer is applied or fertilizer is applied at the wrong time.
  • Flea – A small, wingless parasite that feeds on the blood from a host, usually dogs and cats. Capable of jumping, fleas can be brought inside your home hitchhiking on the backs of your pets.
  • Fungicide – A class of pesticides used to control or prevent disease.
  • Fungus A type of organism ranging in size from mushrooms to molds. There are many different types that can infect turfgrass, shrubs, and trees in Illinois.
  • Germination – The process by which a plant forms from a seed.
  • Granular – Lawn care treatments that are made up of dry, granules.
  • Groundcover – Plants that spread horizontally over the ground. They protect the soil against erosion.
  • Grub – A common term used for the larvae of a variety of scarab beetles, including Japanese beetles. Grubs feed on the roots of turfgrass, killing the plant and creating unsightly brown spots and dead areas of the lawn.
  • Herbicide – An application that targets and kills unwanted plants, such as weeds.
  • Illinois Arborist Association (IAA) – A leading organization of arborists in Illinois, the IAA promotes research, training, and professional standards for the IL tree care industry.
  • Illinois Turfgrass Foundation – The ITF is the largest turf principal organization in Illinois. The organization has sponsored over $1.5 million in local projects, grants, and research.
  • Indigenous Plant – A plant that has developed or occurs naturally in a location. Also referred to as native plants, these are best suited for the climate and conditions of a local ecosystem.
  • Insecticide – An application that kills or controls insects.
  • Integrated Pest Management – IPM is a method of controlling pests on a property without an overuse of pesticides.
  • International Society Of Arboriculture (ISA) – The ISA is the leading source of training, research, and certification for arborists around the world.
  • Invasive Plant – A non-native plant that that can overwhelm an ecosystem. These types of plants usually spread quickly, aggressively, and use the minerals and resources that native plants rely on.
  • ISA Certification – Provided by the International Society of Arboriculture, the ISA certification is the leading credentialing and training program for arborists.
  • Japanese Beetles – A type of invasive insect that arrived in the United States in the early 20th century. Larvae (called grubs) can destroy turfgrass, while adults eat leaves of trees and shrubs.
  • Larva – A stage in the life cycle of an insect occurring between the egg and pupa. Also referred to as grubs.
  • Lawn – An area of short, maintained turfgrass on your property.
  • Leaching – A process by which soluble constituents of soil are removed by liquid passing through it.
  • Leaf Spot – A Disease of plants caused by fungi. Symptoms are dark spots and lesions on foliage.
  • Lime – A treatment used to lower the pH of soils
  • Lyme Disease – A bacterial tick-born infection found in Illinois. A red bulls-eye may appear at the bite mark within days of being infected.
  • Micronutrients – Nutrients or trace elements required by plants in very small doses. They include iron, colbalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc and molybdenum.
  • Macro nutrients – Nutrients required by plants in large doses. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are all Macro nutrients.
  • Mosquito – A small, fly-like insect that feeds on the blood of mammals. Here in northern Illinois, mosquitoes can carry serious viruses, including West Nile, Zika, and encephalitis. Read our Guide to Avoiding Mosquitoes »
  • Mulch – A material made from compost, bark, or other organic matter. Mulch is spread over landscape beds and under trees to help hold in moisture, block weeds and regulate soil temperatures.
  • National Association Of Landscape Professionals – The NALP is a network of landscape and lawn care professionals.
  • Native Plant – A plant that has developed or occurs naturally in a location. Also referred to as indigenous plants, these are best suited for the climate and conditions of a local ecosystem.
  • Natural-Based – A plant health care processes that uses more natural substances and natural methods with less reliance on manmade pesticides.
  • Nitrogen – A macro nutrient required by all plants for proper health and growth. Nitrogen is the most important elements for healthy plant growth and reproduction. Plants are unable to photosynthesize without nitrogen.
  • Nutsedge – A fast-growing, grass-like weed (sedge) that requires a special treatment to control.
  • Organic – A class of chemical compounds that are derived from living or once living organisms (plants, animals, humans)
  • Overseeding – A method of broadcasting seed over an existing lawn.
  • Parasite – A type of insect that lives in or on an animal, stealing nutrients from the host.
  • Perennials – A plant that lives for multiple growing seasons, regrowing every spring.
  • Perimeter Pest Control – A type of pest control treatment that focuses on treating the perimeter. Perimeter yard treatments can be made to keep pests from coming into your yard. Perimeter home defense treatments can be made at your house foundation to keep crawling insect pests from entering your home.
  • Pesticide – The EPA defines the term pesticide as any substance intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Pesticides can be natural, organic or manmade. Antimicrobial soap is a pesticide as it’s used to kill germs.
  • pH – A measurement of the acidity and alkalinity of soil. A soil test can determine the pH level, which affects the health of plants and trees.
  • Phosphorus – A macro nutrient required by all plants for proper health and growth. A soil test can determine if your soil has a phosphorous deficiency and fertilizer is required.
  • Post-Emergent – The term used for a treatment that is applied after the appearance of a weed, insect or disease.
  • Potassium – A macro nutrient required by all plants for proper health and growth. A soil test can determine if your soil has a potassium deficiency and fertilizer is required.
  • Pre-Emergent – The term used for a treatment that is applied before the appearance of a weed, insect or disease.
  • Pruning – Strategic trimming of a tree’s limbs to promote health and vigor.
  • Red Thread – A turf disease resulting in small brown patches in lawns. Close inspection of grass blades will reveal tiny red threads sticking out of tips of grass blades. Treatments are available for control.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – A bacterial tick-borne illness. Symptoms may include a sudden moderate or high fever, headache, fatigue, and rash on your limbs that spreads to your palms or soles of your feet.
  • Root – The portion of a plant that lies below the surface of the soil. The root system provides structural support and is the primary method used by plants for absorbing moisture and nutrients.
  • Scalping – A term used when lawn mowers are set so low that they scalp the grass. Scalping significantly effects the health of the grass and it also promotes weeds and crabgrass invasions.
  • Slice Seeding – A method of sowing grass seed directly into the soil of an existing lawn. For slice seeding, a special machine known as a slice seeder uses vertical cutting knives to cut through the existing turf, depositing seed into the slits and down into the soil.
  • Sod – Rug-like strips of grass that can be laid down to establish a new lawn.
  • Soil – Top layer of earth that is rich with nutrients, allowing plants to grow.
  • Soil Test – An analysis of the chemical makeup of the soil. This report includes pH level, amount and type of nutrients, and overall soil health. We’ve performed hundreds of soil tests throughout northern Illinois to gain detailed insights into our local soil conditions.
  • Sun Exposure – The amount of sun light your plants or lawn receives during an average day. It is typically measured by the terms Full Sun, Partial shade, Full shade.
  • Synthetic – Pertaining to compounds formed through a manmade chemical process as opposed to those of natural origins.
  • Thatch – A layer of dead and living plant matter that builds up on the soil surface just below the grass. Thatch is usually the number one enemy of lawns as it harbors insects and diseases. It also traps moisture and nutrients at the soil surface away from the grass roots deep in the soil.
  • Tick – A type of parasitic insect that feeds on the blood of mammals. They can carry a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Powassan. In Illinois, there are several species of ticks, including the American dog tick, Lone Star tick, blacklegged or deer tick, and the brown dog tick. Read our Guide to Avoiding Ticks »
  • Topdressing – A treatment that adds soil and organic materials directly on top of your lawn. This treatment improves soil health, prepares the lawn for new seeds, and can smooth out uneven sections of your property.
  • Topsoil – The upper layer of soil. It is usually dark in color as it contains significantly more organic matter and microorganisms then subsoils. The highest concentration of plant roots is usually found in the topsoil layer due to its richness.
  • Treatment – A term used to describe an application used for your yard or plants.
  • Trimming – Strategic pruning of a tree and shrub limbs to improve shape and promote healthy growth.
  • Trunk – The main stem and support structure of a tree. Arborists can inject treatments into the trunk for protection against insects and diseases and to improve the trees health and vigor.
  • Turfgrass – Types of grass plants that are used to form a lawn.
  • Urea – A common form of nitrogen found in fertilizers. Urea can be derived from a synthetic organic source or a 100% natural organic source.
  • Weed – Any undesirable plant growing out of place. A dandelion flower growing in a lawn can be considered a weed if the dandelion is unwanted. Turfgrass growing in a flower bed is unwanted and therefore considered a weed. Weeds in a lawn can be a sign of an underlying soil problem like compaction. Targeted treatments and improve soil health can eliminate weeds from your lawn.
  • West Nile Virus – A mosquito-borne virus that was first reported in Illinois in 2001. West Nile can be a serious health concern for the elderly.
  • Zika Virus – A mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to serious birth defects.
  • Zones – Refers to the USDA plant hardiness zone system, which guides homeowners to the plants best suited for their unique climate and temperature. Here in northern Illinois, we are primarily in the 5b zone.


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