You’ve gotta love gardening in the electronic age: All you have to do is add water, work in some compost and open an app.
Everything from plant IDs to the growing habits of medicinal herbs to measuring the rain that comes off your roof is available on your smartphone. In fact, I toss my phone in my garden tote, so it’s nearby when I’m digging in the dirt.
And, as Maple Grove master gardener Jennifer Ebeling points out, you don’t even have to take off your gardening gloves, since most of them have silicone-coated tips.
As great as so many of the apps are, you need to be a discerning consumer when you shop the App Store or Google Play. Some are downright stinkers. And many apps, especially the free ones, will pressure you to buy upgrades or produts.
To help you build your own gardening app arsenal, a few tech-savvy gardeners and I put together a list of our faves.
If you want to start with one app, choose from among the offerings created by Indiana’s Purdue University. With the aid of a federal grant, university researchers created the Purdue Tree Doctor (iPhone/iPad and Android), along with the Purdue Perennial Flower Doctor and the Purdue Annual Flower Doctor (iPhone/iPad). These apps, which range in price from 99 cents to $1.99 each, help identify and address plant problems. Nona Cummings, a master gardener in Oakdale, prizes the search function, which lets you select a flower, then search for symptoms of specific diseases or insect damage. The apps also feature plants from the Midwest (which many garden apps do not) and allow you to connect to the University of Minnesota’s Plant Disease Clinic.
Name that plant
Plant identification apps can be fun, especially the free ones. Leafsnap (iPhone/iPad) lets you snap a photo of a leaf and compare it to the app’s beautifully detailed leaf photos. You get what you pay for with this app, however. When Jerry Horgan, a master gardener in Maplewood, tested the app last summer, he found it less than reliable.
Plantifier, another free plant ID app (Android), is crowdsourced. That means other users get to help you try to identify your mystery plant.
Be my reference
Landscaper’s Companion (iPhone/iPad and Android) is a good, broad plant reference guide. At $7.99, it costs a little more than many apps and its reminders to upgrade can get annoying. But it offers crisp, clear photos and solid information about basic plant requirements (light, water, soil, sun, etc.). It’s easy to browse through, as well.
If you’re the type of gardener who likes to keep careful notes about what you’ve planted, like how-to advice and don’t mind advertising, check out Garden Minder from Vermont’s Garden Supply Co. and Garden Time Planner from Burpee. These free apps (iPhone/iPad and Android) can help you feel more organized.
Pick a plant
Celebrated landscape designer and author Susan Morrison has put together two modestly priced apps ($2.99) to help you choose plants, especially for small gardens. Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens (iPhone/iPad) and Plant Picks for Small Gardens (Android) allow you to search by USDA plant hardiness zone, although this app is heavily weighted for warmer climes. Still, it has plenty of useful information, how-to videos and you can e-mail questions to Susan.
Have some fun
A winner with the kids, Trees Pro HD Nature Mobile (iPhone/iPad and Android) identifies North American and European trees with fun quizzes and whiz-bang noises. It also has photos and basic information for a limited list of trees. But, hey, it’s free.
Imagine a landscape
You won’t have to guess what your house would look like with new plants, shrubs or trees in front of it. iScape ($9.99 for iPhone/iPad, a free “lite” version for Android), allows you to take a photo of your house, then “redesign your yard.
Paint a portrait
Though it’s not really a gardening app, what gardener wouldn’t love Waterlogue (iPhone/iPad, Android). For $2.99, this app lets you turn a photo of your favorite flower into a beautiful watercolor portrait. How’s that for garden art?
Gail Brown Hudson is a Minneapolis freelance writer and video producer who’s working on a master’s degree in horticulture at the University of Minnesota.