Digging with the newest garden tool: an app

  • Article by: GAIL BROWN HUDSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2014 - 3:28 PM

If you choose wisely, garden apps can help identify plants, their requirements and their problems.

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A promo for a Purdue University app.

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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.

Troubleshooter

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.

 

Take note

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.

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