Tidewater Gardening - February 2014

Time to "App" Your Garden


K. Marc Teffeau

February is here, and now is the time to start planning for the upcoming gardening season. With the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and related devices, there are now a number of free and inexpensive gardening “apps” available for download for both Apple and Android devices. But, lest you think that “electronic” versions of garden planning are a recent development, I can remember an early attempt back in the late ’80s when PCs were first being introduced.
When I was the county agent for Talbot County, the first PCs in the Talbot County Extension Office where I worked were the old Radio Shack Tandy computers. You probably remember them with floppy discs the size of dinner plates! They had ugly screens with green characters.
The Horticulture Department at the University of Maryland came up with a primitive landscape plant selection program. You would input a series of criteria ~ plant size, plant height, type (deciduous or evergreen), flower color, soil type, sunlight exposure ~ and you would get a printout list of selected plants that met those criteria.
As home PCs became more popular, there was a DOS-based program that you could buy called Garden Planner that would assist you in laying out the vegetable garden. You would choose what vegetables you wanted to grow, and how many people would be fed, and the program would calculate the number of plants and length of rows and their arrangement. I think it even had a part that would help you develop succession plantings. You would then print out the plan on your noisy dot matrix printer.
The approach to computerized garden planning has come a long way since the early program introductions. We can now download any number of garden apps. Recently the National Gardening Bureau (NGB) ran a series of articles about some of the more popular gardening technology apps that are available. This is not an extensive list, but includes some that the NGB reviewed and found helpful.
As they note in their press release, they have recently done some crowdsourcing to find out what gardening apps are out there, and which ones people were using. Their short list provides a place to start if you are looking for apps to help you plan your garden, or identify what’s in the garden, especially if you’re a newbie. They also have a list of other links on their website to see other available garden apps.
The NGB website, www.ngb.org, is an excellent resource for information on annual flower and vegetable growing, and I stronglyrecommend it. The site is highly informative, current and helpful. Type “gardening apps” in the search box and it will take you to the two articles about gardening apps and list other places to look, such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Global Garden Friends, Phoenix New Times and Gardenista.com.
The NGB lists some of the various types of gardening apps that they have reviewed and if they are free, or available for a modest download charge. Some of the apps deal with garden planning; plant selection and care; and diagnoses of plant problems. They have been developed by people and companies within the gardening industry, and by universities.
Garden Compass ~ The Garden Compass app allows you to take a photo of a plant, disease or pest and actually submit it to a team of Garden Advisors who will identify it for you, as well as provide you with specific product recommendations to resolve any problems you may have. FREE.
GardenTime Planner ~ This planning tool helps gardeners know when to sow, transplant and expect to harvest vegetables and herbs specific to their region. A recent addition is that the app now includes annual flowers in the database of plant listings. FREE.
Garden Minder ~ This all-in-one app has options for creating and designing a garden or using a pre-planned template, best used for vegetables and other edibles in raised beds. An A-to-Z listing of vegetables includes information on each crop and how to grow them. FREE.
Leafsnap ~ Leafsnap, an app created by researchers from Columbia University, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, allows users to take a picture of a leaf, then use the app to help identify the species. FREE.
Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission ~ This app allows users to submit digital photos to a university diagnostic lab for identification of plant diseases or pests. FREE.
Our Rose Garden ~ A smart phone app specifically for rose lovers, Our Rose Garden features information about roses, how to plant and prune them, as well as how to overwinter your favorites. Created by the University of Illinois Extension, this app also includes a gallery to track favorite roses and includes several videos about rose care.
Armitage’s Greatest Perennials and Annuals (iPhone and Android versions) ~ “Gardening is not brain surgery, or rocket science ~ and if I have learned one thing, it is that gardening should never be taken seriously. So have fun. There are no rules,” says Armitage. Use this app to search all plants, or use the filter to search for annuals, perennials or those grown in sun, shade, or for foliage or flowers. Scroll through any plant for useful information, or swipe through hundreds of photos. Add plants to your list of favorites, and e-mail your list as gift suggestions! For even more excitement, short videos by Dr. Armitage are included where he shares a few gardening tips. $4.99.
Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens (iPhone and Android versions) ~ Whether your garden is small or large, this app highlights some of the best options for plants that stay a manageable size. This app is perfect for beginning gardeners with small yards, balconies or courtyards; experienced gardeners who have downsized to a smaller home; or large-space gardeners is search of inspiration for their smaller garden beds. According to the NGB, this app is for anyone who appreciates an easy-to-navigate plant resource guide with detailed information on a range of high-performing plants. $2.99.
Purdue Tree Doctor (iPhone and Android versions) ~ The Purdue Tree Doctor app has been developed by experts at Purdue University to help people better identify and manage tree problems caused by a variety of factors. Homeowners, landscape professionals, arborists and garden center personnel can all use this app to improve the health of their trees, as well as to make knowledgeable specimen selections. $1.99.
Purdue Annual Doctor and Purdue Perennial Doctor (iPhone) ~ Two additional apps from Purdue University are also designed to help identify and manage problems caused by insects and diseases of hundreds of varieties of annuals and perennials, respectively. $.99 each.
Garden Squared (Android) ~ This app allows you to lay out your vegetable garden plot and select dimensions of beds from 1-by-1-foot-square to 4-by-4-feet and is free to download through appbrain.com. Another vegetable garden planner is the GardenMinder from the Gardener’s Supply Company. It is available for iPhone and iPad.
The NGB review notes that electronic field guides such as Leafsnap, NatureGate, and iPflanzen can ID plants on the fly. Snap a plant’s photo with Google Goggles, or take a picture of a tree’s leaf against a white background, then submit it instantly for analysis. You can also click through a list of characteristics (leaf shape, flower color, plant height) to make the flower or plant identification. A reference guide with information on more than 26,000 plants (including trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials), Landscaper’s Companion was developed by Agile Track Software. $4.99.
If you are looking for a gardening app that provides comment and guidance on just how to plant your garden, you might consider Into Gardens, created by British garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair. According to the NGB, this app concerns itself with such topics as eating what you grow, as well as having interactive captions. Information is conveyed in a breezy tone, familiar to followers of Alexander-Sinclair’s Blogging from Blackpitts Garden. He says, “Our idea is to be the voice of flippant authority.”
So, as you anticipate the arrival of spring, especially after the horrid cold snap and “Arctic vortex” that we experienced in early January, spend a few minutes getting “Apped Up,” and spice up your 2014 gardening efforts with the latest in gardening technology.
Happy Gardening!

Marc Teffeau retired as the Director of Research and Regulatory Affairs at the American Nursery and Landscape Association in Washington, D.C. He now lives in Georgia with his wife, Linda.