Gardening apps are getting better all the time, supplanting manuals and textbooks as the way people dig for information. Many university Extension services are developing the digital aids to extend outreach to clients.
“Extension apps provide reliable, research-based information,” said Christopher Enroth, an Extension educator with the University of Illinois, who evaluates gardening apps for their relevancy, customization and ease of use. “I’ve examined a few apps developed by various companies that are simply another gateway to their products.
“Other various interest groups have apps that give ‘all natural’ advice that is based more on opinion or beliefs,” Enroth said. “It always helps to have a critical eye.”
The word “app” is short for application — software designed for use on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.
Purdue University Extension specialists, for example, have created a series of diagnostic apps for gardeners that provide solutions to dozens of problems for hundreds of plants. This low-cost Plant Doctor app suite focuses on perennial and annual flowers, tomatoes, turf grass and trees.
“Every year, homeowners invest millions of dollars in their landscaping materials, and due to insect diseases and sometimes a lack of experience, problems come up,” said Janna Beckerman, a Purdue Extension plant disease specialist and content specialist for the apps. “This is an affordable way to fix those problems. You just pull it (mobile device) out of your pocket and have answers right away.”
A new app from Toca Boca called “Toca Lab: Plants” aims to plant seeds of interest in gardening for children. It features a digital botanical laboratory that helps kids discover scores of plants with differing personalities. It also enables them to create new species.
“We wanted to create something that would be fun,” said Bjorn Jeffery, Toca Boca chief executive officer. “We hope that the mystery, science and humor in the app combine to ignite kids’ joy of discovery and empower them to seek out other resources to learn more about botany.”
PlantSnap is a recent entry in the expanding field of apps intended to identify unknown plants and flowers. (See also Plantifier, NatureGate, Leafsnap, Like That Garden, PlantNet, ID Weeds.) It instantly identifies plants and weeds from a photo, and along the way is producing what its creators claim is the world’s largest plant database.
“It works well for gardeners and academics and anyone,” said Eric Ralls, chief executive officer of PlantSnap. “We want anyone on the planet to be able to recognize any plant on the planet. So far, we have 315,000 in our database.”
Other gardening-related apps worth considering (all those listed below are free):
— For landscaping: iScape, Rain Harvest.
— For diagnosis: Garden Compass, Plant Health, My Garden Answers.