By Doug Schuster
Those of us who enjoy the outdoors and gardening tend to downplay screens and technology in our lives. We also tend to encourage others to put down the devices and experience what’s in front of them. At some point, they’ll hopefully move from a casual experience of the natural world to wanting to know what type of tree they are looking at, why a particular plant is good or bad, or just connect with other gardeners. Here are three free apps for your phone or tablet that will enhance your experience with horticulture but not consume you.
Leaf Snap: An Electronic Field Guide
Field guides, small books that could fit in your pocket that contained many plants, used to be very popular, these small books would assist you in the identification of plants. Their drawback was the narrow range of plants that they contained. Leafsnap is designed and built to work as a field guide only it contains more plants than a small book ever could. Researchers from Columbia University, University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution are responsible for the development of this app. As of now, the app contains trees from the Northeast US, New York, Washington D.C. and parts of Canada with plans to continually expand.
Identification – The primary use of the app is to assist you in your tree identification. You can simply “snap” a photo of a leaf, and the app should provide possible matches, you can then decipher from there which tree it is. At times the hardest part of identifying is narrowing the search, this app will help you do that.
*I have found that the photo recognition works about 80% of the time.
Collection – This app provides you the opportunity to build collections. Possible collections could be focused around trees that are in your yard or just a database of trees you come across.
Games – There are several games within the app. The games are not just for fun but center around teaching/testing your knowledge and identification skills.
Garden Compass: Smart Homes Start with Smart Plants
Created by a company called SmartPlant to support their overall goals as an organization. While portions of this app are free, they do try and up-sell you on becoming a premium member, which comes with additional benefits. The goal of this app is to provide you assistance with the care of your plants both inside and out.
Advice – This app is unique because you can buy credits which can then be used to ask experts questions about diseases, pets and plant identification. Many apps will help with identification, but few put you in contact with horticulture professionals, this provides a more dependable answer to your questions.
Calendar – As you add plants to your “My Garden” the app will provide a detailed program on how to care for the particular plants within your garden, coaching you on when to water, fertilize, prune, ecetera.
GrowIt!: Garden Socially
This app is based on community. GrowIt! was launched in 2015 by two young plant nerds who sought to develop a social network of plant enthusiast and gardeners. Ball Horticulture, a major company in plant development, production and marketing is the primary sponsor of the social network. This app is a great opportunity to connect with fellow gardeners.
Plant Identification – Unlike the other two apps, the plant identification within this app is made by the community. You can post a picture of a plant, pest, or disease, to your page, the community then shares their thoughts on what plant it might be or maybe the issue you are having with your plant. Or sometimes you’re just posting a picture of a really cool plant that everyone can enjoy. It is important to remember that you are not receiving expert advice, most of the time, though, the information is reliable.
Social Network – The unique part of this app is that it connects you with other plant geeks, over 500,000 of them. It is like Facebook but instead of your news-feed being filled with pictures of what people are eating and their kids, your feed is filled with plants.
There are many more apps on the market, most you have to pay for, but these three free ones I have found to be helpful and engaging.