If you have a smart phone or tablet, there is bewildering array of gardening related apps available in the Apple or Google app stores. If you search for the word plant the top choice will undoubtedly be Plants versus Zombies – an addictive game but probably not what you were looking for!
You can find apps with general information on types of plants, shrubs and trees, and very specific apps devoted to just wildflowers, lawns, cacti etc. There are also many covering vegetable or herb gardening and planning, and others on plant Identification, diseases or pest management. Apps can also come in different formats with magazines, quizzes, games, and photos for wallpapers and backgrounds. The quality varies tremendously – some just copy or pull data from Wikipedia and Google images, and some are misleading or inaccurate and full of typos and grammatical errors.
Unfortunately as most apps are free or under $5, many publishers rely on impulse purchases. Often these disappointing apps are the ones that look the most stylish in the screen captures. Once you’ve identified some possibilities, here therefore are some tips for evaluating an app before your purchase it. Many apps have both a free and paid for version so always try out the free one first!
1. Reputation of the publisher As with websites, look for apps published by universities or trusted organizations. Both the Apple and Android stores have links from each app description to the Developer Websites. They may also have links to other apps by the same publisher.
If a commercial publisher also produces apps for dogs, cars and assorted other topics, they are probably not experts in gardening. Some apps are produced by vendors or online stores for pesticides or other products. Magazine publishers often confusingly label their apps as free, but require the purchase of each issue to see any actual content.
2. Geographic location Growing conditions of course vary tremendously, so it is important to know if an app is targeted to users in a particular climate. Some apps specifically indicate the location covered, but if not, you can sometimes deduce this from the publisher and their website. For us here in BC, many of the UK apps will often be appropriate.
3. Quantity of plants included Some of the apps can look beautiful but it turns out their database only consists of only a few hundred plants or a handful of “popular” vegetables. The better apps should indicate the quantity.
4. Internet connection required Some apps need a live internet connection to their servers or to Wikipedia and Google. If the entire app has to be downloaded it can be many megabytes which may be a consideration if you have limited storage available.
5. Check if the app has been updated recently Many are one time wonders with no bug fixes or additions. They may cease to work if new versions of the phone or tablet operating system are released.
6. Reviews Don’t be influenced too much by reviews either on the app store or websites unless these are reputable. There is a whole industry devoted to boosting the sales of various products by paying people to write reviews (and to write negative reviews of their competitors). Many review websites get a small commission each time a user clicks through and buys a recommended app. Once you’ve downloaded the app, test out how good it is by searching for some plants that you are familiar with. Maybe choose some that have certain characteristics that you would hope would be mentioned. For example search for Skimmia – this is a not so popular shrub so its inclusion or not gives you a good indication of the depth of coverage.
There should also be mention that some species need both male and female plants to produce berries. Most general apps will include foxgloves but may not indicate these are biennial (with an explanation of what this means) and are poisonous. Then there are the plants now considered invasive such as Periwinkle or Lamium. Pick a vegetable such as carrots and see if there is any mention of carrot flies and using row covers.
Be prepared to find some apps you love, and some that you are amazed ever got published!
Some reputable apps include:
Sunset Western Garden Book (Apple only)
– interactive e-book Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder (Apple only) - includes over 9,400 woody plants.
Landscaper’s Companion (Apple only) - searchable database of over 26,000 plants
Purdue University Plant Doctor series (Apple & Android) Washington Wildflowers (Apple & Android)
2014 – Kathy Bryce- Vancouver MG