Smart phone apps for smart gardeners

Smart phone apps put science-based gardening information in the palm of your hand.

If you have a smart phone, it may soon be one of your favorite landscape tools! With the advancements of technology, portable devices can now provide science-based horticulture information in the palm of your hand. You can download apps to help you design rain gardens, diagnose plant problems, search for plants based on a specific need, or just simply find out more about a plant you’re eyeing at the garden center.

As a Michigan State University Extension educator, I wanted to share a few university-generated resources to help professional and home gardeners alike.

Purdue Tree Doctor, Purdue Annual Doctor, Purdue Perennial Doctor

Purdue University specialists Cliff Sadof, entomologist, and Janna Beckerman, plant pathologist, teamed up to develop three apps (Purdue Tree Doctor, Purdue Annual Doctor, Purdue Perennial Doctor) for diagnosing and managing problems that impact trees, annuals and perennials. Each application is searchable by the type of plant, symptoms, insects or disease and includes extensive images for comparisons to help users identify the problem. These three apps provide you with the latest science-based recommendations on how to manage the specific pests. Recommendations start with cultural practices that prevent or minimize the problem, along with pesticide recommendations, if needed.

Tree Doctor Annual Doctor
Left, Purdue Tree Doctor home screen. Right, Purdue Annual Doctor initial pest identification screen.

Perennial Doctor Perennial Doctor
Left, Purdue Perennial Doctor close up of one of the 600 high resolution images. Right, Purdue Perennial Doctor pest management recommendations.

Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder

Anyone connected to gardening, the plant trade, landscape design and ornamental horticulture knows the name of Michael Dirr from the University of Georgia. Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder brings his classic work, “The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” to your fingertips in an easy-to-use, affordable, mobile format. Tree and Shrub Finder covers 1,670 species and 7,800 cultivars with 7,600 high-quality images and more than 1,120 line drawings. It’s the latest and most reliable information on woody plants for the landscape professional and the home gardener alike. The plant database is searchable by 72 criteria, including hardiness zones, water and light requirements, growth characteristics, flowers, fruits and fall colors. The app offers the latest and most reliable information on woody landscape plants for the landscape professional and the home gardener alike.

Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder
Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder home screen (left) and plant search screen (right).

UConn Rain Garden

UConn Rain Garden, as the name implies, is all about rain gardens. Developed by the University of Connecticut, this app includes basic information about what rain gardens are and how they work, tools to help select a site and size of garden based on the area draining to it, guidelines to properly design and install a rain garden, and tips on maintaining your rain garden. There’s also a simple cost calculator to gauge cost. The app includes multiple short video tutorials to help users with each step of the process. Through the searchable Plant Selector tool, users can select native, noninvasive plants and their cultivars that are known to work well in rain gardens. Plants can be selected based on plant type, sun exposure and flower color. The app is particularly useful to landscape professionals since it allows users to design, organize and save information on multiple gardens.

UConn Rain Garden is currently geared primarily toward users in Connecticut, so some of the tools such as the plant catalog and mapping tools are specific to that area. However, the general information and tips are applicable anywhere. The developers are working on a nationally applicable version and hope to have it available soon.

UConn Rain Garden
UConn Rain Garden home screen (left) and information describing what rain gardens are (right).

ID Weeds app

Developed by University of Missouri Extension, the ID Weeds app helps professionals and homeowners identify over 400 plant species common to fields, pastures, lawns, gardens and pond areas. You can search for weeds by their common or Latin name, view a list of weeds, or identify weeds based upon 28 different characteristics. Details about each weed are presented, along with photographs of the weed specified. There are also “what’s this” links to provide more information to narrow your choices during the identification process. For example, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “ligule,” click “what’s this” and an example is shown. It will pull up an illustration to compare to the plant in the garden.

While developed for Missouri weeds, there are many weeds in the app common to Michigan.

ID Weeds
ID Weeds with a high resolution image of one of the 400 weeds in the app.