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Digging for garden info? There’s an app for that

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 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.

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An app from the New Mexico State University Extension office, “Southwest Plant Selector” for the iPhone, lists approximately 750 xeric plants that thrive in New Mexico, both native and adapted, with water requirements identified by the southern, central or northern part of the state.

A new app from Toca Boca called “Toca Lab: Plants,” tocaboca.com/app/toca-lab-plants, aims to plant seeds of interest in gardening for children. It features a digital lab 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.

PlantSnap, plantsnap.net, 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 free gardening-related apps worth considering:

• For landscaping: iScape, Rain Harvest.

• For diagnosis: Garden Compass, Plant Health, My Garden Answers.

• For plant guides: GKH Gardening Companion, GardenMinder, GrowIt!

• For naturalists: Audubon Bird Guide app, Insect Encyclopedia, Bee Smart Pollinator Gardener.


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