Smartphone Apps for Virginia Gardeners

By Suzanne Hamilton, Fairfax Master Gardener
I visited gardens this spring carrying my iPhone, which was loaded with plant and garden apps. The idea was to see which apps are most helpful when I encountered a plant I didn’t know or thought of a gardening question and wished an immediate answer. This is a summary of my favorite apps from these garden treks:

Leafsnap, only for iOS, identifies native trees of the Northeastern United States. Ornamental trees are not included. The user takes a photo of a leaf carefully centered on a piece of white paper. This placement allows leaf recognition software to work properly and provide the tree’s name. In addition, it supplies high resolution images and information about the leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and bark of the tree. There is a field guide you can browse and a site where you can store the photos you have taken. The app was created by the Smithsonian in conjunction with the University of Maryland and Columbia University. Photos that you snap for identification are collected for scientific studies. There are two things to consider, especially if you are in the woods. You must have a WiFi connection in order for the photo image process to work, and leaves need to be centered correctly on a piece of white paper when photographing them. No internet connection is needed when using the field guide. Leafsnap includes a game that entices students to learn tree identification. Download Leafsnap at no cost.

PlantSnap for iOS and Android identifies plants of all kinds by flowers and leaves. It identifies trees, succulents, cacti and mushrooms from all over the world. Using your phone’s camera, the flower, leaf or plant is photographed. Recognition software responds with one or more suggestions for the name of the plant. There is also a companion website, that allows you to upload photos from your computer for instant identification. Photos you submit for identification are added to the PlantSnap database allowing it to grow. Note that this app requires a WiFi connection for the photo imaging process on your cellphone, and that PlantSnap covers plants worldwide. This is the app to have when traveling far from home. A product from, PlantSnap has a cost of $3.99.

Flora of VirginiaFlora of Virginia
Flora of Virginia for iOS (8.0 or later) and Android is a comprehensive guide to native or naturalized plants in the state of Virginia. It is based on the book by the same title and is the result of collaboration between the Flora of Virginia Project and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. It is an extremely valuable reference providing an extensive plant guide and information from several ecological data sets including moisture and light regimes, level of invasiveness, rarity and habitats. An entire course could be given on the information in this app, which is portable, does not require WiFi and can be updated. It is user-friendly for adults and students grades 6 through 12. The down side is its cost, which is high for an app: $19.99.

Plant Nova NativesPlant Nova Natives
Plant Nova Natives is not actually a phone app but includes a website with a mobile friendly download you can access on your phone. It provides the names, characteristics and planting information on plants native to Northern Virginia, along with landscaping ideas and where to buy native plants. This is extremely helpful to gardeners in Fairfax County who wish to include native plants in their gardens. The Plant Nova Natives website is a product from a coalition of non-profit, governmental and private groups. It requires WiFi, but the download is free.

Garden AnswersGardenAnswers
For iOS and Android, GardenAnswers identifies plants and provides information about the plants, their insect pests and diseases. By taking a photo of the flower, leaf or seed, the plant is identified by recognition software, and possible matches are provided within seconds. After selecting the closest visual match to the plant in question, the user receives information that includes plant care and maintenance. If no match can be found, the photo or a specific gardening question can be forwarded to a horticulturist who will respond within 24 hours for a fee of about $2.00. There is a keyword search for answers about plant disease or insect damage within the app where there is no charge. GardenAnswers is produced by Garden Answers, LLC. There is no cost for the app.

Great Garden PlantsArmitage’s Great Garden Plants
This app for iOS and Android is a great, classic reference on gardening. If you can while away time in a garden, why not spend some of it reading a work that provides great gardening information written in an engaging, humorous, and down-to-earth manner? The topics happen to include everything relevant about specific plants, and he includes many, to Armitage’s thoughts on plant pollinators, plant food, groundcovers and gardening hats. This is an app that will both educate and entertain. The text is written by Allan Armitage. Cost for the app is $4.99.

Who says you can’t take technology like cellphones into nature and have them improve the experience? With the right phone apps, there are definite possibilities.