We live in an era when technology largely rules the roost. At every turn we’re bombarded by new electronic devices, apps, and functionality intended to make our lives better, or at least to make some things easier. However, I question that any time I’m troubleshooting software problems, rebooting devices, or talking to customer service to resolve a technical difficulty. Despite these pitfalls, there’s one area of tech that I find myself increasingly impressed with and excited about—nature and gardening apps.
These digital applications for smartphones have put powerful tools right at our fingertips. Although there’s something wonderful about opening a reference book to discover the identity of a mystery insect, digital apps can cut your investigation time from hours down to minutes. Plus, because digital databases can be populated and updated faster than books, it’s likely that the app info is more current.
Another interesting aspect about some of these apps is that they’re community-science supported, which means that the users can help increase the scientific knowledge base by reporting their observations. For example, an app user can relay that they spotted an invasive weed or bird species in their area, which helps scientists and other users know the species’ range or that it’s on the move.
There are many different types of gardening and nature apps to choose from, with the most popular being in the area of identification. The following are major categories to search for in your smartphone’s app store the next time you’re curious about something in the garden or you have a problem to solve. You might consider searching garden design, plant maintenance/care, and vegetable garden planning as well—because I guarantee there’s an app for those too.
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Reputable Plant Identification Apps
Ever fall in love with a plant while walking through the neighborhood or on a hike and have no clue what it is? Or do you have a bothersome mystery weed you think might also be an invasive? Plant identification apps are terrific in such situations. With the snap of a photo on your phone, you can be well on your way to identifying that unknown plant. While these apps don’t always drill down to specific cultivars, they can get you close by zeroing in on the species. Once you know that, an online search can reveal varieties of that plant.
- Plant ID
- Google Lens
Reputable Garden-Pest and Disease-Identification Apps
Among the top questions we get from readers is “What is wrong with my plant?” Pests and diseases are big concerns for gardeners, and identification is the first step in solving the problem. While it is often a good idea to seek identification help and management guidance from your local cooperative extension office, pest and disease ID apps can get you headed in the right management direction or can put your mind at ease when they reveal that the problem is relatively benign.
- Plant Disease Identifier
- PictureThis Premium
Reputable Wildlife-Identification Apps
Many gardeners get just as excited about the wildlife in their gardens as they do about the plants—especially when it comes to birds and butterflies. Lucky for us, there are also apps for identifying our winged visitors and other forms of wildlife, such as amphibians. Some apps can identify birds not only by appearance but also by song. Likewise, apps that help identify butterflies can distinguish them in both their caterpillar and adult stages. And if you’re trying to figure out the bad bugs or pests, you can use some wildlife apps for that also.
- Seek by iNaturalist
- Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab
- Leps by Fieldguide
- Picture Insect
Jennifer Benner is content editor for Fine Gardening. She has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from The Ohio State University.