People with smartphones can get apps to do almost anything. Over the past couple of years I have been asked fairly often to recommend apps that work for gardeners. I haven’t done so before because I don’t have a smartphone.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first would be the joke that I do not want a phone that is smarter than I am, but it goes beyond that. I tend to lose and break things, and I would hate to lose something as expensive as a smartphone. More importantly, there are times that I prefer not to be connected to the entire world. Whoever would use the smartphone to contact me can wait until I get back to my laptop.

When the questions got so great that I had to write an apps column, I turned to granddaughter Brighid (everyone outside the family calls her Molly) Ratliff, a senior at South Portland High School. Any excuse to spend time with grandchildren is a good one.

What an app should do, Brighid and I decided, is take information into the garden with you when you actually need it.

There are a lot of apps that just bring magazines and other publications to your phone. Examples include Mother Earth News, House & Garden and Organic Gardening. It’s a lot more comfortable to read inside, and most people can remember that information long enough to walk out into the garden. So ignore those.

Garden Compass, a free product for Apple users, does what an app should do. It requires iOS 5.0 or later and works with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch, which Brighid says is just like an iPhone except that you can’t make calls.


With this app, you take a picture of a plant, disease or insect, and it will be submitted to a team of experts who tell you what it is, what products are appropriate for dealing with the problem and where to get the products. The app also keeps you updated as your photo is passed on to other experts.

Another good one that is free, also for Apple users in the Northeast, is Leafsnap, created by researchers at Columbia University, University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution. With this, you take pictures of a leaf, and it will tell you the species of the plant. It also includes high-resolution photos of flowers, fruit, leaf stalks, seeds and bark. While it now covers only the Northeast United States, plans are to expand to all of the lower 48.

Bee Smart is a group working to protect pollinators, whose website was a major resource for a column I wrote about a Maine Legislature bill – since withdrawn – on placing a moratorium on neonicotinoid insecticides. The free app, good for both Apple and Android devices, has a list of more than 1,000 pollinator plants.

Garden Squared is free for Android users and helps you design and keep track of gardens, patio plants, raised beds and the like, and it gets good reviews. The Essential Garden Guide is also for Android users, costs $1.99 and combines information from universities and professionals.

Garden Tracker is another app for Apple users, and lets you keep track of how your plants are doing in your garden. It costs $1.99.

For $1, the Garden Bugs app can be purchased both for iOS and Android, and it tells you whether an insect is good or bad for the garden. Bugs in the Garden is for Android only, and is about the same.


All of these apps sound interesting, and I am sure there are more. Brighid was able to get user comments on her iPhone about any app I mentioned, so definitely check those out.

I was beginning to think I should get a smartphone so I could take advantage of some of these apps. Instead Brighid found a website, which I have joined, called, where I can watch the progress of anything I plant. We’ll see if that keeps me satisfied.

PERSONAL NOTE: This column appears two days after the 10th anniversary of my first Maine Gardener column, which appeared in the inaugural edition of the Telegram’s Home & Garden section on March 28, 2004.

The column moves next week to Source, a new section dedicated to sustainable lifestyles, and I am looking forward to the move.

Home & Garden ends, but it was a good 10 years and I enjoyed my part in it. I thank both my readers and the people who provide me information, and will enjoy our continued relationship with gardening in Source.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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