The iTunes store is not making things easy with its mind numbing array of garden design apps—all of which promise to change your life. We sifted through the clutter, tested a ton, and came up with ten apps that actually do what they say they do:
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.
1. Garden Designer, $9.99 from Artifact Interactive
- Lay out a garden by tapping on and moving around a host of symbols: plants, buildings, paths, ponds, garden furniture etc. For instance, open the list of trees and choose "small," "leafy," "fruit tree large" or lots of other options. Tap on the circular green tree symbol and move it to a grid. Tap again and a blue box appears around your choice. Spread it with your fingers to enlarge it or pinch it in to make it smaller (takes practice: one of my circles elongated into an oval and refused to return to round, forcing me to delete it and start over). The app will give you the dimensions of the objects you add—but you have to keep track of whether it will all fit.
2. iScape—Design Your New Surroundings, $9.99 from Home Revivals
- Improve the curb appeal of your house and have fun doing it. Take a picture of your home (or your backyard) with your iPhone or iPad. Then landscape it; iSpace offers all sorts of plants, planters, and "textures" (lawns, pavers, mulch, gravel, water, tar etc.) that you can add to your photo. One tap on a picture of a tree or shrub gives you cultivation information, two taps adds it to the photo. After you finish, you can save it to an album, print it, or email it. This app is intuitive and great fun to use. However, the image database is limited and I was never able to view the choices in "Hardscapes" because when I tried (numerous times) to download that category, the app crashed.
3. Garden Plan Pro, $9.99 from Growing Interactive
- Aimed at the serious vegetable, fruit and herb gardener, this app helps plan for next year's harvest. Fortunately there is a video tutorial to get you started, because the app has many features and, on first look, does not seem intuitive. It will find your location and keep track of plants to grow in your climate and when to plant them. With free registration at gardenplanpro.com, you can keep track of your garden, store a backup plan, and receive email planting reminders. Save up to five years of garden information, including notes about your successes and failures. It will remember where you have planted your crops and alert you if you need to rotate something to a different location.
4. Florafolio—Native Plants of the North East, $3.99 from Holi Moli Media
- Marnie Majorelle, of the Brooklyn garden design firm Alive Structures, recommended this app to me and says it's helpful if you use native plants. It is a compendium of plants which you can browse or search by specific criteria. Plants are organized by trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, ferns, and vines. You can search by a long list of characteristics including growing conditions (sun exposure, water needs, USDA zone); flower color; leaf shape; autumn foliage color; wildlife benefit ("attracts butterflies"), and season of interest. There is an easy-to-use notes section where you can write comments about a plant and there is a handy "favorites" section.
5. The Landscaper's Companion—Plant and Garden Reference Guide, $6.99 from Stevenson Software
- Another compendium like Florafolio, this app can help you make and organize plant lists for yourself or your clients. Manhattan Garden designer Bruce James of City/Country Gardeners says he uses this app even though he found the search function somewhat difficult to get used to. The Landscaper's Companion offers an extensive database of plants (it claims 26,000) you can search by various criteria including size, color, cultivation requirements, and resistance to deer. As with Florafolio, there is a "favorites" file for organizing plant selections. You can also email plant lists and individual plant fact sheets... a very handy way for the professional gardener to communicate with clients. To add your own pictures, you have to upgrade to the $9.99 "Professional" version.
6. Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder, $14.99 from Timber Press
- Several garden designers recommended this app to me, which is not surprising since Michael Dirr is a rock star of the horticulture world. His exhaustive The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants ($67.41 at Amazon) is revered and universally depended upon by serious gardeners. The app is based on the classic book and purports to cover 9,400 woody plants including trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers. The photos are excellent. Tap on Aesculus parviflora, Bottlebrush Buckeye, and you get a choice of three varieties. Tap on the photo of the species and you get six larger pictures, including an amazing closeup of the flower. However, not every entry is illustrated. Aesculus chinensis, Chinese Buckeye, is one of many with no picture. It's disappointing, and I'm hoping this will be corrected in updates. Like Landscaper's Companion, it has a favorites tool and you can email plant info. I found the search function rather mysterious and would have appreciated some instructions.
7. Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens, $2.99 from Sutro Media
- This specialized app lists fewer than 100 plants, all handpicked to work in a small garden. There is an informative introduction page which tells you what information is included about each plant and describes how the search function should be used (Dirr app designers, take note). Type in "Echinacea" and you get Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower. Tap on the photo and you get two other shots, all with the photographer's name noted in the bottom left corner. Along with the usual cultivation tips there is a pronunciation guide and a link to an online nursery where you can buy the plant.
8. Garden Tracker-Bumper Crop, $3.99 from Portable Databases
- This app is for the vegetable gardener. It will help you create a graphic illustration of your bed, showing which crops you have planted. You can choose from the pre-loaded list of vegetables with their growing information or add other plants or varieties of your own. After you set up the garden, you can input dates for watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. There is a "Pests" feature with a (non-searchable) list of more than 50 insects and diseases common to vegetable gardens. Unfortunately the photos are quite small, which is frustrating because many pests resemble each other. In what appears to be compensation for that shortcoming, there are links to posts with more information on Wikipedia and Google.
9. Gardening Toolkit HD, $3.99 from Applied Objects
- This app lets you select plants from a database and move them into up to four virtual gardens. Because there is no feature to record the dimensions of your actual space, these "gardens" are really just lists of plants. In the database is information about a plant's cultivation needs, but when you add it to your garden most of the cultivation information disappears. It is frustrating to have to go back to the database every time you want to know more about the plant, although there is a space for making notes. When you add a plant, the app automatically lists the current date as the planting date. This is confusing if you are planning a garden that you will plant later.
10. Perennial Match, $4.99 from Harmony Systems, Inc.
- This app contains an easily accessed database of perennials, but its real purpose is to allow you to see how plants look together. You select from a long list that includes a lot of natives and place them in a template that shows their photos side by side. Tap the data button and it will display the requirements for each plant in adjoining columns for easy comparison. If you can't find the plant you want, it is not difficult to add a photo of it as long as you know both its Latin and common names. The template will only allow a maximum of three plants to be compared at one time, which some users may find limiting.
By the way, if the idea of taking your beautiful, shiny iPad out into the garden with its dirt and water hazards fills you with dread, here's a tip. Seal it up in a plastic bag. It will stay clean and dry and still respond to your touch.
Want to ID plants and leaves on the fly? See Identify Leaves and Flowers (There's an iPhone App for That).
For more, see The Top 10 Gardening Apps You Need Now.