I love plants, but keeping them alive isn’t exactly my forte. The other day one of my air plants died, and that’s a plant that gets a lot of its nutrients from the air.
I’m sure I’m not alone. Plants are surprisingly difficult to keep alive, according to Amy Enfield, horticulturist manager and instructor at Scotts Miracle-Gro. “The most common issue people have with keeping plants alive is much more basic than one task in particular,” Enfield says. “Most people have no idea what they need—soil, tools, plant food, etc.—or what plants will work best for them in their space.”
In addition to that, people have no idea how to properly space plants or choose correct container sizes, Enfield explains. Most of the plants you purchase at a nursery are small transplants or starter plants, so they’re not going to stay that size forever. Even routine maintenance is tricky, since both under-watering and over-watering can kill your plants.
The good news is that gardening doesn’t have to be a headache, thanks to a handful of ridiculously handy apps. These apps will take you through every step of the process, from planning to planting, and will even bother you with notifications when your plants need water or food (or air, I guess). And they’re all free.
GKH Gardening Companion
The bulk of the app is informative: You’ll find lots of well-written articles about gardens, houseplants, lawn care, and common plant problems. If you’re looking for very specific information, you can tag your favorite topics and plants to create your own “custom” magazine (you can also add specific articles to your favorites list).
GKH Gardening Companion isn’t just a mobile vehicle for reading Gardening Know How, though—it’s also got a handful of useful gardening features. There’s a gardening journal that lets you track the progress of your plants and flowerbeds with just a few taps. You can track preset activities like watering and harvesting, weather info, and add photos and notes to each journal entry. The app’s search feature lets you search just your journal, which is very handy if you use the app regularly. The app also features a reminders and alarms system that’s useful for any gardener, though each notification must be set up manually.
If you’re completely new to growing things, you might want to check out the GRO app. This free app from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is heavily-sponsored, but it offers good step-by-step instructions for people who have no idea where to start. It also integrates with smart gardening tech like Blossom and PlantLink, though you don’t need a high-tech flower tracker to use the app.
When you first start up GRO, you’ll need to tell the app your location and pick out your gardening-related interests (such as “small plants” or “plant pairings”). The app then uses this info to populate a list of ideal plant matches for you, curated into fun categories like “Better in a Pot” or “Something I Can’t Kill.” Tap on a plant to see a brief overview of its care needs and a list of recommended supplies (all from Scotts Miracle-Gro of course), and then tap “Let’s Do It!” to start the project.
The app walks you through every step of the project, from finding the perfect pot or patch of ground to putting it in the dirt. The app also creates a custom care plan (complete with automatic reminders) based on the type of plant and detailed weather data (e.g. if your outdoor plant needs to be watered but it just rained, the app will adjust the schedule).
GRO is a very useful resource if you’re just getting started, because it will tell you which plants to purchase. But if you’ve already got plants—or if you’re planting atypical plants for your region (i.e. in a greenhouse)—you’ll probably want to skip this one, because you can’t actually search for specific plants in the app’s database. The app does let you browse through a handful of plants that don’t show up in your matches, but you’re still limited by your region and the season.
My Green Space
Growing plants for decoration is one thing, but maybe you’re looking to take on the challenge of growing actual food. My Green Space makes planning and starting any size vegetable garden ridiculously simple with its step-by-step tutorials and automatic maintenance reminders. My Green Space started as a companion app for My Green Space garden kits, but it can now be used completely independently.
To get started with this app, you’ll need to add a garden box to your garden. The app will ask you several questions: Where will the box be located (patio, yard, windowsill), the size of the box (width and length), and how much sun the box will receive each day. The app uses this info to come up with a list of plants that grow well in that environment and that also grow well with each other—you’ll pick out the plants you’re growing and the app will then tell you how to successfully arrange those plants in your planter box.
You don’t have to go through the whole garden box setup. My Green Space has a searchable library of plants, complete with detailed information on care and tutorials for planting and harvesting.
Garden Answers Plant Identifier
I’m always on alert about which plants I bring home, because I have two small dogs who are very passionate about greenery (and very stupid about what is and isn’t food). And this might surprise you, but plants in nurseries and wholesale flower markets aren’t nearly as well-labeled as they should be. Luckily, there’s an app with all the answers: Garden Answers.
Garden Answers is a free app that uses image recognition technology to instantly identify any plant from a single photo. Simply snap a close-up photo of the plant’s leaves or flowers, and the app serves up a list of potential matches, organized by likeliness. It’s not perfect, but the plant you’re trying to identify will usually be in the top few matches.
Garden Answers is also a question-and-answer app—if you need help identifying a particularly tricky plant or plant problem, you can send a few photos to a “trained horticulturist,” who will get back to you by email within 24 hours. Asking a question will cost you $1.99, but you can browse people’s past questions (and the horticulturists’ answers) in the app using the search feature.
Home Outside is different from the other apps in this round-up—it’s for planning, not planting. Well, planning where you’ll be planting. A lot of gardeners are working with large outdoor spaces like yards, so this app is pretty useful.
Home Outside has an impressive number of features for a free app. There’s a cool map tool that lets you find your actual outdoor space and drop pins around it. The app uses these pins to estimate the size of the space you’re working with, and you can import the satellite image into the app. The app lets you add all sorts of pre-designed items to your space—plants, trees, patios, paving, furniture, structures (e.g. a house, if you’re trying to design a whole landscape), and even things like swimming pools, fire pits, and ponds. You can sketch over the design, add notes, and group objects into separate layers.
This app is all about visualizing your space rather than planning it out in detail, so you won’t find a ton of individual plants and flowers that you can add to your design. But it’s a great place to start if you’re trying to plan a garden that looks as good as it grows.