The Latest Gardening Apps for iPhone and Android

Sunset-Western-app-2.pngSince I joined the modern world in getting a smart phone last year, I’ve been on the lookout for great gardening apps that can help me explain landscape design ideas to clients, get plant ideas on the go, or just give me a productive way of killing time when I’m stuck in line at the post office. Unfortunately, my first forays into gardening apps turned up some shallow and disappointing picks – things that would be great for the weekend warrior crowd at Home Depot who want to know whether they should plant primroses or violas, but pretty useless for anyone who actually cares about gardening. Luckily that’s all been changing, as some real professionals have entered the market in recent months. Here are a few of the apps I’m enjoying right now, and those that I am looking forward to trying once they’re out for Android phones.

Plant Picks for Small Gardens, Android and iPhone, $2.99

plant picks appMy pal Susan Morrison is a landscape designer and garden writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she really knows her stuff. You might remember her as the author of Garden up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, which was an Amazon Best Books of 2011 selection. The app is meant to provide foolproof plant ideas which will work in a variety of situations in the average residential garden. While I am usually pretty harsh on resources which try to provide planting information that would be good all across the country, this app actually does a fantastic job of walking the line and recommending plants that will tolerate a variety of different zones and garden conditions. Part of the reason the app is so successful is that Susan hired a variety of experts from around the country to give their feedback and help edit the information before releasing the app. Since we’re friends, Susan consulted me about the landscape maintenance aspects of her advice, and I read and gave feedback on the information prior to its release. What I love about this app is that when you’re at the nursery or out in the garden, it’s pretty easy to search the plants by their category, such as white flowers or groundcovers, and narrow down a few choices that you know will do well. Susan also includes some great generalized planting advice and garden maintenance advice in case you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the how-to aspects of getting your garden growing. Is this the most exhaustive app out there? Nope. There are only about 100 plants here, and Susan makes no bones about the fact that this isn’t meant to be your only landscaping resource. However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of choosing some basic landscape plants that are going to perform well and look good under different circumstances, Susan’s picks are sturdy, attractive choices that will do well across the Pacific Northwest and around the rest of the country. Buy Plant Picks on Google Play or the iTunes Store.

Armitage Perennials and Annuals, Android and iPhone, $4.99

Armitage garden appWhile Susan Morrison’s Plant Picks app aims to simplify the options available and make plant choices foolproof, Allan Armitage looks to inspire us with new ideas for those gardeners who crave a bit of extra flower and foliage color, and are willing to go the extra mile by spending a little more money at the nursery and a lot more time in the garden caring for these exciting plants. The app is published by the same company that did Susan’s Plant Picks app, so the method of searching for plants will be familiar for owners of both apps. For me, I click on the Menu button in the corner of my screen and then click on Categories, which pulls up a list of checkboxes for different plant attributes that I can search. I particularly love the “weird and wonderful” section which has panda ginger, waffle plant, eyeball plant, and some other exciting things that I’ve never grown just because they’re expensive and I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll be successful with them. But with Armitage’s blunt and humorous hints for success, I’ll be feeling a lot more adventurous in the annual section of my local nursery. The only small critique I have about the Armitage Perennials and Annuals app is that Armitage’s zone listing only goes from zones 3 to 8. While pretty much everything in the 7 to 8 range will do just fine in my zone 9 climate, the app would have felt more complete had the USDA zones gone up to 11. That said, this app is a lot of fun, and if it gives me the courage to try just one new plant each gardening season (and the info I need to grow it well!), the app will have been worth the price. Buy Armitage Perennials and Annuals on Google Play or the iTunes Store.

The Sunset Western Garden Book, iPhone, $19.99

Sunset Western app (3)You all know what a fan I am of the Sunset Western Garden Book for my coastal Pacific Northwest climate. That’s why I’m so disappointed that their new app format for the book is only available for iDevices thus far. Fortunately, I reached out to Sunset and they say that the app should be compatible with Android phones via the Inkling app by the end of the year. In any case, the Sunset book is one of the rare books where I try to keep a spare copy in my truck as a reference at all times. Since I’m always trying to go minimalist and digital where possible to save space, I can’t wait for the Sunset Western Garden Book to be available on my phone so that I can get rid of the muddy and well used copy in my truck. Unfortunately, early reviews indicate that there is a problem with how the app is set up. (Not, mind you, problems with the content.) Because the app is run via Inkling, many reviewers are pointing out that you need to create an account with this other company and actually go through the trouble of signing in each time you want to use the app. I personally would find that pretty irritating after spending $20 for the app. That said, Sunset is one of those companies that is always striving to do things in a better way, so I have a lot of faith that the company will reevaluate this approach and find a better way of presenting their always top-notch information. Buy the Sunset Western Garden Book on the iTunes Store.

Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder, iPhone, $14.99

dirr garden appWhile Michael Dirr is located on the east coast and is primarily an expert on woody plants for cold climates, he is such a thorough, good-natured, and well-respected guide that I keep his reference books handy at all times, even though some of the advice doesn’t suit my climate as well as it does the East Coast. There is nobody else that bothers to tell me the minute differences between a few Spireas that look identical, or delves into topics such as how to pollinate your Viburnums so that they’ll produce those stunning berries we all want come fall and winter. So Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder app is another that is on my to-buy list as soon as it comes out for Android. Timber Press doesn’t currently have any plans to release it on Google Play, but I would imagine that if it does well for iPhones, they would consider releasing future versions for us Android users. Though I haven’t tested this app, I have some idea of what to expect because years ago, I actually spent over $100 on a searchable DVD-rom from Dirr which looks like it was pretty similar to this app. You can search for a specific plant, or search by different attributes such as trees that will grow in zone nine and don’t get taller than 15 feet. I loved that DVD and used it often when brainstorming new ideas for my landscape plans so that I didn’t get stuck in a rut using the same old plants every single time. It was also great when I found an unusual variety of a shrub that I was already familiar with, and just wanted to know more about how was going to behave. The idea of having all of that information on my phone is very appealing. Buy Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder at the iTunes Store.

Honorable mentions

Recently, a fellow landscaper showed me two different apps on his phone, iScape and Hardscape. Both of these apps do similar things, where you take a photo of a home or landscaping space with your phone, and can quickly add bed lines, lawn, patios, flowering shrubs, and other elements which make it easier to visualize making a change to your landscape, or communicate your design ideas to someone else. While neither of these apps seems perfect (they both have average user ratings of 3 stars out of 5), if I had an iPhone I would certainly download the free versions of both and test them out. I was also excited to hear about the release of the Washington Wildflowers app this month, which photographer Mark Turner worked on. Though I don’t live in Washington, there’s a lot of overlap between plants in my far northern California/ Pacific Northwest climate, and the ones featured in his app. The photography is stunning, as expected, and it’s getting good reviews already even though it’s just come out. Available on Amazon for the Kindle Fire, Google Play, and the iTunes Store. Another type of app I’ve been interested in testing is something similar to this Landscape and Garden Calculators app. The idea of being able to quickly calculate materials while outside in the landscape is very appealing, and while my phone does have a normal calculator, I like how an app like this would make doing quick garden calculations, like how much potting soil or mulch I need, a lot easier. This particular app has mixed reviews, which make me hesitant to pay $7.99 for it. If anyone’s used something similar that they would recommend, please let me know.

Have you tried any garden apps? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.

Garrett Wade Professional Gardener’s Digging Tool

pro-gardeners-digging-tool.jpgI’ve written a lot in the past about soil knives, because, well, they’re awesome. If you’re still gardening with a trowel or a dandelion fork, for goodness’ sake stop reading this post right now and go buy a soil knife. (Oh, wait – don’t stop reading yet, this is actually kind of relevant.) Soil knives are great because they’re this lethal trowel-knife hybrid that makes weeding, digging and dividing so much easier. The thick edges and gentle curve of your trowel? Pah! I like my tools to have a hint of danger to them. I want to get things done! [Read more...]

The Clarington Forge Rubber Rake: The Coolest Tool You Never Knew You Needed

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Sometimes you come across a tool that solves so many problems you wonder how you went so long without hearing about it. The Clarington Forge rubber rake is one of those tools.

“A rubber rake?” I hear you asking incredulously. “Really? WTF?”

I’ll forgive you for asking, because if you remember our review of the rubber rake from last year, Amy Stewart had the exact same reaction on first glance.

I’ll explain the advantages for the uninitiated:

Neighborly relations. Have you ever had a neighbor who wakes up the entire-freaking-neighborhood at 6AM on Sunday morning because they cannot wait to get out the rake and be industrious about the leaves coating their sidewalk? SCREEE! SCREEEE! I mean, all that activity comes from a nice place in their heart, but if anyone in the neighborhood has a hangover, or worse, a baby that has just gotten to sleep, that poor hardworking soul is in mortal danger of being impaled upon the very tool they are using to bring order to their world. If you are that person, I beg you, get yourself a rubber rake and you can enjoy raking at whisper-soft volume any time of day or night.

Decks and patios. What do you do if you have a beautifully-stained deck, or a flagstone patio with a clear coating on it to keep the color looking bright? Even plastic leaf rakes will scratch the stain off a deck when used with vigor. A rubber rake, by contrast, rakes just what it’s supposed to and leaves your hardscape alone.

Gen cleaning out a Blue Oat Grass with the rubber rakeOrnamental grasses. You know all those icky dead leaves that start to clog blue oat grass and others, and keep them from looking their best? You could spend for-freaking-ever running your hands through each individual grass to pull out all the dead blades, but some of us have Project Runway episodes to watch. I’d rather run the rubber rake over the grasses and get back to stalking Christian Siriano on Twitter that much faster.

Groundcovers. Whether they’re herbaceous or woody, groundcovers can be a challenge to rake. Every time I run a traditional rake over them, the tines catch on the stems and I end up ripping or displacing my plants. Yet if you’ve ever picked clumps of leaves off your groundcovers by hand, you know what an arduous task that is. Necessary so your groundcovers don’t smother, yes, but if I’m going to spend time outdoors in that fall chill, I’d rather be planting bulbs or harvesting apples or something. The rubber rake once again shines at removing the leaves quickly without hurting your plants.

Raking on mulch. The rubber rake is also good for more pedestrian raking tasks. Ever tried to rake trimmings or leaves off an area that’s got wood mulch on top? It’s kind of challenging to rake up all the detritus without raking up all your lovely mulch as well. The rubber rake’s a lot easier to control than the usual stiff leaf rakes, and makes cleanup a snap. It’s also extra-grippy on things like pine needles which like to stick to pavement.

wizard rubber rake  (21)No more whomping yourself on the ears. Have you ever pulled a smooth move in the garden by stepping on your rake when it’s sitting face-up and having it whack you in the head?

Every new employee likes to try this maneuver a few times in their first weeks, and it’s embarrassing for all involved. I mean, it really hurts. But it’s also really funny, and it’s very hard not to laugh when it happens, which creates poor relations between crew members. Save yourself the worry and stock your toolbox with a rubber rake. I personally tested this by jumping up and down on my rubber rake and was unable to make it hit me in the face. Score!

But don’t the tines wear out all the time?

The one concern I had when I first saw the rubber rake was the tines. I saw a great big cha-ching tattooed on those rubber tines and figured I’d be buying replacement tines every other month. Strangely, that hasn’t happened. My landscaping crew’s been using the rake for a full year now, and even with regular professional use (it’s really nice because we don’t disturb our clients when we clean up), the tines are holding up great. They still have quite a bit of life left in them, and I imagine for the average homeowner, the tines would last 5-10 years. (Need a tutorial on changing the tines? I created one here.)

The rubber rake from Clarington Forge comes in two sizes: the Wizard for raking large spaces, and the Merlin for raking in between shrubs. If you’re an urban gardener, you’ll probably want the Merlin, but if you have a large area, the Wizard’s ace for making cleanup fast.

Want one of your own? Enter here! Clarington Forge has offered up a choice of the Wizard (big) or Merlin (small) rake to one lucky reader. To enter, just leave a comment saying which one you want, and I’ll pick one lucky reader on October 24th. US only.

And for a second chance, head on over to Garden Rant, where Amy Stewart’s giving away another rubber rake. If you were lucky enough to win both, I guess you could give one to your noisiest neighbor and hope they get the hint. Good luck!

EDIT: Crystal S. is the winner! Congrats, Crystal, and enjoy your new rake!

Disclosure: Clarington Forge sent me some free stunt rakes so I could jump up and down on them and attempt to wear out the tines.  All opinions are my own.

The Roo Weeding and Harvesting Apron

Roo-Gardening-Apron-19-Copy.jpgWhile I’m usually kind of a minimalist when it comes to new tools, I have to admit that my previous strategy for harvesting eggs, berries, squash, and apples wasn’t really working. For eggs, I would stick as many as I could into my pockets and my hands and try very hard not to smash or drop them on the way to the kitchen. This worked great if I was wearing a loose skirt with pockets and a hoodie with additional pockets. However, the day that I smashed two eggs on the inside of my skirt pocket and smashed an additional egg on my doorknob (oh woe!) was the day I realized I needed to make a change. Roo Gardening Apron (9)Harvesting apples wasn’t going all that great either. When harvesting, you want to use both of your hands, so it’s tough to hold a bucket at the same time. What I usually ended up doing was picking apples with both hands and chucking them into the bucket, which I set on the ground. This works fine if you’re going to use the apples right away. But sometimes I got tired of making applesauce halfway through and left some apples for the next day. The bruises these poor apples sustained, being tossed from hand to bucket, didn’t make for long-lasting fruit. That’s why when Pantry Paratus offered to send me their Roo gardening apron, I took it as a sign (I mean, they come in purple!), and accepted with great relief. While I don’t usually bother with aprons to keep myself clean, the Roo gardening apron is more about gaining yourself some extra hands then it is about staying tidy. It’s like having a giant kangaroo pocket in front of you, and just like a kangaroo pocket it stays flat and out of the way when not in use, but expands to giant size as soon as you start filling it with stuff. My first test with the Roo was a simple one: collect enough apples to fill a bucket so I could make some fresh juice. As you can see from the photos, it went just fine. In fact if I’d wanted to, I probably could’ve collected a few oversized spiders and a slightly plump kitten as well.
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Roo Gardening Apron (22)But you know me, I get extremely antsy having single-use tools around the house. This is why I love things like my hori hori, or my TubTrugs gardening bucket – I can use them for everything. Where the Roo gardening apron really shines is in its multi use potential. Tired of weeding into a bucket? Just pull on the Roo and weed directly into it. Once you have a full load, just empty the Roo right into your compost bin or trash bag. It’s a lot more efficient than the weed and toss, weed and toss maneuver that you usually have to do. The Roo is made of washable canvas and comes in three colors: charcoal (gray is the new black, right?), a pleasant aqua green, and of course purple. There’s room for your cell phone in the top pocket, and if you’re harvesting delicate things like berries (or eggs), you can slip a little round bucket into the Roo to make sure these things don’t get crushed. It’s also highly adjustable for people of different sizes. The strap adjusts up to an XL size, and there’s an additional strap available for purchase if you suspect you might be larger than an XL. I’ve got mine tightened down to where there’s about two extra feet of strap available, so I think this would fit most people. The only thing I would change about the Roo is that the clip and knot fastener that holds the pocket closed is a little awkward to maneuver. I would prefer a different way of holding the apron pocket closed – something that I could unclip with one hand. Beyond that, I’m really impressed with how well-designed it is. The longer I’ve had it, the more I’ve gravitated towards using it. And, you know, it comes in purple. That makes pretty much anything perfect.

Doofus-Proof Watering: Adjustable Sprinkler and Timer from Dramm

Dramm-sprinkler.jpgThe initial plan for my home garden was to set up an automated drip irrigation system, but as my garden evolved, I realized how difficult it would be to make that type of setup work for me. Drip systems work best on gardens that have lots of individual shrubs and plants, and I have the sort of garden that might kindly be called “chaotic”, given that I test new plants each year, do odd experiments, and have a fondness for those charming-but-never-in-the-same-place-twice biennials. It’s not the type of garden that I’d design for a client, but as my fellow designers pointed out recently, our home gardens are often more like testing grounds than finished landscapes. So yeah, while drip systems are lovely, it’s really tough to water a gardener’s garden with one, because of how often things change. That’s where sprinklers like the Dramm ColorStorm Turret Sprinkler come in. I turn it on for half an hour, everything gets a good soaking, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t recall where I sowed the poppy seeds. They come up and do their thing regardless. [Read more...]

Hose Couture with Dramm’s ColorStorm Line

Colorstorm-Hose-from-Dramm.jpgWhy are most garden hoses so ugly? It’s as though twenty years ago, hose manufacturers decided to pick the most glaringly obvious shade of minty green for all their hoses, and never revisited that decision despite having ample reason to do so. I mean, that hose color is pale enough to show algae stains and mud streaks – yet bright enough to become a major visual element of any garden setting. [Read more...]

Bogs Gardening Shoes: Waterproof and Stink-Free

Bogs-gardening-boots.jpgI don’t do many clothing reviews here on North Coast Gardening because most clothes made specifically for gardening are either not my style (I only like floral when it’s thorny and goth), or the manufacturers are so busy thinking about the stereotype of a Lady Gardener that they completely miss out on creating a product that actually functions, you know, in the dirt. When you’re gardening. So when I got the email from Bogs asking if they could send me a pair of their gardening shoes to test out, I looked at their site with suspicion, even though I’d heard good things about their brand. Was this another veiled attempt to cover me in pink-and-yellow flowers and get photographic evidence of such? [Read more...]

Planting the Triolife Triangular Planter (Kitty “Helped”)

Triolife-triangular-planter-2.jpgI’ll admit it: I’m bad with containers. I love planting them, placing them and admiring them. What I’m not so great at is watering them. So when Eartheasy offered to send me one of these stylish triangular Triolife planters to test out, I wasn’t feeling too confident that I’d be able to create an effect worthy of its awesomeness. I mean, look at the thing – it’s all modern and fresh and thrilling-looking. But when I looked further at the design, it’s actually got an open center which allows a core of soil to run down the middle, making the planter a lot easier to keep watered and happy as there’s plenty of root room for all of the plants. I am getting ahead of myself, though. [Read more...]

Fiskars UpRoot Weeder: Armed and Dangerous (to Dandelions)

off-into-the-sunset.jpgTools have all kinds of personalities. There are the delightfully snooty British ones which make me feel like I ought to bring my good china out into the garden and wear a floral hat while digging. And the sturdy Japanese ones which transport me to ancient times and make me feel like a noble samurai-type person nipping away at my bonsai. The Fiskars Uproot Weeder? It’s like the assault rifle of the gardening world. The lock-and-load sound it makes when you eject the weed and get ready for another round of battle is wicked awesome. I’m too wussy for a tattoo and piercings, so this weeder’s the closest I’m going to get to being a badass. Want to see it in action? Amy Stewart and I made these videos last year when we first tested them out: Mine’s still rockin’ out, pulling up dandelions with ease. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I object to dandelions in a general sense, it’s just I like them better in my salad than in my lawn, and the UpRoot Weeder gets even the longest taproots out with shocking ease. Have a surly teenager in the house who needs some fresh air? Send them out with this thing. They’ll still act grouchy about it, but you’ll know they’re secretly enjoying themselves out there. Want to try one? Fiskars has been kind enough to offer up an UpRoot to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment for your chance to win, and I’ll pull a winner at random on May 9th. US only. UPDATE: Travis has won! Congrats, Travis! And for a second chance to win, head on over to Garden Rant where Amy is giving one away as well.