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Gardening help in the palm of your hand: 5 apps, phone tips

You’re in your garden and notice a beautiful, new-to-you flower that has popped up somewhere unexpected — pull it or leave it?

You’re in your garden and notice a beautiful, new-to-you flower that has popped up somewhere unexpected — pull it or leave it?

Or perhaps an unfamiliar garden pest has ravaged your tomato plants.

Or you experienced the deflating discovery of a gray-white crust on the soil in your seed-starting tray.

Where do you turn for help when you’re on the go? Technology, of course.

The latest crop of gardening apps and cellphone features may surprise you with their expert garden-planning and planting advice, pest and disease troubleshooting, instant plant and insect identification, and even integrated artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Free, reliable apps like the ones below will place an abundant harvest of valuable information at your (green) fingertips.

Seek by iNaturalist

Created by a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, this crowd-sourced, image-recognition app is as straightforward as can be. Snap a photo of a plant, insect, animal or mushroom — or even just point your camera at it — and get its taxonomic classification (from kingdom to species), common name, seasonality, a count of how many observations of it have been recorded on the app, and a short description, typically pulled in from Wikipedia.

Results are based on visually similar images provided by users from around the world, and if the app can’t identify your photo, it solicits IDs from other users.

You can also find lists of plants, insects and animals in your area, add your observations and connect with experts.

And if you’re up for a game, you can earn badges for observing different types of species and participating in challenges. Find it in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Free.


From Seed to Spoon

Scroll through the illustrated menu of fruits and vegetables, and add what you’d like to plant to your virtual “Grow Box.” Then get seed-starting, transplanting and harvesting dates for those plants, customized for your location as assessed via GPS.

The free version of the app also provides information on each crop’s frost tolerance and sun, water and fertilizer requirements, plus seed-saving instructions, companion planting advice, common pests (including organic treatment suggestions), recipes and links to video tips.

Each plant-profile screen also includes links to recommended products sold by Park Seed, which owns the app. The premium upgrade ($4.99/month or $46.99/year) provides real-time answers to your questions from an AI “Growbot,” a personalized planting calendar and more. Find it in the Apple App Store, on Google Play and at Free, with an optional paid premium upgrade.



Snap a photo, and the app will ID your plant and provide a plethora of information about it. You’ll instantly see its health assessment, scientific classification, worldwide distribution, common uses, harvesting time (if applicable), propagation methods, and sunlight, soil, water and fertilizer requirements. You’ll also get answers to frequently asked questions about the plant, and can seamlessly share your photo and plant description with friends via text.

After exhausting an initial allotment of free IDs, you’ll be prompted to watch ads or share the app to earn more unless you upgrade to the premium version ($29.99/year). Concerned about an ailing plant? Take a picture, and the free version will tell you what’s wrong. You’ll need premium to see recommended treatments. The upgrade also provides comprehensive plant-care guides, 24/7 access to a team of botanists and unlimited plant IDs. Find it in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Free, with an optional paid premium upgrade.


Google Lens

This tool uses image recognition technology to quickly and seamlessly identify plants, trees, shrubs, animals and insects on the go. It also pulls up Google search results about the subject.

Access it directly from the Google app or via the Google Search bar in your mobile browser on Android and Apple devices. Then tap the camera icon to the right of the search field, take a photo with your phone’s camera or select an image from your photo library. Lens can also be used to identify other objects, places, and even products for online comparison shopping. Free.


Apple Visual Look Up

This AI-powered feature for iPhone and iPad will ID plants, flowers, weeds, insects, birds and other animals depicted in any photo. Using an Apple device running iOS16 or iPadOS16, you can access the feature by tapping an image in your Photos library, then tapping the “info” button beneath it (the letter “i” in a circle with stars above it).

The tool also works directly from the Mail, Messages and Notes apps (lightly tap an image to expand it, then tap the starred “i”) and in the Safari browser (tap and hold any photo). The app will display details about the image, including a “Look Up” option alongside a leaf, paw print or bug icon, depending on what the tool has detected (other categories include art, landmarks and books).

Tap the icon for Siri Knowledge details about the subject and similar images found online (if there isn’t a star above the info button, Visual Look Up isn’t available for that photo.) Free.


Jessica Damiano writes regular gardening columns for The Associated Press. She publishes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.


Jessica Damiano, The Associated Press

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