Roots and Shoots: Tech in the Garden

There’s an app for that

By Pamela Doan

Now that winter is on its way out of our hearts and minds and spring is the fantasy of a happier version of our days, it’s time to plan the garden.

As a person who isn’t skilled with drawing garden plans, I’ve been exploring tools to capture my vision. Here are my experiences with three popular websites and one app. They are much easier to use with a tablet or computer than on a phone.

Yardmap.org

This site, a project of the Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has more resources than a typical landscape or garden planning site. It lets you map your property and account for everything that is growing there, plus water and land features.

It displays all of this in the context of your EcoRegion, the unique, native and natural environment where you’re located. For example, Philipstown, with its deciduous forest with understory trees and spring wildflowers, is an Eastern Broadleaf Forest area.

Yardmap includes a guide to native plants and making habitat choices for birds and pollinators. Get your neighbors to join in and make a bigger impact by tracking how you can use multiple landscapes to restore fractured and lost habitats.

Gardeners.com

This Vermont-based garden supply company has a tool to help plan a vegetable garden. Based on the square-foot method, enter the measurements for your garden and choose the vegetables. Once you place carrots, for example, the planner brings up specifications, including how many plants are ideal per square foot. You can save and print your design when finished.

It’s time to begin planning for spring. (Photo by P. Doan)

iScape

This app pushes getting professional help in your planning but is a good visual tool. I could upload a photo of my property and then choose trees, shrubs, plants and features like an arbor, path or wall to see how it might look.

The plant listings don’t include their Latin names, which is a problem if you’re trying to find more information elsewhere about the exact tree or plant. A big warning sign is that the app’s database also includes invasive species like amur maple (Acer tataricum var. ginnala) and burning bush (Euonymus alatus) that are banned or regulated in New York and other places because they escape their original planting and out-compete native plants. While the app is useful for experimenting with types of plantings, I wouldn’t rely on it to make any final decisions.

Better Homes and Gardens

Years ago, when I had less experience gardening, I tried bhg.com and didn’t like it. Was it me or the tool that didn’t work well? I find it even less appealing now. It has the same shortcoming as iScape in including invasive species among its selections and lacks important information about plants.

While there are more than 1,000 choices for plantings, it doesn’t include zone, which determines if a plant could survive in your climate. Many features like uploading a photo of your property are only available in a paid version that costs $19. Using this tool could lead a gardener to make a lot of timely and costly mistakes.

After reviewing what’s available, I’ll probably return to my notebook, graph paper and spreadsheet for another season.

Have you used tech in the garden? Email [email protected]