There’s nothing better than that smug sense of satisfaction after a day of mowing the lawn, digging up potatoes, weeding, pruning the hedge, planting delicate flowers or measuring your square watermelons.
However, let’s not kid ourselves: gardening is hard work. Not only is it a tough physical grind, but other factors such as a lack of preparation or poor soil can have disastrous consequences for your crops. Even the most manicured of British gardens can quickly descend into the kind of jungle that swallowed Mayan temples if you’re not vigilant.
Of course, there is now a host of Android and iOS apps that aim to make your life easier. With them, you can plan your vegetable patch from scratch, identify trees or flowers, find out the PH of your soil and get rid of pesky weeds. Here are six of the best.
My Vegetable Garden (Android)
If you’re the kind of vegetable-grower who umms and ahs about when to harvest their crop, and then angrily mutters “I should have left them for longer” when you end up with micro-peas, this is the app for you.
Only available for Android devices, My Vegetable Grower allows you to digitally “plant” vegetables and aromatics (or, if you’re from the US, ‘erbs) in a plot. Simply select a crop from the Vegetable section and then drag-and-drop it into a virtual, gridded plot, resizing and changing the number of rows to best replicate the real world conditions of your patch or allotment.
The choice is extensive: growing information is available for staples such as potatoes, cabbage and onions, as well as more unusual options such as squash, kohlrabi, celeriac and melon.
Before you start the hard work of seeding, My Vegetable Grower provides in-depth details about caring for your produce, including what soil the plant prefers (see mySoil below to find out what’s under your feet), the depth of the seed, the spacing between the plants and the amount of water they’ll need. There’s also an entertaining list of friends and enemies, or the vegetables you should or shouldn’t grow next to your precious carrots. Who knew that, for instance, cabbage had a beef with shallots?
The crucial metric is a circular “Day(s) before harvest” countdown. While this should always be taken as a rough guide, it’s a useful way of drawing up a growing timescale and potentially combining harvests for maximum efficiency. If you’ve newly acquired a blank allotment, it’s a treat.
Tree ID (Android and iOS)
The Woodland Trust’s Tree ID may not be the most exciting app on the list, but it’s useful if you have a (very) large garden with lots of trees, or are just a nature lover who wants to learn more about British woodland.
To identify a tree or bush, select “Identify trees by feature” and then pick from a number of options such as its leaves, fruit, bark, flowers and leaf buds. If, for example, you tap on “Leaf or needle”, you will then be asked about the shape, colour, margin and arrangement of the leaves – all while a list of possible matches decreases at the bottom of the screen.
All being well, and if you haven’t discovered a species of alien triffid, you should be left with a handful of possibilities. It’s a neat utility that may make you think twice before recklessly clearing the garden of rare saplings.
mySoil (Android and iOS)
It doesn’t have the most appealing name (we imagine the App Store censors took a deep breath before opening this one), but mySoil is an excellent resource for finding out which plants will flourish in your garden or allotment. The app is a brightly colour-coded map that shows the soil type where you live, saving you the potential embarrassment of shelling out for beautiful plants and then immediately killing them in acidic soil.
mySoil certainly has the right credentials, being the brainchild of the venerable British Geological Society, a government body that carries out in-depth surveys of Britain’s landscape. As you’d expect, therefore, it’ll really appeal to geography nerds: tap a location on the map and you’ll be confronted with the area’s soil pH, texture, depth, organic matter and temperature.
I tried the app in Tunbridge Wells and found out that the spa town is built on silty soil at an intermediate depth – perfect for bluebells and grape vines (according to this chart from Thompson & Morgan). I’m sure the neighbours won’t mind a vineyard in my tiny garden…
Koubachi (Android and iOS)
Do you spend time carefully picking out the perfect primula, only to completely forget to water it until you’re found sobbing over its withered leaves? If so, join the club. However, there’s a solution in the form of the Koubachi app, which ensures your potted plants never go thirsty.
The interface can seem daunting at first, with lots of different options and Latin names competing for attention, but it’s straightforward once you’ve got the hang of it. To begin, tap the leaf icon in the top-left of the screen, which will bring up an empty plot with nine slots for plants. To add a plant, tap a slot and search the incredibly long list of varieties that pop up. Before you put, for instance, spearmint in your virtual garden, Koubachi will provide detailed instructions for taking care of it, including the soil pH and temperature it prefers, the fertiliser you should use, the months it blooms and its toxicity for humans or animals.
You can then repeat the process for all of your potted plants until you have a lush digital garden. Now comes the important part: making sure they’re watered regularly. Click on the plant and select the floating leaf icon to “calibrate” it, namely tell the app when you last watered. After this, a little blue waterdrop will appear next to the plant when it’s thirsty. Simple.
What’s That Flower? (Android)
A pet peeve for many gardeners is losing the tiny plastic name slip that comes with the plant and having to answer compliments about your flowers with “yeah, but I don’t know what it is”. Well, What’s That Flower? helps you avoid a floral faux pas by answering the very question it poses.
As with Tree ID, you will be asked to pick the colour of the flower, its habitat (options include meadows, mountains, woodlands and gardens) and the number of petals before being given a list of potential matches. Clicking one will bring up a “cheat sheet” with key data, such as the plant’s normal height and the time of year it flowers, from Wikipedia and other websites.
It’s a basic encyclopaedia, but I’ve found What’s That Flower? especially useful while walking around large professionally-kept gardens, as well as on walks in the countryside. Just beware the dreaded purple gromwell, though (see above).
B&Q Gardens: Outdoor Assistant (Android and iOS)
If you’re a die-hard devotee of Britain’s orangest DIY/gardening shop, you probably already have this app. However, for the uninitiated, it’s a simple tool that allows you to take a picture to identify an unknown flower or weed.
To start, tap either “Identify a plant” or “Identify a weed”, take a picture of the culprit and select “Submit”. Your image will then be matched against B&Q’s database, along with a short description.
For plant identification, we’d probably stick to What’s That Flower? or Tree ID if possible, but the app is worth it for the weed recognition alone. As it’s B&Q, you get recommendations for weeding products along with the description, which you can then buy directly through the app or look for elsewhere online.
Keeping with “let’s flog stuff to you” theme, B&Q Gardens: Outdoor Assistant also includes lots of pointers for choosing gardening hardware such as lawnmowers, trimmers, tools, hoses, fences and, most importantly, barbecues. Who needs Amazon?