Where does technology fit into the world of gardening? I garden because it engages all my senses in a way no technology can touch. However, I've slowly comprehended technology's use as one more tool to morph us into smarter gardeners.
I'm at an age where I drag one foot in the old and stick a toe in the new. I wrap myself in the comfort of the familiar but wonder what I'm missing.
So where does technology fit into the world of gardening? I garden because it engages all my senses in a way no technology can touch. However, I've slowly comprehended technology's use as one more tool to morph us into smarter gardeners.
I don't want my blankie of the "old ways" to be a cocoon, so technology is my dubious companion and not the end of the socialized world as I once feared — well, at least not yet.
Perhaps you have a new magic black box in need of something to engage its memory and yours.
Plenty of gardening apps are available, but as in all things not all apps are worth the price.
The free ones might not be worth the time or storage space of a download.
Luckily, I am part of the University of Illinois Extension, which has many talented educators willing to check out some of the garden and landscape applications.
Chris Enroth, UI Extension educator, shared results of his ongoing evaluation of gardening apps. He looked at several criteria such as content relevancy to home gardeners or growers, customization and ease of use.
With my limited experience and Enroth's evaluations, here are the top apps so far:
— Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder is the techie version of the ultimate written guide to woody plants by tree guru Michael Dirr.
Its comprehensive coverage of more than 9,400 woody plants with 7,600 images is great whether you are searching for information on a specific plant or need to select a shrub or tree for a specific location.
I love having this app so handy on my phone and iPad since Dirr's accompanying book is like toting a dictionary. This app is well worth the hefty cost of $14.99.
— Leafsnap is in the realm of fun apps as it uses photo recognition software. Leafsnap allows the user to snap a picture of an unknown tree leaf, and it will then process the image to help identify the tree.
This app was developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution. Leafsnap has fabulous photos and even includes tree ID games.
It does require Internet access to use the Snap It! identifying feature, and it only includes trees of the northeastern United States, but hey, it's free and fun with trees.
— The Audubon Society Guides to Wildflowers and Trees is true to the superior reputation of Audubon's many hard copy field guides.
While the cost is somewhat high for an app, the Audubon Society Guides are full of information and images. Cost is $19.99 for the combo pack (includes birds and mammals).
— iVeggieGarden is an easy tool for planning, researching, and tracking your veggie garden.
It has customizable planting dates and includes ways to store notes and photos, research disease and pests, create a shopping list and track purchases. Cost is $9.99.
Check out Enroth's blog Green Speak at web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/ for more. Additional garden apps evaluations are also available on our website under program area Horticulture — Garden Supplements at web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/hort.html.
Our UI Extension horticulture websites are compatible with the magic black boxes. Bookmark them at web.extension.illinois.edu/state/hort.html.
You can't text a tomato or unfriend an onion, but the winter months are the perfect time to check out gardening apps and let your green thumb get an indoor workout.
Information and opinions are supplied as a service to our clientele. The UI Extension does not promote the use or purchase of a particular product. Reference to specific companies does not imply endorsement by the extension, nor is discrimination implied toward any excluded.
Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email email@example.com  or fax 333-7683.