Using your iPhone or iPad to pick up some fresh garden ideas, learn about growing your own food, locate plant sources or sketch your garden plans has gotten easy and portable, thanks to the many gardening apps popping up recently. Here are a few to explore:
Grow Planner: This app from Mother Earth News is packed with features to help you plan and draw attractive vegetable garden layouts on digital graph paper in practically any shape and size. Weather data specific to your location and color-coded spacing requirements for more than 140 vegetable, herb and fruit varieties are programmed into the database. There is even a multi-year reminder to let you know when to rotate crops to avoid pest and disease damage. You can add journal information, register for optional newsletters and access backup support via email. For iPad, $9.99.
Food Gardening Guide from Mother Earth News: The free app for iPhone, iPad and Android, also from Mother Earth News, includes a wealth of basic gardening information from experts about how to grow vegetables from artichokes to zucchini, and techniques including watering wisely and preventing diseases. A quick-search resource helps find specific varieties in online catalogs.
Peterson's Feeder Birds of North America and Peterson Birds of North America: With iPhone or iPad in hand, you and your kids can tap and swipe your way through this free, illustrated guide to birds that are likely to visit back-yard feeders. Included are range maps, descriptive text, audio recordings of their songs and a list for personal sightings.
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For a more comprehensive guide, Peterson's Birds of North America, which won the 2011 Best App Ever award in the outdoor category from 148 Apps.com, is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch at $4.99. In addition to the audio recordings, sightings journal and life list, you can access specific county checklists from Cornell University databases to determine which birds have been spotted recently in your locale.
Better Homes and Gardens: There is added enjoyment in reading magazines using the more interactive and lively medium that apps have to offer. Better Homes and Gardens, already a trustworthy and reliable source for decorating and horticultural ideas, shows more vibrant creative color in an app format. In the April issue, an animated frog moves around an illustration, and headings can be tapped to reveal extra, in-depth detail. Readers can submit "I Did It" essays, sharing projects they've completed. The annual iPad subscription is $14.99, but it is free for print subscribers. Annual rates for Better Homes are as low as $5.99.
A Garden Life Magazines: With its premiere issue released in March, A Garden Life is a magazine created solely as an app. It's aimed at encouraging a rewarding and healthy lifestyle revolving around garden goodness, and it has a clean format and inviting photographs. Tapping links on feature pages can take you to the authors, or direct you to Twitter; others link you to topical Web sites and product sources. It's free for iPad and Android users.
Lawn Envy: Want a portable reference for what could be hurting your lawn, or tips on how to make it look great? Newly released Lawn Envy has photos and descriptions of commonly encountered weeds, diseases and insect damage to help identify "lawn issues." A calendar to which you can add lawn-care events and alerts is included, and there are tips for when to seed and how to care for your lawn. Connect to "Ask the Expert," with an easy-add photo option, if all else fails. For iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, $1.99.
Leaf Snap: Here you can find portrait photos of tree and shrub leaves and other parts. Swipe away through this field-guide photo gallery until you find the one you're looking for, then tap to learn more. You can submit your own "snaps" of a leaf against a white background to this visual-recognition software program. Location services identify where nearby registered species can be found. This joint project of the Smithsonian Institution, Columbia University and the University of Maryland is free for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.