While a glance out your window may still reveal some brown, muddy puddles (or worse: white, snowy mounds), it’s still about time to start thinking about your yard. As difficult as it was to dig out over this past winter, it could be just as hard to prepare your lawn and garden for better weather and better days ahead.
But short of hiring a landscaper, these eight apps may be the best ways to get some expert help for your yardwork this spring. Better yet, free or very low-priced, they’ll save you plenty of green over hiring a pro.
Eden Garden Designer
Tending a garden requires patience and vision, but this app helps to take the guesswork out of how things will look in full bloom. The iPhone-only app lets you snap a picture of your yard and then place in all manner of features, like flowers, bushes, and trees. A drag and drop interface lets users tinker in the yard without getting any dirt under their nails, while seasonal settings can show them how their yard will appear throughout the year.
There are more than 40 plants in the app, which may not be quite enough for constant gardeners, but people trying their hand at landscaping or setting up a new plot may find that to be a perfectly manageable amount.
Eden Garden Designer is available for $1.99 on the App Store.
Essential Garden Guide
Gardeners looking to shave their grocery bill are advised to download this guide for growing your own fruits and vegetables. With more than 30 vegetables and 10 fruits in its database, this iPhone app will tell you everything you need to know about planting, tending and harvesting, including how deep to put your seeds, how much light each crop needs, and how much soil acidity the plants will tolerate.
It’s a fairly simple app that puts green thumb information at your fingertips, and will pay you back in spades by cutting down on how much you pay for your favorite fruits and veggies all summer long.
Essential Garden Guide is available for $1.99 on the App Store.
Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens
Everyone from beginners to experts can learn something new about their yard through this comprehensive guide to landscaping. Written by master gardener Susan Morrison, the app blooms with information on more than 90 plants, tagged by climate zone, flower cover, drought tolerance and other details that will ensure you’re picking the right ground cover for your space.
In addition, it has great step-by-step guides on everything from planting grasses to laying down mulch. The only way this app could only be more helpful would be if it could push a wheelbarrow.
Developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institute, this field guide can help leaf-peepers identify the tree species they're looking at. With high-resolution, clear images of the tree’s particular leaf, fruit, flower, and even bark, the app makes it easy to discern plant life around you. Currently it only contains trees from the east coast of the United States, but with upgrades being made to the app all the time, there’s plenty of room to grow.
Leafsnap is available for free on the App Store.
Organic Gardening Magazine
Technically not an app (just like, technically, a tomato is not a vegetable), this downloadable version of the print publication Organic Gardening is even greener than the real thing, because it didn’t kill any trees being printed. With features, stories, and gardening tips dating back to the magazine’s early days in the 1940s, Organic Gardening goes to the roots of the home gardening movement, with colorful photos, well-researched tales, and more. Subscribers to the print version can download issues for free, while new readers looking to explore can either subscribe by the year or pick up an issue at a time.
Pulling together a garden with lasting appeal can be a tricky challenge. This universal iPhone and iPad app, while loaded with information and a little more complicated than other plant apps, is a great guide to making sure your crops are all compatible with each other, throughout the year. With the ability to set filters, the app will help you plant according to factors such as height, spacing, colors, season, and hardiness. In addition, information on the kind of critters, from deer to butterflies, that the plants attract can help to make your garden more lively than you originally imagined.
Perennial Match is available for $4.99 on the App Store.
Scott’s My Lawn
Sure the grass is always greener on the other side of the street, but that shouldn’t make you stop tending your own lawn. Published by the turf experts at Scotts, this app can not only tell you what to apply to your lawn to make it green and lush (spoiler alert: they recommend Scotts products), but it will also set geographic-oriented reminders to alert you when to apply the lawn food and pesticide.
The GPS map-based square footage calculator can help you determine exactly how big your green space is, excellent for figuring out how much fertilizer to spread. But one feature, the Weed Identifier, didn’t work (it allows you to send a photo of a weed in your yard to Scotts, but they never replied to mine).
With a crisp, clean interface and a library full of plants, Sprout It is a great iPhone and iPad app to inspire beginners to take control of their green spaces, whether those are big swaths of the backyard or container gardens on a patio. Vivid illustrations make this app easy on the eyes, helping users see what they're about to grow before they get going. But the smartest thing about Sprout It is how it pairs location-based data with weather information, helping gardeners think ahead when it comes to planting and watering.
Sprout It is available for free on the App Store.