Author: Heather (page 1 of 7)

Have a garden question? There’s an app for that.

This is a completely unsponsored post. I’ve just found this app useful and wanted to share it with you.

It’s no secret that I love podcasts. I listen to them while I clean the house, do the laundry, make dinner, and work on the computer. If you were to look at the podcasts I’ve subscribed to, you’d notice the topics range from science news to money and business to motherhood. And, of course, gardening.

It was on one of these gardening podcasts that I first learned about the topic of this post – a gardening app.

One day last year I was listening to the We Dig Plants podcast (they “put the culture in horticulture”) and they were speaking with one of the developers of an app called “GrowIt! Mobile“. A gardening app that is also a social media platform? I was intrigued, so naturally I downloaded it. My first impression wasn’t all that favorable – it seemed fairly limited in its usefulness. However, with some recent (read: in the past few months) updates, I’m becoming a bigger fan.

With GrowIt! you can post pictures of your plants, or you can also create projects that can be public or private where you can showcase something you are working on or simply just gather ideas for the future.

With GrowIt! you can post pictures of your plants, or you can also create projects that can be public or private where you can showcase something you are working on or simply just gather ideas for the future.

The idea of a garden app isn’t new; I’ve tried various apps, usually from different Extension programs, and they’ve all been fairly similar – you can select a plant from a list and you’ll be able to see the pertinent information for growing it (sunlight, water needs, growing time, etc.) The GrowIt! app, though it tells you all those same things, puts a different spin on it by calling it a way to “garden socially”. Instead of simply selecting a plant from a list, you can interact with other gardeners in your same area to rate various plants, ask for plant i.d. or other gardening help, or chime in with your own two cents on which plants are best to grow in the shade in your area.

Besides showcasing your own plants, you can search for plants that might grow well in your area.

Besides showcasing your own plants, you can search for plants that might grow well in your area.

The way it works is you create a profile (which can be as simple as a username) and using the GPS in your phone, it automatically pull into your feed pictures and questions from other GrowIt! Mobile users within a certain distance. You can change your location as well as the range it will pull from, and this can be a tricky part of the app. You want your range big enough to pull in other users to make it useful. But on the other hand, you’ll get the best advice and answers to questions from people who live in a similar climate and geographic location that you do. After that you can scroll through and admire the plants that others are growing, you can answer questions that might show up, or you can post pictures of your own plants and ask your own questions. Another features is the “Projects” tab where you can create your own projects (that can remain private, or be shared publicly) or you can follow along on others’ gardening projects.

The most useful (in my opinion) features of the app are the "plant identification" and "ask a question" options.

The most useful (in my opinion) features of the app are the “plant identification” and “ask a question” options.

I do have a couple of complaints about it. First, the number of plants in their database is obviously not infinite – there are plants that just don’t show up from their pick-lists when you’re trying to identify something, and this is especially true of weeds. On more than a few occasions I have come across a “Help Me Identify This Plant” questions/photo, with the plant in question being a weed. But because the plant name doesn’t occur in the database, I have to leave a comment instead of just identifying it, and I think that sometimes that makes things confusing. That being said, the list has expanded in the time I have been using it, and I imagine it will keep expanding. It also tends to be a little glitchy, and doesn’t always refresh well. All in all, these are minor complaints.

There is one area of the app that I still just don’t really get, and that is the “Gro-wards”. I guess maybe because I’m not a gamer, the idea of growing a pretend plant just doesn’t appeal to me. So I use the app to try and be helpful to others, to get some of my own questions answered, and to spark some ideas for my own current and future gardens; and I don’t really care what my “Grow-ward Level” is.

In the end, I think what I’ve decided is that the app is only as good (and as useful) as the community who uses it. In areas where there are more users, you’re able to connect with more gardeners and really make it a way to garden socially.

With all of that, I have an invitation: would you like to join me on GrowIt! Mobile? Connect with me (I’m heathersgarden) and we can swap plant ideas and tips.

Get Outside – Gardening with Kids

I saw an ad today that said we spend 95% of our time indoors; that we were facing an “indoor epidemic”. Now, I know a few people for whom this is not accurate at all, but sadly for the majority (and even more sadly, for me lately) is that it’s probably pretty close.

I used to spend the majority of my work time from April – September outside. That’s just what happens when you work in weed science. But over the years I’ve been finding myself at my computer more often than out in a field, and especially since having a baby and transitioning to working from home I spend all of my work time inside.

But it’s not just for work that I’ve found myself staying inside. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses for staying indoors – it’s hot and we don’t have a lot of shade anymore since they took down the tree and I don’t want Grace (or myself) to get sunburned, Grace is napping so I should stay inside, I just cleaned Grace up and don’t want her crawling through the grass and dirt again, etc. Notice a trend? I keep blaming it on my baby! This is the complete opposite of the mom I envisioned I’d be while pregnant.

I want my girl to love the outdoors, and I don’t want to be the one that’s getting in her way.

Which is one reason why I make it a point to involve her with my gardening. Sure, she likes to pour all the water out of the watering can all over herself. Sure, she likes to taste the dirt and get it all over her hair and face. And, sure, I might lose a few leaves from my strawberry or onions. But I *think* in the end that having a girl who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty and exploring the great outdoors will be worth any plant casualties or extra loads of laundry.

Do you have experience gardening with kids? What are your tips? Or what do you do to get outside?

The Right Plant for the Right Place

This post isn’t meant to get in to the ethics or morals (or lack thereof) of big-box stores. It’s just an observation from a recent perusal of my local Wal-Mart’s Garden Center, and a caution to new (and experienced) gardeners.

We were nearly out of toothpaste and sunscreen, so yesterday I decided to run to Wal-Mart to pick them up. As I got out of the car I noticed the big outdoor section of the Garden Center, and as I’ve been busy dreaming up the landscape for our soon-to-be new home, I decided I’d walk through for a bit of inspiration.

On the second table of plants I looked at, (the first held some saddish looking roses, so I didn’t spend much time there) I found three that caught my eye. Not because they were flowering and beautiful (though one did have flowers), but because they seemed rather out of place.

The first was heather (Erica vulgaris). A small, kind of scrubby looking plant, but touted to be a great plant for tough sites with cute little flowers in the spring. That sounds all well and good, until you turn the label over and see this:

heather label

Notice that second bullet point? “I prefer acidic, fertile but well-drained soil…” Utah known to have alkaline soils; the opposite of acidic. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t successfully grow Heather here, but it would definitely take more work than is implied on the label.

The next was an azalea (Azalea sp). Beautiful plants, but not something I think of when I think of Utah landscapes. It fits better in Seattle, or a similar environment. The Azalea label was very similar to the Heather:

azalea label

See that second bullet point again? “I do best in slightly acidic, organic-rich soil…” Once again, not impossible, but one that could definitely be a struggle.

As I looked up from the azalea, I noticed some yellow pea-shaped flowers, and I thought to myself, “No. That can’t be. Could it?”  I came around to the other side of the table, and unfortunately it was what I thought it was (or at least very close): a broom. The reason for my surprise? Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) was recently included on the Utah Noxious Weed List. Now, this particular “Flowering Broom” is Cytisus x praecox.

flowering broom flowering broom label

That x indicates that it is a hybrid, which gave me hope that maybe this particular broom wouldn’t have the potential to spread into unwanted areas. I had that hope until I was reading a description of it on the Monrovia website where it states that one of its attributes is that “it fits into wild landscapes where it naturalizes”. If it naturalizes – reseeds or otherwise propagates itself to spread – in your yard, it is also likely to naturalize outside of it. Not a problem if you live in a dense urban environment, but very much a problem if you live near the foothills of Utah’s mountains. Or if you live in many other areas of the western United States – Scotch broom is also on the noxious weed lists for Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, and Hawaii.

Besides the questionable choice of selling a plant that is closely related to a noxious weed, I think that nothing so quickly quashes the enthusiasm of a new gardener as the disappointment of a failed planting. Obviously I suggest that people know and understand what hardiness zone they garden in, and that they should get a soil test to see whether they have an acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) soil. But this is also another lesson in reading labels: just because it is being sold in your town doesn’t make it the right plant for the right place.

Garden Tour: Tulip Festival at Ashton Gardens

This is the first in what I hope is a continuing series of Garden Tours: virtual tours of the gardens I visit, both public and private. If you know of a garden you think I should visit, let me know in the comments below.

Tulips often evoke images of the dikes and windmills of Holland; generally not the semi-arid Utah desert or the rugged Turkish or Persian steppe. Yet every year in mid- to late-April, these three places – Utah, Turkey, and Holland – become intertwined in the annual tradition of Tulip Festival.

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#EarthDay Special: evolution from bud to blossom

apple bud

apple buds expanding

apple bud petals 1

apple bud petals 2

open apple blossom

apple blossoms

Happiness is…gardening

Earlier this year I had the crazy thought that I wouldn’t plant a garden this year. I’ve got a new baby, I’m still working part-time, we’ll be moving into a new house this summer so by the time we get in it might be too late to get a garden in, etc. Basically I almost had myself convinced that planting and maintaining a garden would just be too much work.

And then I realized that I just couldn’t not plant a garden. And I also realized that the way I’ve been doing a lot of my gardening the last few years – aka in buckets – really cancels out all of my previous concerns:

  • They are portable! I can plant them now, here at my apartment, and then whenever we happen to move, I can easily take them with me.
  • They are easy to maintain – besides daily watering and an occasional feeding with fertilizer, they don’t need too much fussing. (Read: no weeding here!)
  • I can plant my lettuce and spinach and onions now, and if I don’t get to planting a tomato (because I must have garden-fresh tomatoes in the summer) until we move, it will still have enough time to mature.

So, in the spirit of National Gardening Month, I planted up my bucket garden – at least a couple buckets worth of it – last week and I am oh, so happy I did.

Gardening really is good for the soul. (Well, my soul, at least.)


Is gardening a happiness boost for you?

It’s Spring Again!

With yesterday being the first official day of spring, a lot of people’s thoughts turn to gardening. Maybe you’ve still got snow where you live, but you’re itching to see something green. Or maybe it has felt like spring for a couple weeks now, but you’re wondering when it will be safe to start planting. To help answer some of your questions, or satisfy your need for green, I’ve rounded up some of my “getting ready to garden” posts:

Hardiness Zones

When Can I Plant?

Bucket Gardening 101 and Bucket Gardening Video

The Dirt on Soil

Starting Seeds Indoors (1)

Starting Seeds Indoors (2)

Hardening Off Plants


I’m interested to know what the gardening timeline looks like in your neck of the woods. Is it at your doorstep? Or still only a distant dream?

Either way, when the time comes, Happy Gardening!

Weed ID Books: A Review

In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, my next plant id book review will focus on weed identification. An obviously important part of becoming more “weed aware” is to know the names of the weeds you are looking at. Once you know the name of the weed then you can start figuring out what to do about it.

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National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Did you know that this week (February 27-March 4, 2017) is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW, for short)?

Well, now you do. Continue reading

Wildflower ID Books: A Review

The snow may be melting here, but I know that getting new snow is still a very real possibility. And it could happen all the way through April. Or May. Or even June. I remember a couple years getting snow in June. But luckily from here on out any new snow we do get probably isn’t going to stick around for too long.  Well, at least down here in the valley. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains – and that’s a good thing – but the truth is, I’ve already started dreaming about summer, and hiking, and wildflowers.

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