Yes, There IS an APP for THAT!

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

Here to stay, our smart phones are no longer the contentious item in the field, truck, or office. When we may have heard, “No phones allowed on the jobsite,” we now might be hearing, “What does your APP say that is, anyway?” Sure, there is a place for rules about cell phone use with employees. There are serious safety concerns about being distracted by phone use, time wasted with phone use, and even how it looks to a client to see crew members continually glancing at a screen, but consider the many, many beneficial uses of cell phones at work before you snap out a quick “not allowed.”

From plant identification, insect ID, diseased leaf ID, or up-to-date weather conditions, there are useful APPs in all price ranges, and for all sorts of terms of use. Be careful of the APPs that are free, for a limited time, then roll over to a cost per month or annual fee. Be aware that some APPs have a free version and also offer a version at a cost, and determine if you get exactly the level of information you need with the free version or if that annual cost upgrade might serve you better.

Once you get the comfort level needed with an APP, chances are you will investigate more and even recommend more APPs to your colleagues and crew. Be considerate, however, and manage your expectations of crew members downloading APPs on their own phones for company use. That should be an individual decision and not a requirement. Showing the benefits and uses of a cell phone APP to a crew member might net you the result you want, but you can’t show any favoritism to employees who choose to use their own phones for work-related APP downloads and work day use.

Plant ID apps, disease ID characteristics and insect ID APPs are three to consider first. Bear in mind, not much can truly replace person-to-person expertise, so don’t overlook the services offered through our own UNH Cooperative Extension service for these types of questions, since they are working from the very local information and very local solutions that may be best suited for your situation. But, general ID questions and solutions are available, reliable, and instantaneous, through:

LEAFSNAP – put a piece of paper (for a plain white background) in back of foliage from a flower, tree or shrub, and get an answer IF it’s a plant located here in the Northeast. This won’t work when we can travel again and you are in a tropical paradise and want to ID a particular bromeliad, but for here, and now, this is a convenient go-to APP for quick identification and some info on habitat, culture, care, and propagation, for example.

PICTURE THIS is a great example of an APP with levels of participation. It could be great to start with the limited, free version and see if that gives you the accuracy you are looking for. It not only offers quick plant ID info, but will give info on possible growing conditions, or diagnose some simple, straightforward problematic situations.

PICTURE INSECT is it’s related APP, and excellent for field ID, since it contains extensive info on insects in all stages of their lifespan and how they look at different stages. Be cautious of some insect ID apps that may be limited in the photos they need to identify specimens you send photos of.

For help with design and planning a garden or landscape work, consider the following:
iSCAPE – this APP will take a digital photo of your site and then you plug in various plants to see how they will look with a bit of maturity added to the plant profiles – before you buy any material or install anything at all.

PERENNIAL MATCH will help with those difficult conversations when a customer would like to see all their favorites in their front garden, but you realize those plants require very different soil, light, water, or space needs. This APP will let you plug in types of plants you are looking for and return what is compatible with what, with similar characteristics.

Citizen Science projects are effective, when monitored and checked for accuracy, as they are through:
iNaturalist takes your photo, question, or note and adds to the growing database of plants, problems, and pests, and shares that information. The data there is helpful to research projects worldwide, and to help conservation organizations check for large trends worldwide or in a specific region. Plants you might submit for identification are ID’ed through the huge data base, but you may get an answer with general genus or family if there isn’t enough data in the photo (poor lighting, other features in photo) for the artificial intelligence can’t get enough info from your photo.

A good plant or insect ID APP may offer you several selections, and from those, you can use your knowledge to whittle out wrong suggestions, based on what you know of your location, for instance.
Take the time to explore these, or any one of hundreds of APPs available, to use in the field, or for training employees. Have some fun as you see what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, I just took a photo, of Warren Buffet, from my mouse pad stylized cartoon drawing of him as part of the Geico advertisement on the mouse pad. It took just moments for the APP to return the result, Colorado Potato Beetle, based on the limited distinctive features match-up from the photo to the templates in the vast data base.

And, remember, there’s nothing like an excellent working relationship with your suppliers, garden centers, and professionals who are supplying pesticide, herbicide, and organic products to help with identification and remedies of things you find at your job sites. Those are the people who know you, know the area, and know what they have seen and heard from others in the field. But, there is no reason not to scout for info available with the resources software developers have to create helpful and intriguing APPs! The interaction with a smartphone or tablet also can encourage some of your crew to be diligent and want to learn more as they see more front line to your clients and jobsites. Encourage all the uses you can from many sources as you investigate and grow reliant on. APPs are here to stay.