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Ask a Master Gardener: Computer programs and apps can help keep the garden organized

Day One is one of several phone apps that can help organize your gardening. Image from www.9to5mac.com

Q. Every year I am determined to be a more organized gardener. I think I will remember what and where I planted and what varieties of flowers and vegetables worked well, but I never do. I have tried a garden journal, but never remember to use it. Are there any free or cheap apps or computer programs that you recommend?

A. There are a lot of great organization methods out there but, as you have found, they still require a little input from us.

Many people use computer programs they already have, like Word or Excel or the free Google Docs or Google Sheets to keep track of varieties, any problems with insects or disease, and how well they produced. Spreadsheets also make it easy to do the math when determining planting dates and such. PowerPoint allows you to draw rudimentary maps of your garden and it allows insertion of photos, which could also be of hand-drawn maps.

Day One is an easy-to-use app for computers or phones that is designed for journaling, but it can easily be used to keep garden records. You can add pictures from your phone and tag words so you can later search for any time you mentioned something like "fertilizer." The basic program is free. For $25 per year, you get more features, such as being able to record audio (with the option of converting speech to text) and synching between your devices.

Evernote is another popular program that allows you to easily take notes and add pictures. It has free and paid ($8 per month) versions.

My phone's camera is my biggest helper. I take pictures of everything and then move them into different folders — weeds, good bugs, bad bugs, etc. Once I identify the subject, I write its name on the picture, using the phone's "markup" feature. It is particularly helpful when I am trying to figure out if a plant is a weed. I take pictures as it grows, and once I figure out what it is, which is often not until it is blooming, I can identify it if it appears the next year.

I also have a folder of photos for plants and combinations that I want to buy again, annotated with the quantities to buy. Photos, or lack thereof, of pruners or fertilizer remind me if I got around to using them. If I did prune or fertilize, the automatic dates on the pictures tell me when. Pictures of seed packets or plant labels followed by photos of where they were planted are also helpful.

Still, it seems like every year I think I don't need to document some plants because I will remember what I planted. Then the tag gets lost, I forget what's in that garden bed, and once again I resolve to do better next year.

Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to features@duluthnews.com.

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