Gardening: Getting a little technical help to keep track of your plants

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Having moved to a condo, a morning ritual I miss is my walk in the  garden with my cup of coffee in hand. To my mind,  early morning was the best time to walk the garden, especially in summer. It’s a time to look at the garden with fresh eyes.

With no tools in hand, I wasn’t distracted by seeing a flower that had faded and needed to be deadheaded or a weed waiting be pulled. I used that quiet time to look at the big picture — landscaping issues I may have overlooked and any newly developing plant problems. 


Years ago, I might take along a notebook to document issues, but today I tuck my phone in my pocket because a picture is truly worth a thousand words.  Instantly I can document the plant ID, its location and symptoms. 

A good website to use to find out what the ID  of unknown plants by picture using your phone is the PictureThis app (  This online plant encyclopedia is a fast and easy way to identify plants that is trusted by biologists and plant lovers around the world.  With it you can identify more than 10,000 plant species!

Plant ID is critical, especially now when so many new varieties are hitting the market, so keeping identification tags is also important. 

In the case of newly planted plants, most of the problems are environmentally related. Plants purchased from a greenhouse and not hardened off before planting are vulnerable to sun burn, wind burn or a spate of cold weather.  Of course, soil moisture is also an issue, especially with newly planted plants. Trees and shrubs should be watered daily for the first two weeks after planting.

Later in the season, insects and diseases may become an issue.  Catching them when they first develop may make the difference between life and death. The PictureThis app also covers the identification of diseases of houseplants and garden plants and how to deal with them. 

And animal damage from birds, rabbits, deer, woodchucks, moles and voles are also possible threats.   If you are new to an area, ask neighbors if any animals are a problem and visit a local garden center to find out what they recommend to deal with them. 

If you’re new to gardening, YouTube  is also a great how-to source that takes the mystery out of how get the best out of your garden.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at