Journal of the NACAA
Volume 11, Issue 1 - June, 2018
The Gardener's Almanac - Timely Tips for the Yard and Garden
- Gunnell, J. , Extension Horticulture Associate Professor, Utah State University
Goodspeed, J.L., Director, Utah State University Botanical Center
Whitesides, Director of Marketing, Utah State University
Pace, M., Undergraduate Student, Utah State University
Utah State University Extension has many landscape and gardening resources available. However, with 72% of the population owning a smartphone, it became apparent that a mobile app could be an innovative and effective way to disseminate information to a tech-savvy public. The Gardener’s Almanac was developed to provide the user with a comprehensive list of garden-related tasks and information listed by calendar month. Each month has corresponding tasks and gardening information gleaned from over 200 university factsheets, along with information on commonly encountered plant pests and problems with their associated control measures.
It is no secret that we live in a technology driven world. In the United States, 89% of the population uses the internet. Collectively, over 72% of the U.S. population owns some version of a smartphone. In the 18-34-year-old age category (commonly referred to as millennials), smartphone ownership skyrockets to 92%. Millennials lead with the highest percentage of smartphone users, but even among those 35 and older, an impressive 65% of the population owns a smart phone (Poushter, 2016). This younger, non-traditional extension clientele are accessing the internet using mobile devices more common than a traditional desk-top computer (Drill, 2012).
Millennials also lead at something else – they are the fastest growing population of backyard gardeners in the United States. Since 2008, the number of millennials who garden has increased 63%- growing to 13 million individuals involved in some form of gardening. They are a portion of the 42 million total households in the United States that are growing food at home or in a community garden (Sinnes, 2014).
Methods - Keeping up with the trend
Utah State University (USU) Extension recognizes the need to stay current in the digital age and successfully connects to the gardening community online via websites and webpages, including the Gardener’s Almanac webpage. For a span of two years, the authors worked in tandem with the USU Extension Marketing Team to build a comprehensive checklist of seasonal landscape and gardening tasks, hyperlinking to university factsheets and YouTube videos. The Gardener's Almanac website is broken up by calendar months, with over 200 hyperlinks linking to the extension-sponsored factsheets and videos. Creating a "clearinghouse" where a plethora of information is accessible from one location has proven to be an important feature of the website. The website has been viewed just under 12,000 times (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Gardener's Almanac website with hyperlinks.
However, as the smartphone statistics above prove, there is a growing need to take the information one step closer to the user. What would be able to combine the smartphone digital world and gardening? The answer: The Gardener’s Almanac mobile app.
App production is not new to the Extension world. Many apps are available to benefit Extension clientele in a variety of different branches of Extension work, including matching tractor implements (Dvorak et al., 2012), turf grass weed management (McCullough, 2011), fruit pest management (Murray, 2015), tree diseases (Beckerman, 2013), and even tree species selection (Kuhns, 2012). However, the Gardener’s Almanac app, based off the Gardener’s Almanac web page, is fresh and unique approach because it is the only Extension produced app available that has been created to introduce backyard gardeners to the various resources offered by USU Extension. The app more specifically outlines timely gardening tasks and information regarding seasonal pests of the home landscape, giving users appropriate control measures.
Results - The Gardeners Almanac mobile app
The Gardener’s Almanac app launched late in the 2015 season and has since had over 4,400 downloads. The app is free to download and is offered on iTunes and the Google Play Store. The app is static, meaning users can navigate through the app and look at PDF pages. The user-friendly app was not only a cost-effective way to package a large amount of information, it requires no input or set-up on the user’s end. The information is ready to use immediately after downloading.
The app is unique from other gardening apps because it answers questions like “What should I do?” and “When should I do it?” as the app suggests timely, step-by-step tips on gardening activities throughout the growing season.
When a user opens the app, the first thing they see is the year broken up into seasons. They then select the season and current month. Under that month, there are up to three subheadings, depending on the gardening needs that time of year (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Gardener's Almanac mobile app screenshot
The sections include the following:
The activities section refers to the physical things that the user should be doing that month. It includes instructions on planting, tilling, pruning, herbicide and insecticide application, weeding, harvesting, and fertilization.
The ideas section suggests things a gardener could learn to expand their gardening knowledge or prepare themselves for the followinggrowing season. For example, it suggests taking an extension gardening class, learning more about a technique to be used the following gardening season, taking a soil sample to determine fertilizer needs, attending a pruning demonstration, or composting workshop.
- Pests and Problems
The pest and problems section informs the user about what potential pests they couldbe seeing and how to best control them. It tells the user how to monitor for insect pests, diseases and other problems that are common that time of year and informs them regarding how they should combat these pests with research-based solutions.
The app also has a tab with the contact information of local USU Extension specialists that the user can contact if they have specific questions about their gardens.
Discussion – Goals of the mobile app
One of the overarching goals of the mobile app is to create more sustainable gardening practices, ecouraging the appropriate timing and application of fertilizers and pesticides, and to promote general gardening activities that will lead to healthy landscapes (composting and proper planting practices).
Another goal of the app is to provide easily accessible information to novice gardeners and homeowners. The app not only introduces users to the plethora of resources offered by Utah State University Extension, it provides them with information and timely tips regarding what to do and when to do it. Through app usage, we anticipate that a gardener will develop improved soil management techniques, gardening skills, and appropriate pest control measures.
Another goal of the app is to reach newer audiences, the millennial generation – since they are the fastest growing group of gardeners and have the highest percentage of smartphone users.
Analytic data shows over the past two seasons that app downloads is around 40 per month with usage peaking during the growing season, meaning users are getting on and checking during spring and summer months (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Seasonal downloads from Android devices (screenshot: March 1, 2018)
In a mobile, digital age, there is a need to capitalize on the high number of smartphones used by American’s today. Gardening in both backyards and community gardens is growing among younger Americans, and the Gardener’s Almanac brings gardening tips and information into the palms of their hands. The free app provides a simple, systematic approach to year-round gardening, and following the app’s suggestions will hopefully help backyard gardeners become more successful, expanding their gardening knowledge, and help the users become aware of potential pests and problems along with tools to help them control them using safe, research-based solutions.
Beckerman, J. L., & Sadof, C. S. (2013). Caught with your plants down? There's an app for that! Journal of Extension [online] 51(2), 2TOT3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2013april/tt3.php
Drill, S. L. (2012). Mobile applications for Extension. Journal of Extension [online] 50(5), 5TOT1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2012october/tt1.php
Dvorak, J. S., Franke-Dvorak, T. C., & Price, R. R. (2012). "Apps"—an innovative way to share Extension knowledge. Journal of Extension [online] 50(6), 6IAW2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2012december/iw2.php
Kuhns, M., Holmgren, L. (2012). USU tree browser. Utah State University Extension. Retrieved from: https://treebrowser.org/
McCullough, P. E., Waltz Jr, F. C., Hudson, W., & Martinez-Espinoza, A. D. (2011). Turfgrass management at your fingertips: information delivered through "smart" phone technology. Journal of Extension [online] 49(3), 3TOT10. Available at: https://www.joe.org/joe/2011june/tt10.php
Murray, M., et.al. (2015). Fruit pest finder. Utah State University Extension. Retrieved from: https://extension.usu.edu/apps/
Poushter, Jacob. (2016). Smartphone ownership and internet usage continues to climb in emerging economies. Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/
Sinnes, A. C., (2014). Food gardening in the U.S. at the highest levels in more than a decade according to new report by the National Gardening Association. Retrieved from https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/3819/