5 Computer-Based Strategies to Enhance Your Gardening Skills

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I’ll admit that I am not the most organized person in the world, but that’s all the reason more why I need to rely on my computer skills to enhance how I garden. Many of us spend more time in front of a computer screen, be it a laptop or at the office, than we do in the garden. Try some of these time-saving tips.

1. Copy and paste your valuable plant research into text docs.

Whether you are gardening or just writing a lot about it, we all need gobs of information handy about what we are planting, what the nutritional needs are and what the history of a plant is. We all know how difficult it can be to retrace your steps when searching for a plant online, which is why I prefer to copy and paste the most accurate information, be it tips, practical knowledge or just great ideas, into a text document such as in Microsoft Word. I title these docs with a logical name that makes sense to me (like “Zinnia Growing Tips”) and then file them nested into folders with an equally logical title (such as “Annuals”). Save the document online for access on the go.

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2. Use Pinterest secretly to save your best discoveries.

We all love Pinterest. It’s a useful source for discovering and sharing ideas. Even though you may love sharing your boards about what you can do with air plants and moss, I think that it’s OK to keep some ideas and inspiration secret (come on, we all do it!). I sometimes create a private Pinterest board where I save my most awesome discoveries and ideas — after all, gardening is a competitive sport!

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3. Create a spreadsheet of what you’ve grown (and update it often).

Have you forgotten about a specific heirloom variety you grew three years ago? Keep accurate records of what you have grown, and keep it updated in a simple spreadsheet. All good farmers keep good records, and there is no reason why home gardeners shouldn’t, too.

Use a program that you are familiar with (I use Microsoft Excel) and capture whatever information that you might think will be helpful. I find it very useful to save what varieties of heirloom tomatoes I grew (and over the past five years, there have been more than 100). It’s not hard to forget which variety I found most productive or whatnot. I may wish to try some varieties again, but I have forgotten where I bought the seed. Create fields for things such as the date sown, the germination rate, vigor and flavor. I even enter in the date I planted plants outdoors and the day of our first frost. In this way, it’s a bit like creating my own Farmers’ Almanac.

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4. Organize and back up that library of garden photos.

We never think about photo storage until we either get a warning that our hard drive is full, or when, God forbid, our computer crashes and we lose everything. It may be far too complex a subject to cover well in a tiny post, but I feel that I should share a few basic tips here. Take it from me — someone who takes more than 100,000 plant images a year — it’s best to keep things simple.

My simplest method when I am in a hurry is to copy my images into folders, each one labeled with the appropriate month. Because gardening is most logically a seasonal experience, it’s an easy way to segregate images quickly. I can sort them further when I have more time. You may wish to organize them only by season or holiday, or as I do, by the month and year. Later when you have some free time, you can select and save individual images by subject if you wish (such as “Peonies 2015″).

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5. Bookmark your frequently visited plant sources.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but when it comes down to it, few of us ever take the time to create bookmark folders for all of the sources we visit often. Even I forget where I found incredible lily bulbs that can be shipped from England. This is why I create bookmark folders for my favorite sources (some of them obscure), and these are saved in bookmark folders for bulbs, seeds, perennials, mail order trees and shrubs, fruits and berries and especially for supplies (waxed Japanese twine anyone?).

When I need to reorder my favorite English plant labels from the supplier with the name that I cannot remember, I can find my source with just a couple of clicks if I look in my “Garden Supply” folder.

Tip: Visit (or join) a plant society If you are looking for new sources and are having difficulty finding them. Start with any of the many plant society websites (such as the American Hemerocallis Society if you love day lilies, the American Dahlia Society if you are looking for dahlia sources or the Cactus Mall created by the American Cactus and Succulent Society if you are looking for sources for succulents).

These specialist societies often all have resource pages that are the go-to sources for the newest varieties, as well as for the most accurate research. It may take a new hybrid day lily, iris or hosta 10 years or more to reach your local garden center, but these small breeder sites offer their finest treasures earlier.

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