Does someone you know meet these criteria?

1. Own a smart phone or tablet computer

2. Have dirt under their fingernails

3. Appear on your holiday gift list

Then I think I've got one stocking stuffer that, for $2.99, is impossible to pass up. (You might want to drop a hint to Santa so you're not left out of the fun.)

Home page for app

Plant Finding Power at Your Fingertips

Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens is a power-packed iOS or Android app that fills in the planting design lobe of your brain. With just a few taps at the screen this beautiful-to-look-at, easy-to-navigate software marvel will lead you to nearly 100 plants that are often left out of other resources.

"Small gardens are a passion of mine and where I have the most experience," says Susan Morrison, landscape designer, coauthor (with Rebecca Sweet) of Garden Up: Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces (Cool Springs Press) and frequent contributor here at Fine Gardening Magazine.

Susan Morrison

"With homes getting bigger and properties getting smaller, it's increasingly important to scale plants to the space you have." And even if you garden a large property, most designers will tell you that dividing your yard into smaller "rooms" is a great way make it feel even larger.

Lean and Clean

To be completely accurate, Foolproof Plants currently contains a data base of 98 plants categorized by more than a dozen design uses like colored foliage, privacy screening, drought tolerance as well as by floral colors. I say "currently" because the program has already experienced one growth spurt and more are likely to be on the way.

And although Morrison hails from the benign growing conditions of the San Francisco Bay Area, she was savvy enough to draw on the expertise of other horticultural experts from around the country, so the list ranges from USDA Zone 10 down to 5 and even tips its hat to a few great plants in 4.   

List screen shot Sorting list
Find your USDA Zone  List of all app features

Now, before you start getting all "but I'm not into tech gadgets" on me, let me put your mind and finger tips to rest. You'll be up and running in minutes, discovering great plants for your garden. This is software with great power while being extremely beginner-friendly, not just from a navigability perspective, but also its horticultural content.

ToMAYto or ToMAHto?

Foolproof Plants lets you search based on your USDA Zone, then breaks that list down by categories – trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers and lots more. For example, under "grasses" for Zone 7, I found nine choices and tapping on Pennisetum orientalis / Chinese Fountain Grass, I arrive at a gorgeous photograph of the specimen and lots of valuable information to help me decide whether or not to invite this plant into my garden: water and sun needs, size and zones (including Sunset), a pronunciation guide with Morrison's clear, soothing voice (saving you embarrassment at hoity-toity horticultural cocktail parties!), design uses, cautions (This one rarely self-sows, but check in your zone to make sure it's not invasive) reliable maintenance tips (Cut back to 3" in midwinter; divide when clump becomes too large) and similar cultivars.

Chinese Fountain Grass
Grasses for Zone 7 Oriental Fountain Grass Data

Wait, wait! This is so cool. If you decide you can't go on living without at least one oriental fountain grass in next year's garden, there it is, glowing at the bottom of the screen, beckoning you to tap. Yes, "Purchase Online" links you to a nursery website where you can close the deal!

There are other ways to use Foolproof Plants. "Take it with you when you visit the garden center," recommends Morrison. "Nurseries don't organize their stock based on size, so this way you can narrow your hunt."

Lovely to Look At

Caryopteris photo
Great photos!

The photo library is another way to track down the right plants for the right place. When I'm developing plant palettes for a garden I'm designing and my brain isn't cooperating, I usually reach for my printed books and start flipping pages. Sometimes I find the right plant, but just as often I see a picture of a plant I can't use but it reminds me of the one I need. That's what you get flipping through a colorful grid of hi-resolution thumbnail photos until you find something you like. 

If that were all this app did for less than the price of your morning latte, it would be a marvel. But it also lets you create a "Favorites" list so you can keep track of your best candidates. Need more features? How about emailing the plant's info directly from the app to a fellow garden lover. Another bonus, you can post a comment or question about a plant so Morrison can reply.

One more great feature for beginners, as well as seasoned gardeners, is a surprisingly robust source of useful, concise horticultural information about soil, planting basics, soil testing, soil amending, with most articles accompanied by clear photographs demonstrating the topic.

Simple to Purchase

The easiest way I can think of to put this great tool on the smartphone of your choosing is to purchase either an iTunes or Google Play gift card. Then put it in an envelope with a note clearly stating "For the Purchase of an Uber Cool Garden Design App" and devote a few sentences gushing about Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens, developed by Sutro Media. Then launch it on your own electronic device and get ready for spring planting season.

itunes card Google Play card

Do you already have Foolproof Plants on your smart phone? I'd love to hear about how you use it or any other thoughts you could share with my readers. Spread the wealth!

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