I'm a green thumb, but also techno dumb. Out in the garden, I'm at home with my shovel and pruners. At the computer, I can manage the basics, but new gizmos and gadgets make my head spin.
Then along comes the Easy Bloom Plant Sensor, the first Internet-connected gardening tool billed as "the easy way to a beautiful garden." The high-tech sensor measures sunlight, temperature, humidity and soil moisture, then recommends the best plants for your garden from its Web site database of 5,000 plants.
Old-fashioned gardening suddenly is high-tech. There's no more hiding behind the compost bin or in the garden shed. It's time to take off the dirty gardening gloves, sit down at the computer and put Easy Bloom to the test.
The Easy Bloom package includes a plant sensor, USB cable, stand, AAA battery and instruction manual. The sensor device, which resembles one of those at-home pregnancy sticks with a plastic flower at the top, is plugged into the USB port on your PC or Mac where it connects to Easy Bloom's Web site. Simply follow the prompts to register, then you can begin testing.
Start by selecting from three testing modes: recommend, monitor or water. I started with what looked like the easiest, the water mode. Just stick the probe into the soil and the device chirps if your plant needs water. A helpful tool, I suppose, if you're new to gardening. But honestly, I prefer to stick my finger in the soil or eyeball my plant.
Next, I tried the recommend mode, which recommends plants based on a 24-hour reading of soil, air and sunlight measurements. I placed the probe outdoors in a shady spot. A day later I had my answer: Nothing would grow there. The sensor determined it was deep shade (less than one hour of direct light), the average daily temperature was 85 degrees, the night temp 78, humidity moderate and soil mostly dry.
I tried again, this time in a spot that gets direct afternoon sun. Easy Bloom found 2,485 plants that would grow there! The top recommendations included carnations, parsley, carrots and strawberries — plants that might be fine in other seasons, but not during Florida's hot and humid summer in a location with the hottest sun of the day.
Aha! Already skeptical of technology in the garden, I was convinced Easy Bloom was a bust! It didn't matter that it uses the same technology as NASA on the Mars Phoenix Mission, weather data from accuweather.com or that its high-tech algorithms interpret and analyze collected readings of thousands of plants. How could a little petal-topped, skinny probe stuck in the ground for a day determine plants to thrive in my garden year-round?
Then I noticed a neat feature: I could refine the results based on plant type, size, bloom color and season, leaf color, shape and features such as fragrance, pest and deer resistance and drought tolerance. I could even narrow the search to plants that attract birds and butterflies. Once I selected an individual plant, up popped botanical details and photos, which could be saved to my personal plant library. That, I liked.
The Web site also features discussion forums, plant care tips and articles (wow! Britney Spears is into gardening!), as well as links to purchase recommended plants.
Next, I tried the monitor mode, which determines what's wrong with an ailing plant. As instructed, I watered the plant and then put the probe in the soil. I chose a potted desert rose — not because it's sickly, but to see how its soil measures up. As I expected, Easy Bloom found that the soil held too much water during the 24-hour period. It needs amending with sand or gravel, or I could keep the probe in the soil and only water it when it chirps.
Gardening newbies and techno geeks will probably get a kick out of Easy Bloom, and they'll learn a lot about "right plant, right place." But this is Florida, where most of the rules about gardening are thrown out the window. Our soil is sandy, our summers are brutal and we've got salt and nematodes to contend with.
U.S. consumers spend more than $21 billion on plants each year, and nearly a third of those die within a year of purchase. I'd use Easy Bloom plant recommendations with caution, especially if you're new to Florida gardening or gardening in general.
It's a cute techno tool with a fun, colorful Web site, but I'll rely on my old-fashioned green thumb.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a Pinellas County master gardener. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.