Useful Tools for Learning in the Garden: QR Codes and Readers

QR Code generated by bit.ly

Where does this QR code take you? Scan it & tell us in the comments section.

A recent spring trip to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas provided me with a great photo opportunity to share one of the best possible uses for using QR codes (in my humble opinion, anyway) – learning more about a garden’s plant collection.

What are QR Codes?

Why should gardeners or Master Gardeners care about a 2d barcode? QR Codes, short for quick response code, provide another option for people to get more information about plants, gardens, or really anything (I’m just talking about its use in the garden because this is the Extension Master Gardener blog). All you have to do is scan a simple QR Code (a 2d barcode graphic) with a QR Reader app on your smart phone. These QR codes are easy to generate  and print.  I generated the QR code to the left through a service called bit.ly by using these instructions.

For the end user, they are a quick way to connect to a website because  all you have to do is scan the QR code with your smartphone scan/reader app. (Note: I have used the app, ‘Scan’ for my iPhone. My colleague uses ‘QRDroid’ for her Android smart phone app. Both have worked well for us – but neither of us endorse either of these over other apps).

QR Code Uses in the Garden

Can you imagine the uses?  You can print QR codes on brochures, signs (think, plant sale), postcards, t-shirts or anywhere you’d like people to link to more information about your plants or program.

I took a sequence of photos (below) of how my colleague and I scanned a QR code from a sign at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Naturalistic Homeowner Inspiration Garden collection.  What is really great about using QR codes in public gardens is that you can immediately download and bookmark the plant collection list, or other pertinent information.  Thus, if I’m at the garden center sometime in the future, all I have to do is pull up my bookmarks and access the plant list.

Don’t see the slideshow above? See: QR Codes in the Garden Slideshow on Flickr

Examples of Gardens/Arboreta Using QR Codes

Below is a small list of some arboreta, gardens, or conservatories I have discovered (by searching Google) are using QR codes to provide additional information about plants or the grounds. I would imagine by next year, QR codes will be present in quite a few more places or publications. (Do you know of more garden places using QR codes? If so, let us know in the comments section)

If you think this might be interesting technology to use to communicate plant information or display information about your Master Gardener projects or programs,  see How to Use QR Codes for more details on how to produce and use QR codes.

Karen Jeannette
eXtension Consumer Horticulture Content Coordinator

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11 Responses to “Useful Tools for Learning in the Garden: QR Codes and Readers”

  1. Nancy says:

    What a great use for QR codes. I could use it in my landscape business. I’m frequently in nurseries shopping for clients and QR codes on the plastic tags could give me more detailed information. Could save me a return trip if I don’t have to go home and research online or in my library to determine plant combining, propagation techniques, pruning and maturity issues, etc.

  2. Karen Jeannette says:

    I agree, Nancy. I don’t jump for every tech gadget or app, but I think QR codes are really useful for putting the information you would like to know or store in a convenient place (i.e. your phone).

  3. Foy Spicer says:

    I work at a small not-for-profit arboretum in Indiana called Taltree. We just put in QRCs in our new Railway Garden. It’s been a great way to get more information to the public without littering the place with signage.

    We are hoping to get a grant from Verizon to have smart phones available for folks to check out.

    We would also like to use the QRCs for plant tagging as well. When the public scans the label they will get interesting information about the plants and the staff will have a special program that will give us the accession information. We’ll be able to keep up our plant inventory in the field. The staff gets smart phones next week and we can’t wait to put this all in play!

  4. Ray Eckhart says:

    I’m intrigued. We just completed our annual plant sale (record revenue – $8000+) and we have a year to figger it all out. Will definitely investigate. Thanks for the info.

  5. Karen Jeannette says:

    Foy, I never thought that you could have smart phones to check out. That would be a great way to ensure accessibility.

    Foy and Ray, Many thanks for sharing with us how you imagine you could use these QR Codes. We’d love to hear about how this may work out for you in the future. Keep us posted!

  6. Keith Hansen says:

    I finally had to find out what QR codes were all about. I downloaded the app to my Blackberry the other day. Interesting, I thought – tested it out when looking for a microwave – not so useful. Then, I had a brainstorm last night, about using QR codes in our MG demonstration gardens. Googled QR codes and garden, and came up with the Longwood site, and this one. Confirms the potential applicability of my non-original brainstorm. Thanks for your post. Now to figure out the best way to utilize them….. on plant name markers, or maybe just in strategic locations for pointing to our plant database, and maybe to websites on best landscape plant management techniques, etc. I would like to hear from others who have implemented them in their public demonstration gardens, and also, how to evaluate their usage (are people actually using them).

  7. Karen Jeannette says:

    Great questions, Keith. I think connecting people to your plant database would be an excellent way to use QR Codes. Anyway to highlight and increase the use of good database seems like a plus, and a handy tool for the users to connect with…

    I first learned about QR Codes in 2008. However, the last few months, there has been a ton of buzz about these little codes all over the web. I would imagine by next spring these will be even more common place, especially as smart and feature phone use continues to rise, and people (like yourself) realize the most useful and clever ways to use 2d barcodes to serve their audiences/clients.

    Some services have you register to generate the 2d-barcode, so tracking use, at least initially, seems to be fairly easy with sites with registration….I’ll have to look for some more examples on how people are using the QR Codes in the coming months, and report back more as I learn more.

    Until then, here is another blog post about 2d codes from a colleague of mine, you might want to check out: http://durablegardening.blogspot.com/2011/06/2d-barcodes-and-gardening-more-than.html

  8. Now that’s a cool way of using technology to learn about nature and help the environment. If this idea could be applied to endangered species of plants that’d be awesome..

  9. Jeniffer Sak says:

    I really enjoy my iPhone. It has all the apps that I could ever want. It also work’s so good that I don’t require anything else.

  10. Joel Hitt says:

    I appreciate the info on QRCs. I volunteered for a project out of UGA CAES in 2011 or 2012, where the goal was to provide QR code information about plants in a public nursery. It either never panned out or my name got dropped from the list of volunteers, or whatever. But I see a lot of possibilities for using QR codes as you walk around through a nursery or even a garden, to provide more information on the plant and its culture, range, care, and so on.

    I tested a QR code generator just now, to see how much information can be stuffed into one before it just can’t generate the code. A QR code in the large format can take a few hundred characters (I didn’t count them) before it maxes out. So that would be plenty of space to write a good intro to the plant’s biology, horticultural care, etc.

    Joel Hitt
    05/23/2013

  11. Terri Ceravolo says:

    Hey, Joel
    The best way to use QR codes is to have the code go to a dedicated web page where one can put as much info as needed/wanted.
    The QR code itself should be as simple as possible so the QR readers don’t need to deal with bad printing, dirt on the sign, pocket lint on the lens, whatever: the larger the format the greater the chance a pixel will be smudged or covered over, rendering it unreadable.
    cheers-
    Terri