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How many times have you seen someone’s sprinklers on during a rain storm? Or even worse, arrived home to find yours going while it’s pouring? I think you’ll agree that it’s a truly painful-to-watch waste of Mother Earth’s most precious natural resource. With today’s climate issues, where some parts of the country are living through significant droughts, it’s even more imperative that we be mindful of our water use.
Sprinklers and drip irrigation systems are some of the more efficient ways of watering your garden and, when used correctly, are invaluable in helping fruits, vegetables and other plants grow and thrive as part of a natural ecosystem. So how do we make sure we use them wisely?
Digitally Controlled Irrigation Makes a Garden 'Smart'
The good news is technology has a solution: the smart garden. An offshoot of the smart home that harnesses the power of the internet to help you conserve energy, the smart garden connects your landscape to the internet to more efficiently manage and conserve water use, while growing stronger, healthier plants.
Connecting your garden to the internet has a lot of surprising benefits. By giving your outdoor space “smarts,” you allow it to essentially think for itself. It can decide when it needs more water, fertilizer or other treatment, and tell you if it has a problem with insects, location concerns or other issues.
There are currently three main components to the smart garden:
1. Smart irrigation controllers – Automatic sprinkler and drip systems that create smart schedules and monitor the weather via the internet to manage watering intelligently.
2. Smart sensors – Small electronic chips embedded in devices that go in your soil to monitor nutrients, moisture levels and other pertinent factors.
3. Smart hubs – Central units that collate all the data coming from your smart garden devices and sends it to “the cloud,” where the data is compiled to determine the best way to manage your plants.
Smart Irrigation Systems
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller
Smart irrigation systems can cut your water use by up to 50 percent. These devices hook up to your existing irrigation system’s in-ground sprinklers, drip line or even just your garden hose to automatically take control of your watering. They “learn” your garden’s needs and create a watering schedule that will maintain your plants and vegetation while also saving water. They can adapt and change based on past, present and future weather patterns — so no more sprinklers running in the rain.
These devices can also configure themselves based on your soil type, shade amount and gradient level to further optimize your water usage. Even better, you have access to all this data and can dive deep into advanced analytics that show you how much water goes into different areas of your garden so you can manage your water use more efficiently. You can also control smart sprinklers remotely from your smartphone or computer.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, which certifies eligible devices with an EPA WaterSense Label, replacing a standard sprinkler timer with a smart irrigation controller can save a home 8,800 gallons of water a year.
“If every home in the United States with an automatic sprinkler system installed and properly operated a WaterSense labeled controller, we could save $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water across the country annually,” the EPA says. Additionally, to encourage these savings, many local water companies offer rebates that cover up to 50 of the cost of the devices.
PlantLink Smart Sensor
Think of smart sensors as having your thumb constantly stuck in your soil, with added intelligence that can track not only moisture but also ambient light, temperature, fertilizer and nutrition levels. Use one to monitor a particular problem area or plant, or set up a system of multiple sensors throughout your garden.
These devices can continuously feed your smartphone or tablet data on the health of your soil via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Most garden sensors come with an app that will chart the data for you and offer recommendations on how to better care for your plants, or help you decide which plants will thrive best in a particular area.
Green IQ Smart Garden Hub
The next step for the smart garden is to collate all the data being created by these separate smart devices and compile it into “actionable” data. A smart hub can do this. Green IQ is the leader in this emerging space and its hub, which is also a smart irrigation controller, can connect to a variety of smart garden devices from different manufacturers, such as sensors and weather stations, and use their data to determine what’s best for the whole yard.
Smart hubs deliver daily and weekly water usage and savings reports, visual indication of each zone's status and evapotranspiration and rainfall indicators, all crucial information to help you use your water wisely.
GreenIQ can also integrate with smart home technology. For example, a Nest Protect smart smoke alarm inside a house can talk to the GreenIQ hub and tell it to activate the sprinklers if a fire is detected in the home.
To date, the companies developing in the smart garden are largely new technology startups, but earlier this year lawn and garden stalwart Scotts Miracle-Gro announced its foray into the space. Instead of coming out with a standalone product, however, Scotts announced Gro, its “Connected Yard” platform.
Instead of a physical hub to collate and orchestrate all your garden’s data, Gro lives entirely on your smartphone or tablet as an app. It promises to be the brain of your garden, working with all the various smart garden devices you own and using that data to know what the recent weather and rainfall has been, what types of plants are most likely to succeed in each location, what the local soil type is, and what to do at each stage of the season.
“Previously complex tasks will be presented instead as bite-sized, highly visual, personalized instructions,” the company said in a press release. “We will offer the same type of advice a friendly, expert gardener would suggest if they lived next door.”
Gro’s Connected Yard is an open platform, which means other companies and startups can build and connect to it. Its launch partners include the smart water controllers Blossom, Rachio, Green IQ and Lono, and smart soil sensors PlantLink and Parrot.
The Future Garden
Whether you just want to dip your toe in the smart garden with a sensor or two or go all in and get your whole landscape online, you can benefit the health of both your garden and the planet by harnessing the power and knowledge of the internet to help you become a smarter gardener.
Jennifer Tuohy gardens at her home in Charleston, S.C., and also writes on home technology trends for The Home Depot online. Jennifer’s enthusiasm for smart home tech, especially for gardening, is often aimed at using tech to help keep our planet greener. Home Depot’s selection of smart tech for the home can be found online here. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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