Best smart sprinkler and hose controllers

These devices will make anyone's fingers seem green

The best connected garden kit

Keeping on top of your garden can seem like a full time job – so those with busy lifestyles can benefit from a dose of smart garden tech. From connected sprinkler and hose watering systems to weather stations and robot lawnmowers, there's no shortage of ways to use tech to keep your garden in great condition.

So, whether you're mad keen, a total amateur, live on acres of grassland, or in a tower block without so much as a window box, here's a seed to plant in your mind – the best smart garden devices that you can buy now…

Best smart sprinkler controllers

A smart sprinkler controller is a great option for putting your watering on auto pilot. There are smart devices for in-ground sprinkler systems or hose-based ones, with the common theme being they adapt to the weather to help you save water (and money) while keeping your garden healthy. Here's a look at some models we've tested. There are quite a few products in this space now, so we will update this guide with new reviews as we finish testing.

Smart fingers: The best kit for your connected garden

Rachio 3

From $140, Amazon | rachio.com

Rachio’s smart sprinkler controllers are a class above the (growing) competition. Simple to use, easy to install, with an excellent app that keeps you informed to what it’s doing so you really don’t have to do anything - this is smart home tech at its best.

Rachio replaces your existing irrigation clock and controls your in-ground sprinklers in the same way, only instead of having to program your schedule on a tiny, confusing screen or with a dial, you can do it on a smartphone or let Rachio create a schedule for you (there’s also a web-interface).

Rachio uses hyperlocal internet weather sources to determine when to water your garden based on the weather. During set-up you tell it what type of vegetation and landscape is in each zone, and it will also adapt its watering to those - so grass will get more frequent, shallower watering, whereas shrubs and trees deeper, less frequent applications. This combination should result in a healthier landscape while using less water.

There are two models of Rachio - Rachio 2 and Rachio 3, both come in a 8 or 16 zone model - we have tested both and the main differences are that Rachio 3 can connect to 5 GHz Wi-Fi and HomeKit, and is compatible with Rachio’s new Flow Meter (which tracks leaks and pressure in your irrigation system).

The other reason to go for 3 is a new feature called Weather Intelligence Plus. This promises more accurate weather forecasting, thanks to pulling its data from a variety of sources - satellite, radar, and weather stations. All this means Rachio 3 is better at letting Mother Nature do the heavy lifting for you - helping save you water and potentially cutting your bill by as much as 50%.

Rachio 2 uses Weather Intelligence too, just not with the Plus, pulling from fewer sources. If you live in an area with predictable weather, or have a personal weather station set up, you won’t need this, but if those situations don’t apply to you, it’s worth the extra $50 in our opinion to get the better ‘smarts.’

Best smart sprinkler and hose controllers

Once you have Rachio installed and your zones set up (the app walks you through this), next you set up your watering schedule. There are three options Fixed, Flex Monthly, and Flex Daily. Fixed means your garden will water when you want it to, whereas the flex schedules give the system the ability to choose which days and times based on when it thinks is most optimal.

With any option you can select blackout days and times, if you have watering restrictions and choose to apply “weather Intelligence” - which uses the system’s “smarts” to change the schedule if rain, a freeze, or high wind is forecast. Rachio will also automatically adapt based on the seasons. All of these settings are totally customizable to suit your garden - or you can just let it do its thing, which it does very well.

Surprisingly we found the smart home integrations really useful. Being able to ask Alexa or Google to stop watering because someone is coming up the driveway or telling Siri on your Apple Watch to shut off the zone by the patio as you are walking out there, is pretty nifty. Integration with SmartThings and IFTTT presents some useful opportunities too, including having the sprinklers turn on as a security deterrent if an outdoor camera senses motion, or come on when it’s super hot as an incentive to get the kids to go play in the yard.

the ambient verdict
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller
Rachio is like a smart thermostat for your sprinkler system, it intelligently adapts to the weather, sets up a schedule for you, and adapts it to save you money while keeping your yard healthy. Integration with every smart home ecosystem (yes, even HomeKit) give you lots of options for working your sprinklers into your smart home. It is expensive though, and there are only limited options for controlling your sprinklers directly on the device, leaving you out of luck if the internet is out. But if you're looking for a smart way to control your in-ground sprinklers, this is the gold standard.
PROS
  • Super easy set-up
  • Excellent app
  • Nice hardware
  • HomeKit compatible
  • Set it and forget it
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Not many physical controls
  • Not weatherproof

Best smart sprinkler controller and garden sensors

Hozelock Cloud Controller

$219.99, Amazon | hozelock.com

Smart watering systems can be pretty complex – requiring you to set up the system and a bunch of connected valves; but Hozelock's Cloud Controller is the closest thing we've found to a plug-and-play system.

The Cloud Connector fits onto your tap and then your hosepipe connects to the bottom – and it's powered by a couple of AA batteries. Hozelock's connectors are pretty universal, so if you're short of connectors, you'll be able to get yourself connected quickly. It requires a hub to be attached to your router, and the two are paired via the smartphone app. That process was pretty painless.

Once connected you can set up a schedule and the app does the rest, essentially opening and closing the valve when required. There's a button on the front which lets you over-ride the timer and get water on demand. That's a bit of a faff as it requires, for some reason, about 4 presses to make water spurt out – and the same again to stop it – while your feet are getting wet.

Despite the presence of the hub, connectivity was still an issue. Ours constantly disconnects and reconnects from the tap controller, and warns me via a push notification, pretty much every day. The schedule still works, which is good, but it's still an irritation (my property isn't even big, we're talking 30ft between router and tap.)

There's also a lack of environmental input. When you open the Hozelock app it actually tells you today's weather, but still doesn't allow for automated override of the schedule should it be raining. You can temporarily pause/amend your schedule easily from within the app, but it doesn't even prompt to say "hey it's raining, do you want to defer 24 hours?" You just have to remember.

the ambient verdict
Hozelock Cloud Controller
Unlike some of the mind-boggling smart sprinkler controllers out there, the Hozelock Cloud Controller is simple, easy-to-use and for most people will be an out-of-the-box solution. Within 10 minutes we had an automated watering system that kept our garden watered perfectly. It misses a few tricks, and could be a lot smarter, and the range of the hub leaves a lot to be desired – but that doesn't stop us recommending an excellent system.
PROS
  • Easy to set up
  • Uses standard fittings
CONS
  • Disconnects a lot from hub
  • No automated weather controls


Best weather station

If you don't want to go all out on watering systems, you can still smarten up your garden with some high tech sensors to help you keep an eye on the weather. Check out our favourites:

Smart fingers: The best kit for your connected garden

Netatmo Weather Station

$149.99, Amazon | netatmo.com

Say hello to the 21st century's take on home meteorology. The Netatmo Weather Station's goal is to tell you everything you could possibly know about your home and garden microclimates. There are units for both indoors and outdoors, which report back to your phone on variables like temperature, pressure, humidity, CO2 levels, noise pollution and even the likes of wind and precipitation fineries if you pick up the right add-ons.

The software then analyses all that data, presents you with pretty graphs and gives you real-time accounts; plus all the environmental trends a gardener could need to figure out what to plant, when to plant it and how to best take care of them all. You can also buy a whole bunch of additional sensors, like a rain or wind gauge, to add even more data.


Best smart lawnmower

Smart fingers: The best kit for your connected garden

Husqvarna Automower 450X

$3,495.95, Amazon | husqvarna.com

Let's start with the biggie – the price tag. Sure, north of $3,000 isn't exactly cheap but the Automower range is the ultimate in smart garden tech luxury. Imagine not having to mow your lawn ever again – anyone with even a small patch of grass will tell you what a ball-ache mowing can be, especially in the summer where bi-weekly trims are often required.

There's nothing back breaking at all about pushing a button on a smartphone or Apple Watch app and letting a robot mower do the hard work. It's not perfect – it occasionally gets stuck around objects like stepping stones and you still might need a strimmer for getting to those hard to reach edges – but the 450X will save you hours and hours walking around pushing a lawnmower.

You'll need to get someone in to install the hidden wire that keeps the Automower on track, and you'll need an outside power point for the charging station but that's about it for the hassle stakes.


Best indoor garden

No garden? No problem. Practice your green thumb indoors with a smart garden.

Smart fingers: The best kit for your connected garden

Click and Grow

$99.95, Amazon | clickandgrow.com

The Click and Grow Smart Garden 3 is the most affordable way to have your very own garden indoors.

All you have to do is insert the plant capsules, fill up the water tank and plug it in. And that's pretty much it. The company says its developed a 'Smart Soil' that works in tandem with built-in sensors to make sure your plants get the optimal configuration of water, oxygen and nutrients.

You can also track the growth with a companion app and set reminders to refill the water tank – which you don't have to do for a whole month. The LED light stand is also adjustable to match plant growth

There are refillable seed packets you can buy for an extra $50 once your current batch is too big. You also get nine packs that will last you a whole year so we're not complaining about spending the extra coin.



TAGGED   smart home

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