If you love the idea of smart homes that essentially cook food, clean up spills, and thwart criminals all on their own, guess what—your yard can get an IQ upgrade, too! It’s not such an up-in-the-clouds concept: Smart sprinklers, garden monitors, and even lawn mowers can make the onerous tasks of yard maintenance so much easier. And so, in this latest installment of The Connected Home, we’ll give you the lay of the land of these smart yard tools so you can decide what’s right for you and which tasks you want to foist on your amazing new help.
“Golf courses pioneered water conservation technology, but now many homeowners are purchasing smart irrigation systems,” says veteran home improvement expert Bob Vila.
And for good reason: Smart sprinklers use sensors to monitor moisture levels in the soil, shutting off the waterworks once the ideal amount of H20 is distributed. This means no more overwatering your lawn, which can mean big savings given that an estimated one-third of all household water typically goes to landscaping, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Another reason to buy a smart sprinkler system? Many states and municipalities offer rebates for water-conserving technologies. (Check Cyber-Rain.com’s list to see what rebates are available in your area.)
Rachio ($250) and Blossom ($149), two of the leading smart sprinkler systems on the market, are easy to set up in that they simply connect to your current automatic sprinkler system. (If you don’t already have sprinklers in your yard, Vila recommends hiring a professional gardener to install them.) All you do is remove your original irrigation control panel and replace it with this Wi-Fi-enabled version (both manufacturers offer DIY installation instructions and videos online).
While Blossom is the more budget-friendly of the two, Rachio (which claims to slash your water bill in half) offers some nice extras. For one, it lets you create custom zones so that you can control water distribution for different areas of your yard. After all, some plants require more water than others. The Rachio can also connect to your Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Nest system so you can speak your commands, no button pushing required.
Smart garden monitors
Attention, serial plant killers: Want to fake a green thumb and get your garden to flourish? A smart garden monitor could really turn things around.
The Edyn ($100) is one of the pioneers in this market: Just stick it where you’d like to plant something, and it will gather data on sunlight, moisture, soil quality, and other variables. It cross-references this info with a vast plant database, then sends an analysis to your smartphone, recommending which greenery will thrive in that area, the best time to plant it, peak harvest time, and even compatible foliage.
Meanwhile, a separate valve ($69) that hooks up to your sprinkler system uses the data collected by the monitor to deliver just the right amount of water.
Garden monitors like the Edyn are becoming more popular, with tech-savvy millennials starting to drive the $36.9 billion DIY yard and garden industry, according to a recent survey by the National Gardening Market Research Company.
Smart lawn mowers
Tired of all the pushing and sweating it takes to mow your ever-growing patch of grass—or sick of paying someone to mow it for you? Welcome to the age of smart lawn mowers, which are like the outdoorsy cousins of smart vacuums, meandering around your yard trimming greenery down to size.
One leader in this field, the Automower (starting at $2,000) uses GPS to create a map of your yard—including where boundary and guide wires are installed—and then maneuver its way over tricky terrain with obstacles and slopes.
If that’s too rich for your blood, the Robomow (starting at $699) operates in a similar manner but can also be steered around by smartphone, too.
Granted, there are some drawbacks to robotic lawn mowers—the biggest being the price. Because robotic mowers are expensive, they don’t make sense for a lot of people.
“The expense has to be looked at in the context of an individual residence,” says Vila. For instance, if you have a small yard and it takes you only 20 or 30 minutes to mow the grass, you probably don’t need a robot to do the work for you, he says.
These mowers also aren’t great if your yard has a lot of tricky landscaping features—like rocks or depressions—in which your mower might get stuck.
And, while robotic mower manufacturers assure us the devices are safe, you’re still putting a machine with sharp, fast-moving blades in your yard—so you should make sure that your kids and pets stay far, far away when it’s in action.