As any keen gardener will tell you, there's more to maintaining your plants and lawn than watering them with a hose. Multi-zone irrigation systems help deliver water to exactly where it is needed, but these smart, web-connected sprinkler systems take things a step further.
By knowing the soil and plant type for each zone of your garden — and the local weather forecast for your exact location — these systems can save you thousands of gallons of water per year. That means they are good for your wallet and the environment, too.
Rachio 3 - from $230
New for 2018, the third-generation Rachio smart watering system can control water in up to 16 different zones across your garden.
What's particularly impressive is how the company claims this system can pinpoint the weather to within a 36-foot radius of your home. Keeping such a close eye on the local weather means the Rachio will adjust its scheduled watering based on the forecast. That way, your garden won't be flooded and your plants and lawn get the exact amount of the water they need.
For an extra $50, the Rachio 3 can be bought with the company's new water flow meter, which attaches to your pipe and alerts you to changes in flow which could be a sign of a leak.
The system can be configured to switch on when a security camera detects movement in a certain area — a useful burglar deterrent — and you can set a sprinkler to activate if a Nest Protect alarm senses smoke. As such, fitting a Protect sensor in your shed or garage and a sprinkler by the door could make for a useful fire containment system.
A neat feature is that the Rachio app warns you just before the sprinklers come on - handy if you're having a garden party and forgot to adjust the schedule.
There's a smartphone app for programming and controlling Rachio, but the system can also be used via Amazon Alexa, Google SmartThings, IFTTT, Wink and even a Nest thermostat if you have one. GearBrain reviewed the second-generation Rachio ($180) and gave it 9 stars out of 10. We liked Rachio's customer support, who are on-hand to help with installation questions, and how well it integrates with other devices.
Spruce - from $200
This system can be set to water at specific times like any other, and also adjusts this schedule to take hyperlocal weather forecasts and the time of year into account — just like the Rachio. But taking things a step further, the Spruce can be bought with additional $55 soil moisture sensors.
These wireless sensors sit in your soil, keep track of moisture levels, and use this data to adjust the system's watering schedule. The sensors are entirely optional, but combining them with weather forecasts is said to make watering more efficient, thus saving you money and stopping your plants from being drowned. With everything installed and switched on, Spruce claims the system can lower your water usage by up to 60 percent compared to a conventional sprinkler running off a set timer.
Spruce includes Alexa and Google Assistant integration for voice-activated watering, and a comprehensive software suite tracks moisture levels in up to 16 zones across your garden.
Orbit B-hyve Smart Wi-Fi Sprinkler Timer - from $79
Starting at just $79 for a system capable of watering six zones (or $99 for 12 zones), the Orbit B-hyve is one of the more affordable smart sprinkler controllers. But that doesn't mean it misses out on features, as it can still be tweaked based on the type of plants, sprinklers and soil in each zone.
The app also lets you input sun exposure, shade, and gradient for each zone. It then adjusts its watering schedule based on local weather forecasts provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If rain is due in your area, watering is delayed.
GearBrain reviewed the Orbit B-hyve and we were impressed with how the system splits each watering event into two halves with a short gap between; that way, water has the time to soak into the spoil and your plants won't be drowned.
Smartphone notifications let you know when watering has finished, if it has been delayed by rain, and when temperatures fall below freezing.
RainMachine Touch HD-12 - $239
While smartphone and Alexa control of your sprinkler is all well and good, sometimes it's convenient to just look at the control panel itself. That's where the RainMachine comes in, with its 6.5-inch HD touchscreen for controlling every aspect of your irrigation.
Because the RainMachine's internet connection is only used to check local weather forecasts (and adjust watering accordingly), every other aspect of its operation can be controlled and adjusted when your internet is down, unlike other services which require a permanent connection to the cloud.
As well as the control panel, the RainMachine has its own iOS and Android apps for remote control, and it can be bought with compatibility for 12 or 16 sprinkler zones across your land.
Scotts Gro 7 Zone Controller - $150
The Scotts Company
Scotts Miracle-Gro will be a familiar name to anyone who is passionate about gardening, and its 7 Zone Controller was previously sold by Blossom, a startup acquired by Scotts in late-2016.
Giving the older company a leg-up into the smart garden sector, the 7 Zone Controller can (unsurprisingly) control up to seven sprinkler zones across your garden. The controller unit needs to be installed indoors (so inside your garage or shed, ideally) as it isn't weatherproof, and once set up you can control the system from the Gro smartphone app for iOS and Android.
As with others, the Scotts Gro programmes itself based on local weather forecasts and it can be controlled by voice with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Skydrop - $300
Finally, the Skydrop is an eight-zone smart irrigation system which checks hyperlocal weather forecasts hourly and has an integrated LCD display for quick control. There is also a companion app for iOS and Android, voice controls from Alexa, integration with Nest thermostats, and the potential for connecting to many other devices via IFTTT (If This, Then That).
During setup, you can tell the app about the soil and plant types in each zone, plus the gradient of your land, how much sun and shade each zone gets, and what type of sprinklers you have. Like its rivals, the Skydrop then automatically delivers the correct amount of water.
For controlling nine to 16 zones, a $50 expansion kit can be bought, and the controller unit can be placed outside if you purchase Skydrop's weatherproof housing, also costing $50.