In a fast-paced world, it can be difficult for even the most devoted gardener to stay on top of what’s happening outside in their yard. Thankfully, these days even a hardcore couch potato can keep up with the demands of home ownership thanks to smart home devices like smart outdoor security cameras and smart sprinkler controllers. Yes, a smart sprinkler controller will help keep your plants watered, but they do so much more.
These sprinkler controllers are unlike the old plastic dials and timers. They have mobile apps and support zoning, and they help conserve water—an especially vital skill if you live in a drought-ridden area. They’re also surprisingly easy to use.
We've tested out a variety of smart irrigation controllers to help you find the best way to keep your lawn hydrated and your garden growing. After many hours of testing, the Rachio 3(available at Amazon for $229.00) ended up being our top pick. Not only is it easy to use, but it also uses a physical button and LED indicators so that you don’t have to fuss around with the app unless you’re setting up a custom schedule.
These are the smart sprinkler controllers we tested, ranked in order:
The second-generation Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is currently topping our list because it offers a ton of easy-to-use options and isn't intimidating to install.
The model we tested offers control over eight zones (sometimes called "stations"), though there's an additional model that supports up to twice that. Smart home junkies will appreciate the integrations with Nest, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple HomeKit. There's even a host of IFTTT recipes available to customize your sprinkler even further.
The Rachio app has a busy interface, but it's easy to navigate. By uploading photos and entering details about things like soils and sunlight, you can then set a custom schedule, or have the Rachio app figure one out based on the details you entered.
When we let the Rachio 3 set the watering schedule, we chose the Flexible Daily schedule option, which uses public weather data to determine soil moisture depending on the questions you answered. There are additional features like Weather Intelligence, which enables the ability to automatically skip a session if rain or excessive wind is underway; and Smart Cycle, which splits watering times into shorter, more frequent cycles to prevent runoff. For more accurate results, you can choose to sync the Rachio 3 with a personal weather station, like the Netatmo.
The Rachio 3 isn’t the most affordable smart irrigation controller, but it does offer the most features while still being easy enough for anyone to use. Serious gardening hobbyists will like the Rachio 3 for its fine-tuned smart scheduling and robust automation abilities.
High on our list is the Netro Sprite. This little gem was far and away the easiest to install and use. The Sprite doesn’t require you use up one of the included six or 12 stations (control zones) to be dedicated to a master valve like most others. Using one of your stations for the master valve leaves you with one less station to use for watering, so we appreciated the inclusion of an extra station for this purpose.
Like most of the controllers we tested, the Sprite gathers local weather data from sources like Weather Underground, NOAA, and The Weather Channel, and asks for information specific to your lawn (like soil type, plant type, and amount of sun and shade) as you go through the app setup. The yard data combined with the local weather information make it a very smart little controller that will create a custom schedule based on recent rain as well as forecast precipitation.
The Netro Sprite setup procedure was simple and intuitive. The app walks you through most of the setup, and both Android and iOS apps worked flawlessly both over WiFi and via remote access.
Two things kept it from being our top pick: It is intended for indoor installation, so if your control box is outside, you will need to move wiring from the previous controller to a new location inside. The second issue is that the Sprite is fully controlled by the app. There is no way to program it without your phone. That might be an issue for the less tech-savvy or your sprinkler maintenance person, but frankly, we did not miss this capability in the least. The app itself is so pleasant to use that we weren’t bothered by the lack of other control options.
My name is Perry Taylor, and I'm a midwestern homeowner who has been caring for lawns all of my adult life through the drastic weather changes we see in Missouri. My current property has an irrigation system installed, and we use it throughout the summer when rain is scarce. I also have a house full of smart products, so I was interested to see whether a smart irrigation controller might change the way I care for the yard.
I built off of the work of our previous tester, Florence Ion, who has been testing and recommending consumer technology for nearly a decade.
Smart sprinkler controllers are great because not only do they control how much water goes into your yard, they allow you to configure the water supply based on what you’re growing.
A worthy intelligent irrigation system controller should be able to water between six and 16 zones. It should be WaterSense-certified, which means it meets the EPA's requirements for water efficiency. It should be controllable through an app for Android and iOS and provide configurable options for smart watering schedules based on landscaping, vegetation, and the weather forecast. It should also have a backup option for when the internet goes down, offer some smart-home integration by way of a hub or a digital assistant, and be well-built so that it can live outside the house.
We tested each smart sprinkler controller for several days, taking many screenshots and noting whether the smart watering schedule aligned with the actual forecast. We kept track of the vegetation to watch for any plants that were affected by the smart forecasting water schedules. We also evaluated general operability, and whether the sprinkler system remained responsive and sent out notifications even while we were miles away from home. And with every unit, I determined whether the setup process would work for those who might be tech-averse.
What You Should Know About Smart Sprinkler Controllers
Smart sprinkler controllers don't control the flow of water. They automate the task of opening and closing individual valves, like a traditional electronic or manual sprinkler controller. What makes them "smart" is their ability to connect to the internet for weather data, create custom schedules, and send you notifications. They’re also good if you have a lawn you want to put on autopilot so that it doesn’t brown out.
Smart controllers work best with wired sprinkler controllers and are not recommended for use with battery-powered controllers or hose timers. For best results, you'll want to install the sprinkler controller near a covered outlet (under an awning is fine) and within range of your home's WiFi network. You'll also want to mount it away from the ground to prevent critters from taking over—the Orbit B-hyve, for instance, comes with an external covering, and almost immediately after we installed it, it became inhabited by a black widow spider.
Your results will vary with features like smart watering, as it depends entirely on the climate in your region and what you have growing. Most sprinkler controllers ask for your home address at setup so that they can best determine the forecast to avoid overwatering. We didn't always find that to be the case, however, and still ended up using the manual scheduling function. It should also be noted that smart watering algorithms are better tuned for sprawling lawns rather than a medium-sized planter box.
Can a Smart Sprinkler Controller Help Save Money on Your Water Bill?
It's possible. Most of the smart sprinklers we tested allow you to create a watering schedule, so you can set the sprinkler to water your lawn on a certain day and time. This gives you complete control over how much water your smart sprinkler controller is using, which can help you avoid spending money on water when you don't have to. If you decide you don't want to water your grass on a given day, altering the schedule is as easy as using the device's companion app. The feature is helpful if you’re away from home and want to make changes to your current sprinkler schedule—or you simply want the convenience of setting it from your couch.
And with additional features like weather intelligence, our top pick, the Rachio 3, can also help save you money on your water bills by automatically skipping a session if rain or excessive wind is underway. However, most smart sprinklers are able to check the weather and make adjustments to watering schedules as needed, saving you money.
The B-hyve WiFi sprinkler is Orbit's initial venture into the smart sprinkler realm, though the company has been in this business for 40 years. Its sprinkler controller is an affordable choice as long as you don't mind the bulky, industrial design. It's available with support for six or 12 zones.
The B-hyve's main design draw is its outdoor-friendly chassis, which comes with a keyed locked to keep the LCD control panel covered. It might seem decidedly low-tech compared to the other sprinkler controllers tested here, but the fact that you can set it up without even touching the app makes it friendly for first-timers.
Installing the B-hyve controller is easy. Instead of spring clips for connecting wires like the Rachio 3, the B-hyve uses recessed screws. After it's hooked up, you can then schedule the unit manually via the LCD panel or download the B-hyve app for more functionality, like pairing the device with your WiFi network.
The B-hyve's smart watering algorithm consults the data you put in regarding the soil, the type of plants, and the amount of sun each zone receives to generate a water plan. You can also toss your zip code into the mix so that it factors in the weather. The program offered to us suggested two 10-minute watering intervals, six days a week. But our test garden couldn't go a day without it, so we turned it off completely and set a custom schedule instead.
Though it could use some aesthetic sprucing-up, the Orbit B-Hyve offers nearly as much of the same functionality as the Rachio 3 and its companion app at a fraction of the price. That makes it a solid choice for smart sprinkler controllers, especially if you like the familiarity of pressable buttons.
Editor's Note 3/5/20: The Arc is currently unavailable at Amazon. We've reached out to Skydrop to ask if it's been discontinued, and we will update this guide when we get a response.
The affordable Skydrop Arc might look bare-bones, but it's just as loaded as the competition. This circular smart sprinkler controller supports up to 12 zones and uses hyper-local weather data to figure out how much water you need for each. The Skydrop app will also consider the information you feed it about your soil and the types of plants you're growing to determine sufficient watering rates. Skydrop claims that its features help reduce water usage by up to 50%, but we were unable to test that with our particular setup.
Getting the Skydrop Arc up and running is quick and straightforward, and the company even offers video tutorials that are simple enough for first timers to follow. The Arc uses WiFi direct for configuration, and you can adjust the controller by directly connecting to it in the event there is no internet connection. Android users might have trouble with the initial pairing process, as WiFi direct can be tricky on some phones. We would have preferred the Arc use Bluetooth for this reason.
After we were able to get the device paired, scheduling was fairly intuitive. However, the Skydrop app interface could use an update, as we often experienced touch delay issues. It would have been nice also to have the ability to invite additional people to edit the watering schedule so that any other members of the household could have access to the controller unit. We were always able to get the ground watered, though, as exhibited by Skydrop's handy log of all the times it's executed the command. It’s also compatible with digital assistants like the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, with the ability to connect to Apple HomeKit through IFTTT.
The Yardian covers all the bases we expect from a smart sprinkler controller. It creates a custom schedule based on local weather data and information specific to your lawn, and it has the flexibility to install indoors or outdoors. The controller has no touch screen, so it needs to be programmed via the app. In spite of a few glitches with the Android app, once the setup was completed, it connected and operated reliably.
The cool and somewhat random feature the Yardian boasts is a security camera with a motion sensor. It provides free live streaming video with night vision and free 24 hours of cloud storage. It is marketed on the box end but very little mention of it in the app, so it took a little investigating to get it up and running.
After doing a little digging, we found more information on their website. They recommend that you set the motion detector to minimum sensitivity because the unit is sensitive to light. So car headlights, or flipping a switch in your garage will trigger the motion detector and will send you “an excessive number of alerts.” It’s annoying but Yardian says they are working to improve this feature.
The controller also has a built-in animal repellent. The website says, "Simply set the desired zone and duration, and your sprinklers will automatically activate when they detect motion." This is misleading. Your sprinklers do not sense motion. Motion is detected wherever the Yardian controller is pointed (in the case of our test house, inside the garage). So, whenever something would move in the Yardian’s field of vision, or if there was a sudden change in lighting, the zone designated as the animal repellent would spray for 10 seconds. If the Yardian controller happens to be installed outside and happens to be pointed at an area where you have trouble with the local wildlife, it could be used to dissuade varmints from feeding on your favorite bush (or whatever you don’t want them eating). In its current iteration, it appears somewhat half-baked but may be just the thing for some people.
The Scotts Miracle-Gro smart watering controller is basically a rebranded Blossom Smart Watering controller. However, the Miracle-Gro is very much its own product. Unlike the original Blossom, the casing on this device isn't made to withstand the harsh outdoors, nor does it offer the additional power line feature. Also, the power brick that's included in this particular kit is so bulky, we had to track down an extender to plug it into the outdoor outlet.
Nevertheless, the Miracle-Gro controller is easy enough for anyone to install, provided your wires are properly labeled—and if they’re not, Scotts includes a sheet of stickers precisely for labeling your sprinkler wires. Once you place the sprinkler wires in the appropriately marked spots, launch the Scotts Gro smartphone app for iOS or Android to get started.
The Scotts Miracle-Gro smart watering controller is a cinch to use, though a bit limited in functionality. You can choose between fixed- or interval-day watering schedules, and then select whether to manually set up a custom schedule or entrust the smart watering system to determine how long to water. There's also a feature that lets you "hibernate" the sprinkler system, in case there are months where you live when there's no use in watering at all. The big caveat is that the Gro Connect app doesn’t send push notifications after the system finishes watering, which makes it difficult to track whether the plants are being properly nurtured without physically checking the soil.
The Scotts Miracle-Gro smart sprinkler controller is also too barebones, even if you decide to spring the extra money for additional accessories, like the individual sensors. Its smart home skills are also limited to a few Alexa commands, which can leave home automation junkies feeling unsatisfied.
If all you need is to turn the water off and on from your smartphone, the Scotts Miracle-Gro smart sprinkler controller is worth it only if you’re a budget-conscious buyer.
We liked the GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub when we first took it out of the box. Its white-shelled, circular design made the device seem as unassuming and easy to set up as the SkyDrop Arc, which offers a similarly pared-down design aesthetic. But the GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub is not a particularly friendly install for beginners, and its app is confusing to use. Its only saving grace is its ability to integrate with some third-party products.
The GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub supports up to 16 zones, though it connects a bit differently than smart sprinkler controllers like the Rachio 3 or Skydrop Arc. The hub offers screw-in terminals instead of push-pin ones, which are finicky to use and require a screwdriver to install. Even if you only have a few wires to plug in, expect to feel like you're playing a game of Operation.
Once you're ready to go, you'll use the GreenIQ app on iOS and Android to interface with the smart garden hub. Its navigation scheme is somewhat clunky; the overflow menu is a complicated menu wheel, and it fails to add any real value to the interface. The main screen gives most of the heading to a very pushy watering savings widget, and you have to scroll before you can get to any watering options. Also, while the app supports push notifications, we never knew whether the GreenIQ watered unless we checked the app.
We did like the customization options offered at the beginning of setup, which allow you to set individual watering adjustments for every month of the year to help hone in on how much to water your lawn. But you have to set these up manually because GreenIQ doesn't offer smart watering features like its competitors.
Rainmachine Pro-8 can be installed indoors or outdoors and has every feature we expected—and then some. It is the only one we tested with Apple HomeKit capability, which is convenient for iOS users. And in addition to the Android and iOS apps, the Rainmachine Pro-8 has a capacitive touchscreen, so it can be controlled with or without a smartphone. Even more appealing: It has the option to connect via an ethernet cable instead of WiFi.
However, there were three significant issues that moved it down in our rankings.
The first hangup was during installation. The buttons on the connections were very small and awkwardly arranged in an arch. Even though I have relatively small hands, I had a very difficult and frustrating time connecting the wires. Adding to that challenge was that the connection markings are small raised white lettering on the same white background and are very hard to read. The Rainmachine’s was easily the most difficult physical install of all models we tested.
After fumbling with those connections, the controller would power on and appear to be fully functional, but we could not get it to activate any stations. The device said it was working, but it definitely wasn’t. So, we repeated the very difficult reconnecting of all the wiring only to get the same result. We then contacted customer service, and we are glad to report that they were responsive and quick with a solution. As it turns out, there is a specific box that needs to be checked if you have a master valve. Unfortunately there is nothing in the setup process to direct you to that check box. The representative said that only 20% of users have a master valve, but he did add that ours was the third call he had taken so far that day with this problem.
The third roadblock was that remote connection (connecting to the system over a phone’s data connection instead of WiFi) proved to be almost impossible regardless of operating system. Only once were we successful in establishing a connection long enough to retrieve unit data to the app. After repeated attempts to start the system remotely from both apps, we had a 0% success rate.
The BlueSpray Wireless Irrigation Controller is unlike the other smart sprinklers we've tested—there's an archaic-looking fuse embedded into the device to help power it up. However, once you've figured out the trick to its confusing user interface, it's quite a useful sprinkler controller. Though if you're looking for something that's smart enough to integrate with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, stick with our top pick, the Rachio 3, which costs about the same.
The BlueSpray Wireless Irrigation Controller is also a pain to set up, made worse by the fact that its covering cannot withstand the outdoors. Setting up the individual irrigation zones requires a screwdriver to lock in the wires. There's also no easy-to-plug AC adapter included with the kit; instead, you have to take the spliced wires and connect them yourself. Fortunately, it doesn't matter which way you plug them in as long as they go into the power slot. But that's not exactly intuitive for a DIY install.
After you've hooked up the wires, it's time to connect the BlueSpray controller to your home's WiFi, which requires using the service switch in the bottom-left corner of the controller board. It was intimidating to use even for us.
There is no mobile app for the BlueSpray controller. Instead, there's a set of paper instructions included in the box with an IP address that you can navigate to in a desktop or mobile browser. Once there, you'll have to pore through numerous menu screens to configure anything. It's all very confusing and not easy to use in a rush. More than once, we accidentally shut off the system without realizing it wouldn't water until a few days had passed. Poor garden.
The Nxeco controller appears to be a device that was developed in and for a foreign market and then very poorly adapted and translated for English speakers. This was apparent throughout our time with the controller, from its unpronounceable name to its app and directions that left us completely lost.
The installation directions were simple and fairly easy to follow. One part of the physical installation process was best of class: The Nxeco uses terminal blocks that allow you to easily connect all wires to a block that then plugs into the unit. This proved to be the easiest way to connect 15 wires in a very small space.
Initial connection to the network with the Nxeco was very difficult and time-consuming. It connects to your mobile device which, in turn, must be connected to a 2.4GHz WiFi connection. To accommodate, we had to disconnect our mesh router and reinstall an older router access a 2.4GHz option and get the controller connected. This is an irritating but not uncommon issue with smart devices, many of which cannot connect to a 5GHz signal.
The Nxeco’s app was really difficult to navigate. We were able to install both Android and iOS versions of the app, but when it came to setting up a custom schedule or programming, they were difficult to deal with. The app was completely counterintuitive and the directions and videos were very poorly translated.
The web interface appears to have been developed with commercial applications in mind. It is very detailed and shows the ability to manage dozens of different controllers at different locations at the same time. Far more detail than most homeowners would care to access.
Unfortunately, the Nxeco was easily the weakest offering we reviewed.
Florence Ion is a freelance journalist and prolific podcaster. She's written for Ars Technica, PC World, Android Central, The Verge, and Engadget. Her reviews and how-tos can usually be found on Lifehacker, Tom's Guide, and Reviewed. She can also be heard weekly on All About Android on the TWiT network and Material on Relay FM.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.