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, but even a hardcore couch potato can keep up with the demands of home ownership thanks to devices like smart outdoor security cameras and now smart sprinkler controllers. 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, support zoning, and help conserve water—especially vital if you live in a drought-ridden area. They’re also surprisingly easy to use, which is not always a guarantee in the ever-expanding world of smart gadgets.
So, this summer we tried out a variety of smart sprinkler 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 $199.00) 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 schedule.
These are the smart sprinkler controllers we tested ranked, in order:
Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller
Orbit B-hyve WiFi Sprinkler Timer
Skydrop Arc Smart Sprinkler System Controller
Scotts Miracle-Gro Smart Watering Controller
GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub
BlueSpray Wireless Irrigation Controller
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Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller
How We Tested
What You Should Know About Smart Sprinkler Controllers
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, though there's an additional model that supports up to twice that. Smart home junkies will appreciate the integration 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 manual watering schedule, or have the Rachio app figure one out based on the details you entered.
When I let the Rachio 3 set the watering schedule, I 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 scheduling and robust automation abilities. There’s also a bundle sold with an additional Wireless Flow Meter that can better monitor how much water your yard is getting, as well as shut down the system when there are leaks.
My name is Florence Ion, and I’ve been testing and recommending consumer technology for nearly a decade. My partner is a hobbyist gardener who has taught me the importance of growing what you eat—it tastes so much better when it’s from your backyard. However, his job requires that he travels far, which means the sprouting seeds are in my care. I don’t have a green thumb, nor do I care to tinker where insects roam, so I aimed to solve this problem the best way I knew how: with a gadget of some sort.
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. My existing sprinkler setup isn't very sophisticated, however, as I only have one main line routed through a planter box and alongside the back of the house. I added three faux-valves with switches to the existing sprinkler system so that I could test the viability of zoning with each unit, though I only actually watered one zone.
A worthy intelligent irrigation system controller should support between eight and 16 watering 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.
I tested each smart sprinkler controller for about a week, taking many screenshots and noting whether the smart watering schedule aligned with the actual forecast. I kept track of the vegetation to watch for any plants that were affected by the smart forecasting water schedules. I also evaluated general operability, and whether the sprinkler system remained responsive and sent out notifications even while I was miles away from home. And with every unit, I determined whether the setup process would work for those who might be tech adverse.
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 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 Wi Fi 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 installation, 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. Each sprinkler controller tested here asks for your home address at setup so that it can best determine the forecast to avoid overwatering. I didn't always find that to be the case, however, and still ended up using the manual scheduling function. I have a garden that relies on daily watering; the smart watering system would often default to watering only a few times a week. (I lost some strawberries because of this.) Smart watering algorithms are better tuned for sprawling lawns rather than a medium-sized planter box.
Other Smart Sprinkler Controllers We Tested
Orbit B-hyve WiFi Sprinkler Timer
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 me suggested two 10-minute watering intervals, six days a week. But our garden can't go a day without it, so I turned it off completely and set a manual watering 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 second-choice for smart sprinkler controllers, especially if you like the familiarity of pressable buttons.
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 percent, but I was unable to test that with my 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. I would have preferred the Arc use Bluetooth for this reason.
After I was able to get the device paired, scheduling was fairly intuitive. However, the Skydrop app interface could use an update, as I 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. I was 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 Scotts Miracle-Gro smart watering controller is basically a rebranded Blossom Smart Watering controller. The two devices look so much alike the pairing code is placed in the same area on the device. 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, I 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 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 that 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.
I liked the GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub when I 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 irrigation 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 dynamism 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, I never knew whether the GreenIQ watered unless I checked the app.
I did like the customization options offered at the beginning of setup, which allows 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 because GreenIQ doesn't offer smart watering features like its competitors. I had to set up a manual watering schedule to run daily for a total of 20 minutes.
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 require 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 first-timer.
After you've hooked up the wires, then 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 me, an experienced techie.
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, I accidentally shut off the system without realizing it wouldn't water until a few days had passed. My poor garden.
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.
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