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GREAT GADGETS: Gardening Goes High-Tech

With technology’s influence over nearly every aspect of our lives, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing it put to use in our gardens. Thanks to advances in technology, we can sit back and enjoy our gardens more while working less. Whether by intuitive watering systems, hands-free mowing, critter deterrents or communication with our plants, there are numerous ways to use the latest technology to help our gardens grow.
Automating Lawn Care
Most standard irrigation systems can be set with a timer that controls irrigation regardless of the weather or moisture level of the soil. However, some of today’s systems have harnessed technology to offer options that take the weather into account. One example is Rainbird’s Simple to Set Irrigation Timer, which automatically adjusts your watering schedule both seasonally and to your current weather conditions. With a built-in nationwide historical weather database and a smart weather sensor, the system allows you to simply enter your zip code and preferred watering schedule, and the timer takes over, making adjustments as needed. Other models, like GARDENA’s Water Computer EasyControl, have optional rain or soil moisture sensors that can cancel a preset watering, saving water and your utility bills. Whether you have a professionally installed irrigation system or just want to set your soaker hose automatically, there are many options to help ensure your garden gets the right amount of water, regardless of the weather or the size of your wallet. While prices on these systems depend on the style and options, the simplest timers can cost as little as $40, and installed systems begin around $1,000.
Watering is not the only task to go hands free. Just as the Roomba can automatically vacuum the interior of your home, there are now a variety of robotic lawn mowers that will automatically cut your lawn. Most models work within a boundary established with a boundary wire. Mowing times can be preset, and many manufacturers offer apps for your smartphone for communicating with your robotic mower. Whatever your lawn, there is a robotic mower made for it, with models to handle different sizes, slopes and complexities. Some models are equipped with rain sensors to avoid mowing in the rain, while others are made to withstand it—or even to mow at night. While newer companies like Lawnbott and Robomow offer choices, more established mower manufacturers like Husqvarna also carry a line of robotic mowers. Prices among manufacturers vary, but these models tend to be substantially more expensive than your typical lawn mower, with many prices starting over $1,000.
Keep Critters at Bay the High-Tech Way
All gardeners have dealt with pests at some time or another. One classic, simple pest deterrent that’s been around for years is the kitschy plastic great-horned owl statue, doing good work discouraging small critters from entering gardens. A natural predator of birds, squirrels, rabbits, rodents and other destructive critters, the owl frightens them from feasting on your plants. In an update on this classic statue, the Easy Gardener Company has added movement and sound to replicate the natural predator for more realistic, environmentally friendly pest control. Their Garden Defense Electronic Owl is equipped with sensors that detect when pests are nearby, causing the figure to turn its head and hoot in their direction. Battery-operated, the owl can rest on a fence post or be suspended from a tree to help keep your garden pest free. Best of all, the price tag on the Garden Defense Electronic Owl makes it a no-brainer to enlist its help in your garden, checking in around $50.
If you want to keep an eye out for how well your Garden Defense Owl works, capture the bloom of a flower, or track the activity around your birdbath, consider incorporating one of the many garden camera monitor products available. Brinno makes several; from the time-lapse GardenWatchCam or the motion sensor-activated BirdWatchCam, there are a number of options for you to remotely capture the action in your garden. Equipped with high-quality lenses in weatherproof cases, these battery-operated cameras also have built-in sleep settings to enable longer battery life. Ringing in at the price of a decent point-and- shoot digital camera, Brinno’s cameras range from about $150 to $275, making it easy and affordable to keep an eye on your garden.
There are also gadgets to take the guesswork out of where to plant or to help you diagnose why a particular plant might not be thriving. Luster Leaf’s Rapitest Digital 4-Way Analyzer measures moisture, pH, fertilizer and temperature levels, while the Black & Decker PlantSmart digital plant care sensor takes it a step further, connecting to your computer to recommend ideal plants for a particular spot or offer specific advice for your existing plants. PlantSmart even helps you create a library of your favorite plants, saving your readings for future use. Both gadgets cost under $50, with wildly different appearances.
While Luster Leaf looks like a traditional science gadget, PlantSmart resembles a plastic flower.
Also resembling nature in appearance is Parrot’s Flower Power. Shaped like a branch, this gadget is designed to be placed in the dirt of a potted plant where it will monitor the sunlight, temperature, moisture and fertilizer levels your plant is experiencing. It communicates this information through an app on your smartphone or tablet to tell you when your plant needs attention. Retailing around $59, gadgets like Flower Power make it easier for even the blackest of thumbs to be successful plant owners.
All Kinds of Apps
You don’t need to own any of these gadgets to take advantage of gardening apps on your smartphone or tablets. There are a vast number of apps to help with almost every aspect of the garden, short of doing it for you. Apps for the garden can help with so many tasks: offer weather forecasts, help plan your garden, keep track of what you planted and when, monitor the number of hours of sunlight in a day, diagnose diseases, and even provide special social networks for gardeners. Among favorites for you to check out are Garden Plan Pro (a vegetable garden planner—$7.99 and worth it!), Into Gardens, Garden Time Planner and Garden Compass (all free). With all this technology, it seems the only work we have to do is the actual planting, freeing up more time to bask in the beauty of our gardens.

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