Cool Green Gardens

Irrigation Gizmos & Gadgets — Part II

Rainbird ET Manager
Weathermatic SmartLine — “It’s like a thermostat for your landscape.”
Rainbird ET Manager
Weathermatic SmartLine — “It’s like a thermostat for your landscape.”

The Brainiacs of Irrigation Timers
How close are we to living in a Jetson’s futureworld? When it comes to irrigation technology, pretty darn close. “Smart controllers” represent the next wave of irrigation hardware. These marvels of technology readjust themselves based on real-time weather information, though the approach varies between manufacturers.

One type of controller comes with a mini-weather station that uses on-site temperature, wind, sun, and humidity information to continually adjust the controller. You set a baseline program by telling the gizmo what kind of plants each station will be watering (lawn, shallow-rooted perennials, woody shrubs, etc.) and the type of soil you have. Then the clock figures out how long and how frequently to run each zone. If it gets hotter and drier, the weather station tells the device to increase the frequency and duration of each irrigation cycle. If it’s cool and foggy, everything is dialed back. Pretty simple!

The more space-age approach uses satellite / wireless technology to read information from sophisticated weather stations in your area and adjust the timer accordingly.

Most estimates conservatively claim 20% to 50% water reductions, yet plants are generally healthier because the system assures that when you do water, you’re properly soaking the entire root profile of the plants.

In Santa Barbara, the local water agencies have been offering rebates for the purchase and installation of these devices.  You’d be wise to check for a similar program where you live. Even if there’s no rebate, the money you save on your water bill will more than make up for the initial expense.

A Few Examples:

Built In Weather Sensors
Weathermatic SmartLine — “It’s like a thermostat for your landscape.”

Hunter Solar Sync
— Built in mini-weather station calculates ET

Remote Weather Sensors
Rainbird ET Manager

Toro Intellisense 

One last bit: Susan Morrison is a blogging buddy who’s also a brilliant landscape designer in the Bay Area. She wrote a few articles about her favorite smart controller, the Toro Intellisense. Click this and that for a quick read.

View Comments


  1. susan_morrison 08/05/2009

    My water bill has averaged about 30% less than before I got a smart controller, but if you have a lawn, which I don't, the savings would most likely be greater. Plus, as you point out, my plants look great with no effort on my part AND no guilt that I'm not manually adjusting my controller every month - the only way to irrigate efficiently on your own.

    I've been specifying these for several years now for my clients. For your readers who are considering installing one, a little more info: the Weathermatic is generally less expensive and because it relies on a weather station installed on site (usually on the roof where it won't be obstructed) there is no on-going fee. Some contractors have also told me they find it easier to program. The downside is you can't manually program individual stations; the programmed times are either on or off. So if you want to manually set irrigation times for a container garden or as in my case, where I am temporarily setting the times for a newly planted area, a Rainbird or Toro will allow you to mix manual and programmed stations.

    P.S. With the rebate I got from my water district, I paid a net of only $50.00 for my smart controller!

  2. TorontoGardens 08/05/2009

    These gizmos look pretty cool, and thanks Billy for starting the theme from the Jetsons in my head.
    But I thought the whole point of gardening down in the south west was to not irrigate at all? To use plants that could fend for themselves, xeriscaping, etc?
    Are built-in irrigating systems the norm down there with the average garden? It seems like quite an added expense. Not very common up here with the average homeowner.

    Just curious.

  3. SusanCohan 08/05/2009

    Even without an irrigation system timers can be added to hose systems easily and inexpensively. I added three today to a newly installed project that won't be irrigated. The client is going on vacation and these hose bots will water the newly seeded lawn and newly planted beds every day while the homeowners play. The cost? Assuming some hoses and sprinklers are available $24.95 for each timer + a 9V battery. An additional rain sensor can be added to the system but there's no rain in the 10 day forecast.

    When they come home, they'll disconnect the temporary system and nature will take over. Once the lawn is established it won't be irrigated. In the NE this year, with so much rain, it's not really an issue, but other years we don't have as much.

  4. BeWaterWiseRep 08/27/2009

    Poor landscaping leads to water wastage, hence the right irrigation methods must be implemented. Making use of advanced technology is the key for good landscaping. Here is a simple way to find out how much water your garden or lawn requires every week:

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