Tap Into Tech to Help Save Water, Money and Your Lawn

By Debbie Arrington
Guest Writer

It’s time to get smart and declare your irrigation independence. Free yourself from hose dragging and watering sidewalks. Let technology help you save water, money and your lawn.

It’s time to get a smart sprinkler timer. This device allows your landscape’s irrigation system to be as efficient as possible by tuning into weather and soil conditions. It can immediately make a big difference in home water use, as well as the health of your plants.

Five Things to Love About a Smart Sprinkler Timer

  1. No more guesswork. Wi-Fi-enabled controllers automatically check weather reports via the Internet, and adjust irrigation as needed.
  2. Save water, save money. A smart timer knows when to turn irrigation on and how long to run; there’s less runoff and less waste.
  3. Healthier plants, greener lawn. When properly irrigated, all plants prosper. Water gets a chance to soak in and reach roots.
  4. Just like an app. Operate your irrigation system via your smartphone, computer or other advice – from anywhere.
  5. Easier to check for problems. Turn on the sprinklers via your smartphone while standing next to the sprinkler head; no more running for the control box!

“Really popular right now are Wi-Fi-enabled controllers,” said Don Smith, water management coordinator for the City of Folsom. “(This controller) gets weather information off the Internet. It’s also easy to adjust. It allows you to use your smartphone, computer or any enabled device to do scheduling. For the average homeowner, it has a huge impact and is great for water saving.”

July and August are the months when we use the most water as temperatures climb. But temperature and moisture levels, both in air and soil, can widely fluctuate. For example, July’s record temperatures range from an all-time high of 114 degrees to a low of 48. It rarely, if ever, rains in July in Sacramento, yet July’s relative humidity averages 46 percent.

Smart controllers take the guesswork out of adjusting irrigation to fit those swings in temperature and moisture. They also allow you to plug in any local watering guidelines, such as two- or three-day per week watering schedule.

“They’re a huge departure from traditional timers,” Smith said. “You don’t see all the buttons and dials. It’s a lot less confusing. People are thrilled about how easy it is to check the system. You can go around the yard with your smartphone, turning sprinklers on and off, while you’re standing there watching instead of running back and forth to the control box.”

Smart sprinkler timers or controllers take the guesswork out of how often to water and how much.

“We’ve found the average homeowner uses 200 to 300 percent over what their landscape actually needs,” Smith said. “They have all these preconceived ideas and water the heck out of everything all the time.”

Watering less often but deeper actually helps most plants, including trees, shrubs and lawns. Fruit trees that never bore fruit finally produce a crop. Shrubs and perennials flower more. Lawns look healthier.

The key to making a smart controller truly smart: Inputting correct information.

“The trick is when you first program it,” Smith said. “It will ask you a series of questions for each (irrigation) zone: What type of irrigation equipment? What type of plant material? What’s the slope? What’s the soil type? And that’s where people mess up – soil type. As long as you set the profile questions right, it will work correctly.” (You can learn more about your soil type through the UC Davis SoilWeb—an online, interactive tool that allows you to input your address and get details about soil type. Find SoilWeb here.)

Smart controllers work well with drip systems, too, allowing for slow and deep irrigation. “Any time you can change out spray to drip, you’ll save water,” Smith said, “if used correctly. It’s a problem if run too long. Drip systems run less frequently but much longer.”

Additional resources

Debbie Arrington is a longtime home and garden reporter and author of the blog Sacramento Digs Gardening.