Gadgets For Gardeners

By Chandra Orr

February 20, 2009 5 min read

GADGETS FOR GARDENERS

High-tech developments are ripe for the choosing

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

You're in a meeting when you get the text message: "Water me please."

It's the ficus on your front porch, and it needs some urgent attention.

When someone says high-tech, chances are you think of the hottest home electronics and the latest on-the-go gadgets, but some of the most innovative new gear is made for the garden.

From plant sensors that monitor fertilization and watering schedules to robotic lawn mowers, the future of gardening is here. But don't expect these new gadgets to replace the old-fashioned elbow grease that makes gardening such a popular pastime.

"For true gardeners, gardening is very much about the physical act of digging, planting and growing things," said Eric Liskey, deputy editor of gardening and outdoor living for Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

"A lot of gardeners wouldn't want a new technology to do those things for them because that's the whole point -- but technology can facilitate gardening in useful ways," Liskey said. "Environmental benefits are a big motivator for gardeners, and some new technologies provide environmental benefits that simply haven't been possible in the past."

Automated irrigation systems, for example, have been around for years, but the latest advances add rain sensors and soil-moisture monitors to ensure you only use the water you need. Sprinklers don't turn on if it's been raining, and when they do fire up they deliver only the precise amount of water needed to keep your lawn lush and healthy.

"For the most part, gardeners are not into gadgets simply for the novelty, but if something new will help make their gardening easier or better, they'll be open to it," said Liskey. "Gardeners are very practical folks -- if it's useful, they'll try it. That's the bottom line."

Here's a look at some of the hottest new trends:

PLANT SENSORS

Still earning your green thumb? Plant sensors take guesswork out of gardening.

Botanicalls, the plant sensor that you assemble yourself, lets plants call or send text messages when they need attention.

When your favorite fern needs water, the moisture sensors send signals over a wireless network and you soon receive a Twitter update via text message or a phone call alerting you to the problem. Phone calls feature recorded voices that match the characteristics of the plant's species -- a Scotch Moss plant speaks in Irish brogue, for example. Your plant will even call to thank you for the watering.

A Botanicalls kit costs $100 and is available at select online retailers. For more information, visit botanicalls.com.

For more advanced care, the EasyBloom Plant Sensor (easybloom.com), works indoors and out to measure sunlight, temperature, soil moisture and drainage.

"Plant sensors are pretty interesting," Liskey said. "You place a sensor in a particular spot, and it digitally records light, temperature and soil characteristics. You then connect it to a computer, which uploads the information to a website, which then generates a report listing plants that should thrive in that site. You can also red flag potential problems."

Place the EasyBloom sensor in the soil, let it collect information then plug it into your computer's USB port to download the data. The sensor automatically connects to the company website, which recommends the best plants for that location and offers tips to bring ailing plants back to health.

EasyBloom costs $60, and is available at specialty stores like Brookstone and Frontgate.

ROBOTIC HELPERS

You've heard of the Roomba, the self-propelled robotic vacuum? Imagine a similar robot cutting your lawn.

"Robotic mowers have been around for several years, and although they're expensive and not suitable for every lawn, they're the ultimate tool for gadget nuts," Liskey said.

The Robomow from Friendly Robotics (friendlyrobotics.com), for example, makes the tedious task of trimming grass obsolete -- and, according to the company's website, it's eco-friendly.

The battery-powered mower uses no oil or petrol, has no emissions and features a one-blade mulching system that recycles clippings. It also monitors lawn conditions as it mows and self-adjusts to use the minimum clipping power required.

The fully automated mower tackles the job on preset scheduled days and times, then returns to the base station for recharging. A rain sensor prevents mowing in inclement weather, and a built-in theft-protection system keeps your robot safe while it's working.

The Robomow is available at major retailers like Sears and Target. Prices start at $1,300.

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