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Gardening

First smartphones, then smart homes. Now, prepare yourself for the smart lawn.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: January 18
  • Published January 18

I can remember when the weed eater was invented. I can also remember the first home leaf blowers. How about you? These were revolutionary in their impact and almost immediate in their spread.

I note these introductions not to show how ancient I have become, but rather to compare how the appearance of new-fangled products change outdoor horticulture. If you doubt this, note the arrival of another revolution brought on by the spread of the "smart home."

For those who are out of the loop, Apple, Amazon, Google and others have developed the "internet of things" into the ability for us to use our phones to operate these various "things" from afar. It started with thermostats and lights, moved on to security cameras and door locks, spread to baby monitors and lately, refrigerators, stoves and ovens. All of this is lumped into a category known as the "smart home."

And this year, welcome to the "smart yard." The biggest attempt will be to get all of us to switch from our tractors and push mowers to, you got it, "smart lawn mowers." The automatic, indoor vacuum comes to the lawn in the form of GPS-guided mowers that you turn on and walk away from while they continuously groom your yard. Check out the RoboMow if you have 700 bucks to spare. These mowers will come down in price, for sure, as they are bound to become standard.

Then there are automatic sprinklers. Sprinklers have been automated for a long time, but now you can use your phone to turn yours on or off. Or, have it set up to a weather station and monitor that tells it when to go on or off.

Watering lawns is not really a problem here in Alaska, but an auto watering system in the garden beds might make some sense if you are away from them enough to justify the cost. If you are curious, check out the Rachio Sprinkler System or the Melnor Rain Cloud, by way of examples. They connect to your other home systems like your thermostat, and you can even use voice control via your phone.

Silicon Valley is pushing data monitors to gather information about growing sites. The idea is to use one to find out what will grow best in the area you choose for your garden. I think these are kind of silly as you seemingly have to wait a whole year to gather information, and who has time for that here in Alaska. I am sure there are times when one might become useful, however.

The Edyn Garden Sensor will monitor existing gardens; it also will tell you what you need to do. Hmm. Does this take the fun out of gardening? Or do you couple it with an automatic watering tool so you can be notified and then act when your garden needs water and you are not there? Every garden has different needs. Fortunately, there is a whole site of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth water sensors at postscapes.com.

Finally, check out the lighting options that are now available for your yard. We know Phillips, for example, makes the Hue, which are controllable and come in colors. Using these or similar systems, you can create your own outdoor light shows. I can see these in use all winter long, light landscaping in a new way, all across Alaska.

I wonder what will be next? Surely the "smart yard" is an area ripe for development. Let's see if they figure out a way to automate those leaf blowers (but first, please make them quieter). In any case, take a bit of time this week to travel around the internet checking out the up-and-coming smart yard.

Whether you find something you like, or not, the impact of these connected tools is bound to be great once they permeate our horticulture culture. There are some 30 million smart homes in this country already using those little speaker assistants, and these are less than a year old. I know there must many folks who are looking forward to saying "Hey Siri (or Alexa), mow the lawn." You might also ask your assistant if there are any new smart yard tools.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Floral Design 101: Jan. 23, Alaska Botanical Garden, 6-7:30 p.m. Cost: $55 for members and $65 for non-members. Learn the basics of design and create an arrangement that will last. For more information and reservation please call 907-770-3692.

Houseplants: It is time for inspection. Look for insects, remove dead leaves and stems, water and address problems. Sometimes the best solution is tossing a plant.

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