Smart Takes

Smarter sprinklers help your garden grow

Posting in Science

You could be a gifted gardener and keep your yard looking pristine -- or you could use technology. Several companies are using the cloud to perfect the science of lawn-watering.

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My husband and I live in San Francisco. The lawn in our backyard is the size of a coffee table.

We still can't keep the grass alive and well-groomed.

It's a travesty. We've actually decided to switch to artificial grass. That's how much faith we have in our gardening skills.

Most people use automated sprinklers that operate using basic timers. They water your garden rain or shine. Sometimes they water your sidewalk, too -- in other words, far from fool-proof.

If you're as hopeless at horticulture as the Das Family, there's another option: smart sprinklers.

There are a few players in the market: Cyber-rain, Rain Bird & HydroPoint all offer smart sprinkler systems, which take into account plant type and use weather data and sensors to make sure you don't waste a single drop of precious, expensive water. That's a big deal here in California.

School districts seem to be popular smart sprinkler customers. It makes perfect sense, actually: not only must suburban schools keep acres of grass green for student activities and sports, they're also eternally cash-strapped.

Cyber-rain claims that it's controllers will save the Sulphur Springs School District in Santa Clarita, Calif. $32,000 this year. And the Campbell Union School District in Campbell, Calif. trimmed $108,000 from its annual water bill when it installed a Hydropoint system in 2009.

That's quite a bit more than a bake sale could raise.

We recently interviewed Chris Spain, the chief executive of HydroPoint, which makes the WeatherTRAK system.

To install it at your home, you have to buy a controller, which looks a little like a smaller version of the electrical panel you might find in your garage. The units are typically installed outside in your yard, near your home. Customers must also pay a monthly subscription.

Spain explained to us that WeatherTRAK uses cloud computing technology, taking into account specific features of your landscape -- from soil type to slope and water runoff to location-specific weather data -- to figure out exactly how much water to use.

You can listen to our "SmartPlanet Minute" about it here.

If that's what it takes to keep your garden looking lush and lovely, it's no wonder I've failed. What technology do you use to make your garden grow?

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Sumi Das

Chief Correspondent

Chief Correspondent Sumi Das has been a correspondent for SmartPlanet since 2008. Previously, she worked as a correspondent for CNN and MSNBC. Between 1998 and 2003, she was producer and host of "Fresh Gear" on TechTV. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She resides in San Francisco. Disclosure