With the arrival of spring, many of us will be venturing out into the garden in the coming weeks to tidy up the ravages of winter. While we’ve seen a slew of smart home solutions arriving over the last few years to make life easier indoors, the idea of a “smart garden” has yet to take off.
This year, the gardening gurus at Scotts are hoping to brighten up and smarten up your back yard with a host of automated watering products designed to keep plants topped up and looking their best. The range comprises in-ground irrigation controllers, water sensors, sprinklers, sprayers and even a drip kit for potted plants.
The $150 Gro 7 Zone Controller is the brains of the operation. Part of a new breed of smartphone-powered irrigation systems, the controller automatically programs itself using real-time weather data, with an accompanying app for manually scheduling tweaks and one-off sprays on the hottest days. We got our hands on it and took it for a spin.
Resembling a large (7 by 7 by 1.5 inches) Wi-Fi access point, the sober-looking controller is reasonably-well built, with a removable plastic cover protecting internal wiring connections to each of the seven available zones. Unlike some controllers, this one is designed to be installed inside the house (or garage), so you may need to extend existing cabling if you’re swapping out an external device. Scotts includes screws and anchors for easy indoor mounting, but be sure to locate the device near a power outlet.
Installation is simple that is, if you have an existing irrigation system. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s worth taking time to plan out your watering zones and potentially seek the help of a professional landscaper to source and install the irrigation pumps, valves, and tubing.
Otherwise, you’ll find that Gro integrates neatly with existing, “dumb” controller wiring. Swap out that old sprinkler controller (labelling your wires as you go with the included sticky labels), download and install the Gro Connect smartphone app, and get connected.
Unlike competitors such as the $220 RainMachine Touch HD or the $119 Orbit B-hyve System Controller, there are no on-device controls available, so you’re restricted to app control or optional Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control.
Scotts has done a great job with the accompanying Gro Connect app, which is friendly enough, even for novices. It can be used with the 7 Zone Controller or $100 Gro Water Sensor Starter Kit to supply local weather data and scheduling. Once you’ve connected your mobile device to the controller or kit via Bluetooth. You then supply your Wi-Fi network details (only 2.4 GHz bands supported) and you’re good to go.
As long as you’ve wired the controller correctly, any existing zones will be automatically detected, or you can configure zones from scratch. The Gro app also supports a range of features to enhance efficiency and convenience. Automated watering schedules optionally support EPA WaterSense Specifications, which takes account of each zone’s soil type, slopes, and shade to calculate efficient watering schedules on a per-zone basis. You’ll also find notification alerts for network connectivity and hardware issues along with prompts notifying you if a watering cycle will be skipped due to local weather.
A simple vertical scroller allows you to trigger manual watering for up to two hours, while scheduled watering is simple to manage. Preset options allow for one-tap schedule at sunrise or after sunset. Alternatively, dig into the detail and configure your own watering schedule for specific times of the day.
Scotts Gro 7 Zone Controller is sold with a 1-year limited warranty.
While smart controllers are available that support more zones, Scotts has done a great job developing a solid, mid-range device that’s a quick, easy, and smart upgrade for older sprinkler systems. It doesn’t necessarily make life easier for anyone considering their first steps in back yard irrigation, but a friendly app, easy scheduling, efficient water distribution, and smart integrations with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant make the Gro 7 Zone Controller a great pick.
For more precise watering or larger back yards, consider the $279 Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller (3rd Generation) which supports up to 16 zones and includes integrations with Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Nest and others.
While smart home/garden devices are a new category for Scotts, it’s an established brand with comprehensive customer support options, so we’re hopeful the company will invest appropriately in the Gro line for the long term.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to add smarts to your garden, this isn’t the device to do it. But owners of existing, older in-ground sprinkler systems will find lots to love about the Scotts Gro 7 Zone Controller.