These High-Tech Garden Tools Will Do Your Yard Work for You
Innovations like autonomous mowers and weeding robots let you upgrade your corner of nature.
Innovations like autonomous mowers and weeding robots let you upgrade your corner of nature.
Whenever the weather permits, Britt Wood drinks his morning coffee on his patio, proudly watching his little guy mow his lawn. No, he doesn’t have a particularly diligent son. Mr. Wood, the CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, recently purchased an autonomous robot that drives around his South Riding, Va., yard, quietly munching each blade of grass down to the ideal 2½-inch height.
“It makes life a little easier,” said Mr. Wood of the convenient, “pet-like” robot. “Once you get one of these, your lawn never looks better.”
If 2020 was the year that many grew dependent on their backyards as a safe outdoor refuge, then 2021 might be the year they figure out how to spend less time maintaining their go-to retreats. One appealing solution: Upgrade the way you nurture your corner of nature with techy new tools—from robots that cut down weeds to sprinkler systems that rejig their run time depending on impending weather.
Anything that lets Americans enjoy more stress-free hours outside is good news: 27% of homeowners overhauled their gardens in 2020 and 19% plan to tackle an outdoor improvement project in 2021, according to a December 2020 survey by tool manufacturer Craftsman.
Here, our guide to the gear that might leave your neighbours wondering how you’ve gotten your garden so trim and tidy.
Set an autonomous electric mower like Husqvarna’s Automower to run overnight and you can sleep later the next day—and achieve a cleaner, greener cut than most push models can deliver. By giving grass a regular (even daily) trim instead of lobbing off a lot once weekly, robo mowers leave small clippings the soil can more easily reabsorb, said Frank Mariani, the owner of Mariani Landscaping in Lake Bluff, Ill. An app controls the mower’s schedule, sets trimming height and, once you install the included boundary wires around your property, pings you if the robot leaves your yard in the arms of a jealous thief. Depending on the model, the mowers can chug away for up to four hours per charge, and, like Roombas, drive themselves back to their doghouse-like charging stations to juice back up. With their sensors, robo mowers are also safer than most manual counterparts. “You could practically lay your baby in front of the mower and nothing would happen,” Mr. Mariani said. When choosing a mower, consider the square footage and incline of your yard. Many less-expensive, lower-powered models freeze up on hills to prevent toppling. And be warned: an automower won’t give your lawn stripes of just-mowed green. (From $1699, husqvarna.com)
Water your grass too little, and it will shrivel into straw. Too often, and you’ll weaken the roots while encouraging mould and bacteria to grow. “That’s where smart irrigation comes in,” said Mr. Wood, who explained that smart weather-and-moisture-sensing systems outperform traditional irrigation setups—and waste less water—when it comes to keeping your garden hydrated. The Rachio 3 smart irrigation system controller, for example, automatically adjusts your watering schedule to coming weather patterns in your area. Just replace your old sprinkler controller with Rachio’s using the wires from your existing setup, and use the companion app to set a watering schedule for your system’s eight or 16 zones (from approx. $300, rachio.com). For the most strategic watering schedule possible, pair the Rachio with Weatherflow’s new Tempest Weather System. Once you install the water bottle-sized personal weather station on a post or pole 6 feet off the ground, the device will provide a forecast via its companion app that beats the local news for accuracy. The Tempest app will even alert you to garden-wrecking weather events like frost and high winds. (approx. $420, weatherflow.com).
To avoid making the same deadly watering mistakes in your potted plants and container gardens, stick Ecowitt’s unobtrusive Soil Moisture Sensor with Digital LCD Display into the soil. The device measures root wetness to tell you via a delightful potted plant graphic on the display when it’s time to water ($40, www.ecowitt.com). Alternatively, opt for a pot that does the measuring for you. Just fill the Self-Watering Wet Pot’s outer glass reservoir with water, and your finicky forsythia will absorb only what it needs through the inner, terra-cotta pot walls (from around $44, store.moma.org).
Heavy, roaring, gas-powered trimmers can seem more than mildly threatening. But new, electric variants are tame enough to let anyone become a serene topiary artist. “The [battery] tech is finally to a point where it really makes sense to use it,” said Mr. Wood of the quiet, cordless models that have recently hit the market. At only 5 pounds, Craftsman’s new V20 Cordless 2-In-1 Hedge Trimmer and Grass Shear Kit is lightweight enough to let you one-handedly hack at unruly bushes and overgrown flower beds ($80, lowes.com). Komok’s Cordless Electric Pruning Shears, meanwhile, use a carbon-steel blade and brushless motor to deftly cut through branches up to 1.2 inches thick ($296, amazon.com). The best part? Your neighbours won’t want to turn the hose on you for disturbing the peace all afternoon.
Sure, you could crouch in the dirt pulling weeds out by the root. Or, you could sic the turtle-like Tertill Garden Weeding Robot on them. Every day, the Tertill roams your plant beds, chopping the tops off emerging weeds before they suffocate your dahlias. With a rugged, weatherproof shell and top-mounted solar panel to power the device, it can stay in your garden all season long. Just remember to cage your seedlings. (approx. $450, tertill.com)
Feel like you take wildlife for granted? Try the Bird Buddy smart feeder to acquaint yourself with your local flying families. Using AI, an integrated camera and a companion phone app, the device counts up the variety of species who have come to nosh. “It’s like Pokémon Go for birds,” said co-founder Franci Zidar of the way the app turns attracting avian visitors into a game. Just add bird seed. (approx. $245, mybirdbuddy.com)
Subscription services that deliver seeds, moss and more to your door
For forest-y vibes in a shady corner of your backyard or a shot of color in an austere rock garden, moss does nicely. Monthly deliveries from the forests of Arkansas give you the chance to decorate with spiky haircap, plush pillow and delicate fern mosses. (around $62 for three months, teresasplants.com)
Gardening is about more than just the green stuff that comes out of the dirt. While it certainly delivers live plants, like Japanese painted ferns and Crotons, this subscription plan often includes interesting containers, soil and fertilizer, tools and accessories. (approx. $50 a month, mygardenbox.com)
This quarterly box from container-gardening experts based in Dallas delivers healthy, rooted herbs and flowers, selected for your region and growing conditions. You’ll also get access to Gardenuity’s Grow Pro service, with on-call expert advice and weather alerts. (approx. 193, gardenuity.com)
While most garden plans focus on spring and summer plots, Bloomin Bin gives you year-round, season-specific seeds and saplings in a quarterly box. Each one comes with detailed care instructions from a master gardener, and a choice of flowers or fruits/vegetables. (From $10, bloominbin.com)
Each month, subscribers receive eight to 10 varieties of organic seeds of unusual herbs, edible flowers and vegetables along with info cards. The April box includes seeds for Thai Pink Egg Tomatoes, Carentan Leeks, and Red Fire Orach. (around $28 a month, seedbankbox.com)
Professional green thumbs on no-tech, time-honoured paths to perfecting your plot
Landscape Designer, founder of the Perfect Earth Project
If you’re willing to mow higher and let your lawn look more relaxed and thicker, the grass will naturally out-compete weeds. We say that you grow to 4 inches, then cut to 3 inches. It should look tousled—like you want to flop into it.
Founding Principal of BASE Landscape Architecture
Any space, no matter the size, can be a bee-friendly, pollinator garden. Even on your balcony, a pot of flowers (bees love blue and purple) can provide them with food. Leave fresh water with stones or marbles so bees can drink without drowning.
Author of Lessons from Plants
Grow plants of the same height together, like purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, or companion plants that require different, complementary nutrients. These types of pairings are beneficial because they limit biological competition for access to light or nutrients.
You don’t want to put roses where they don’t want to grow. As in real estate, it’s location, location, location. Planting in good, sandy, loamy soil that drains well (but not too well), in a sunny location with good air circulation is going to give you an exceptional rose garden.
Senior Horticulturist, Missouri Botanical Garden
One of the best things you can do if your area has clay soil, besides add compost, is to add calcined clay-like Turface MVP. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it’ll even out moisture retention, improve drainage and reduce compaction.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: April 16, 2021.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
When people talk about making a seachange, chances are this is the kind of property on the NSW South Coast that they have in mind.
Open for inspection for the first time this Saturday, 24 Point Street Bulli offers rare absolute beachfront, with never-to-be-built-out north facing views of the ocean. Located on the tip of Sandon Point, this two-storey property is a surfer’s dream with one of Australia’s most iconic surf breaks just beyond the back wall.
On the lower floor at street level, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms, including a family bathroom and an ensuite in the master suite. A fourth bedroom is on the upper floor, along with the main living area, and is serviced by its own bathroom.
While this would make a spectacular holiday home, it is well equipped for day-to-day living, with a spacious gourmet kitchen and butler’s pantry set into the articulated open plan living area on the first floor. A separate media room to the street side of the property on this level provides additional living space.
Every aspect of this property has been considered to take in the light and views, with high ceilings internally and spacious, north facing decks on both levels to take in views of rolling waves. If the pull of the ocean is irresistible, it’s just a 100m walk to feel the sand between your toes.
The house is complemented by a Mediterranean, coastal-style garden, while the garage has room for a workshop and two car spaces.
An easy walk to Bulli village, the property is a 20 minute drive from the major hub of Wollongong and just over an hour to Sydney.
Open: Saturday August 6 2pm-3pm Auction: Saturday September 3 Price guide: N/A but expected to exceed $5.3m paid in March for 1 Alroy Street
Contact: McGrath Thirroul – Vanessa Denison-Pender, 0488 443 174