Last April Fool’s Day, Google announced its latest product: the Google Gnome.
This “smart” lawn ornament was advertised as being capable of taking care of all of your yardly duties while you kicked back and relaxed with a cold drink.
Of course the gnome was just a prank — but the good news is there are many new products on the market that make taking care of your outdoor space easier by adding connectivity.
Here are eight ways to bring your yard into the 21st Century:
1. Invest in a remote-controlled robot mower.
Husqvarna’s Automower 450X may put the neighborhood kids out of business. Like a Roomba for your lawn, this low-noise mower creates “carpet-like” lawns without anyone breaking a sweat or needing ear plugs. GPS-assisted navigation works with boundaries established by the user, and guide wires keep the mower from going rogue. It’s also capable of detecting objects, navigating over rough terrain, and climbing 45-degree slopes. All a user has to do is connect the mower to a smartphone via the Automower Connect app and give it commands. This particular model mows up to 1.25 acres, but smaller models of Husqvarna’s automowers with fewer features start at $1,999. And don't worry about a passerby swiping this $3,499 machine — it has an anti-theft alarm and a tracking device.
2. Get a smart sous chef for grilling.
With Char-Broil’s SmartChef™ TRU-infrared™ 3-Burner Gas Grill, you can spend less time hovering over a hot grill, monitoring meat. Released in January 2017 and available for $799.99, it’s one of the most affordable forward-thinking grills on the market. When synced with your mobile device and connected to Wi-Fi, the SmartChef technology notifies you when your steaks are cooked to desired temperatures, or when it’s time to rotate your corn, and even when your gas levels are low. It won’t clean your grill for you — but it will send you a text when it’s cool enough to cover it.
3. Add an app to an older mower.
While most new higher-end mowers come with Bluetooth technology, older models don’t, and some manufacturers are recognizing consumers don’t necessarily need a new mower — just a smarter mower. For example, Craftsman sells a Smart Lawn Connected Kit which plugs into select older models and makes them compatible with the free Smart Lawn App. With the app, users can determine optimal times to mow, order mower parts, track maintenance and set service reminders. The “kit” — which is basically a plug that goes in the ignition switch on the mower’s dashboard — is available for around $80 at Sears, ACE Hardware and K-Mart.
4. Consider intelligent irrigation.
There are several smart sprinklers on the market. But Rachio’s best-in-class model is the only one that syncs with Amazon Alexa, Nest, SmartThings, IFTTT and Google Assistant, among others. Rachio claims it can save users up to 50 percent on monthly water bills by adjusting watering levels based on local, real time weather. When connected to Wi-Fi, Rachio also combines advanced watering algorithms and irrigation science with user input — such as yard size, sun exposure and soil and plant composition — to optimize watering schedules. It starts at $199.99 and is available at Lowe’s and other home and garden stores. Thanks to its EPA WaterSense certification, it also qualifies for local rebates.
5. Know what to grow.
While the smart products described above decide when and how much to water or trim your yard, Scotts Miracle-Gro app tells you what to grow in it. Launched in 2016, the free app uses location-specific data to inform users which plants and herbs can successfully grow in their soil and climate conditions. It even puts together complementary combinations that can be grown together, and be used to make everything from salsa to cocktails. In 2018, Scotts Miracle-Gro will also roll out a new version of PlantLink, a moisture sensor that basically communicates with the plant and then informs the user, via the Gro app, of the plant’s real time hydration needs.
6. Install a smart camera system.
Use it for home security and by the pool as a nanny cam. Or, use the John Deere Outdoor Wi-Fi camera to capture shots of the wildlife trespassing while you sleep. This weatherproof camera, which debuted last December, offers night-vision capabilities and clear HD streaming via the iSecurity+ app. A built-in microphone even lets you listen to what’s going on in your backyard when you’re not within earshot. Available for $149, it simply plugs into an exterior outlet and connects to any existing Wi-Fi network. Then, the user can control the IFTTT-compatible camera from afar and receive alerts when its motion sensor is triggered.
7. Lay down Alexa-compatible lighting.
Toss out the bulky, dated tiki torches and upgrade to these SYLVANIA LIGHTIFY® LED GardenSpot Mini RGB lights to illuminate your yard’s walkways. Voice commands, via Amazon Alexa, can change the color of the lighting — and there are more than 1,000 hues to choose from. The level of lighting can be adjusted by the corresponding Lightify app’s dimmer feature on your mobile device. When you’re not at home, set the lights to "vacation mode," and rest assured, rain won’t damage the 14-foot-long waterproof strip. The lights start around $70 per strip and are available at Lowe’s, Amazon, Best Buy and other major retailers.
8. Amp up your yard's acoustics.
Most outdoor speaker systems are mounted on existing structures, meaning you really have to crank up the volume to ensure the sound reaches every corner of your yard. But the Triad Garden Array speakers released this May are installed on the ground like landscape lighting — so sound levels are evenly dispersed throughout your entire yard. The satellite speakers start at $300 and the subwoofer starts at $1,000. A separate kit which stores the subwoofer underground is an additional $300. Both can be integrated with any Control4 home automation system.
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.