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Our Favorite Tech For The Home Garden

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An App to Plan Your GardeniScape

A Smart Irrigation Systemb-hyve from Orbit Irrigation

A Robotic Lawn MowerHusqvarna Automower

A Torch for the WeedsPropane Flame King Weed Burner Torch

A backyard garden can be a healing sanctuary after a stressful day, but maintaining that sanctuary, ironically, can require a lot of effort and time. Unless you want to relax in a yard of dried weeds and brown grass, you have to mow, water, tidy up, and all else.

Luckily, a few simple upgrades to your backyard can make the maintenance of a healthy garden easier and of faster. Less time spent tending plants equals more time lounging in the spring and summer sun.

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Photograph: iScape

An App to Plan Your GardeniScape

Maybe you just bought or rented a house, but the tiny backyard is a square of newly laid sod with a necklace of bark around the edges. What do you do now? You don’t have to settle for that, but before you start planting, you’ll need to design what you do want your garden to look like.

iScape is a free, easy-to-use app that can help. You can take a photo of your yard, then place plants and features, or go outside and launch the augmented-reality feature for a more detailed picture that includes changing light and immersive 3D imaging. I’ve found that a photo is simpler to work with, but AR provides more flexibility. The built-in plant database provides ample choices to build your perfect garden, but if you’re a  beginner, read each entry’s information thoroughly. Otherwise, you might accidentally place an enlarged image of a small annual like a pansy where you actually want a big shrub.

As a designer myself, I appreciated the ability to draw out walkways and hardscapes of various materials. Also, a layering feature allows you to nestle a birdbath into a cluster of perennials, which helps the vision realistically come to life. Overall, iScape is not going to get you into the nitty-gritty of exact dimensions, elevations, and depth unless you pay for the Pro plan ($30 a month, intended for landscapers and designers), but it will render a decent “after” picture for those who need help imagining what their home garden could look like.

Photograph: Orbit Irrigation

A Smart Irrigation Systemb-hyve from Orbit Irrigation

My life changed when I downloaded Orbit’s b-hyve irrigation app. Before, when unexpected weather blew in, I used to sprint into the darkest bowels of my basement to crank the Orbit control box dial on my sprinkler system. Now, I kick back on the couch and tap my phone to control it. If the weather gods give us another hot day, that’s OK. I don’t miss a second of The Mandalorian while my flowers get a drink.

Note that the b-hyve app pairs only with the Orbit irrigation system. But I’ve found the  Orbit system is the simplest of all irrigation systems to use. It’s easiest to set up, program, and schedule. And what I like most about its app is the ability to assign garden section photos to each valve. Other apps use icons, which are useful but don’t indicate the east side of your driveway rather than the west. Also, if you leave for a vacation and forget to program the app, you can take care of it while lazing in a faraway hotel pool. Also, the monthly reports are handy when monitoring water costs.

A close second choice is the Hunter system with its accompanying Hydrawise app. Landscaping professionals often choose this trusted brand, but the system’s programming suite may be more complicated than home irrigation requires. If you want to go completely hands-off with your watering tasks, b-hyve may be a better bet.

Photograph: Husqvarna

A Robotic Lawn MowerHusqvarna Automower

When friends of mine sent a video of their little robotic mower bumping along a long flat lawn, I was skeptical. How could a device the size of a small tire mow a large lawn? Well, Husqvarna makes mowers that can, pretty accurately, and have been for years. While the robot won’t be able to edge succinctly like a weed whacker, you’ll still get well-groomed grass for very little effort. It chops the blades and mulches to save you the work of constantly emptying a storage container.

The limitations involve installing a wire pinned to the lawn’s entire perimeter. Also, automowers are less reliable than push or riding mowers on steeper slopes. And like a robotic vacuum, it can’t remove toys, chairs, and hoses obstructing its path. Obstacles need to be picked up before it departs the charging station. Lastly, separate areas of lawn dissected by a driveway or sidewalk can’t be covered. Otherwise, the device is fairly thorough.

The biggest drawback? Price. For a city yard, the residential Automower 115H (4G) is $700, and to cover a larger suburban lawn, the wider Automower 415X runs $2,000. While other, cheaper brands may suit your needs just fine, Husqvarna has been perfecting landscape tools for decades and has a reputation for being built tough. I’d say it’s worth it, but the key is to find an automower that works for your yard and your budget.

Photograph: Flame King

A Torch for the WeedsPropane Flame King Weed Burner Torch

Weeding is the bane of a gardener’s existence. They appear every year in the most inconvenient and noticeable places. While a small blow torch from the hardware store will burn and kill weeds well enough, it may strain your back to constantly crouch down. The Flame King torch ($45 at Amazon) comes with a long, 3-foot wand, fully assembled, and with an adjustable flame switch. Plus, you can swap in a variety of propane tanks and work farther from the base with the long hose.

When using a torch, it’s easy to turn into a Doomguy-style fighter, killing the evil dandelions like demons, but you have to take extreme precautions not to set your yard on fire. Torches are best for eliminating weeds from seams in patios or driveways. When used with caution, they certainly work under shrubs and in between perennials. Also, they have the added use of melting snow, starting fire pits, and removing paint from asphalt. If you just scored a huge yard, or you’re a perfectionist, this is way better than dousing your outdoor space in pesticides and weed killers.