Water Automated: The Best Sprinkler Controllers

The best sprinkler controllers out there pale in comparison to the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. You can set it up it in 30 minutes or less with no special tools. Once it’s installed, you can program it from a laptop, tablet or Smartphone from inside your home, down the street, or across the country. However, if you want more options for your garden, here’s a good guide to other great irrigation controllers you can choose from.

Our Picks for the Best Sprinkler Controller

What You Need to Know about Sprinkler Controllers

A sprinkler controller (also called a sprinkler timer) programs sprinklers when you’re away from home or otherwise preoccupied. The irrigation controller sends electronic signals to the programming box instructing it to control one or more sprinkler units. You select the day and time you want the sprinkler to operate, how long it should irrigate, and when it should stop.

best sprinkler controllersPhoto by QuesterMark licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Most sprinkler controllers offer between two and four programs, though some may have eight or more. Basic electronic timers have a single program. The higher-end models are sometimes referred to as Smart Controllers due to their ability to program a sprinkler (or sprinklers) via wifi connectivity on Amazon Echo, Nest, Alexa and other home automation systems. Smart irrigation users can program digital sprinkler controllers when on vacation or on the road using a tablet, phone or laptop with internet connectivity.

Sprinkler controllers are available in electronic, semi-electronic and mechanical units. Most units sold today are fully electronic, and mechanical timers are rarely used, except by people with limited watering needs or an aversion to technology.

Semi-electronic sprinkler timers employ gears and an electric clock to turn on watering zones. Electronic controllers run the timer/clock via circuits. Electronic irrigation timers offer the most features but should be used with a surge protector since they’re quite sensitive to power fluctuations.

Programming Basics for Sprinkler Controllers

A program relates sprinkler instructions for watering stations to operate on the same days. If you have several stations or sprinklers, you want to run on different days or schedules, you need a sprinkler controller with two or more programs. When you set up one program on a multi-program controller, it will control all the sprinklers on your property according to that schedule.

You might need a multi-program controller if you have a lawn that needs watering ever day and a garden that needs watering a few times a week.

Here are further explanations of some of the controller features mentioned above, and a few more you’ll find on your device. The names and placement of these features may differ depending on the brand and model you use, but the results are the same.

  • A station controls the valve to release water to a particular irrigation zone in your garden. Place plants, flowers and lawn areas with the same irrigation requirements in the same zone/station. All sprinklers on the same valve run for the same time frame, allowing for more precise watering and reduced costs.
  • Start time indicates when a valve will open to water a specific zone. Run Time/ /Station Duration shows how long a valve will stay open to water each zone. The Stop/Off button stops programs from running until you return to the “Run” feature.
  • The Manual button lets you run one valve for a selected amount of time. Using this button will help you test your sprinklers for leaks or clogs.

Here’s a video narrated by Laurence Budd called “How to Program Your Irrigation Controller” from the Pasadena Water and Power YouTube Channel. Although your controller may be slightly different, this presentation covers the basics.

How to Choose a Sprinkler Controller

When deciding which sprinkler controller to buy, you should consider the following factors:

  • The number of zones or stations you need to program. The controller should be able to program a separate schedule for each of your zones. A large household with different watering requirements for a front yard, back yard, and two gardens will need at least a four-program timer.
  • Controllers can be mounted indoors or outdoors. You may like the comfort of controlling lawn maintenance from inside the house, or perhaps you like doing a lot of yard work and spend most of your free time outdoors so outdoor sprinkler control would be handy. Some controller models can be installed indoors or outdoors.
  • It’s important to have at least one other program on your controller in case you add another sprinkler or zone (a new garden or extra strip of lawn, etc.) to your property.
  • Some controllers offer a rain sensor, which shuts sprinklers down after detecting precipitation. If your preferred controller doesn’t have one, you can install a separate, manual sensor.(source)
  • Advanced controllers offer seasonal scheduling options or more precise set watering geared to summer, spring and fall weather conditions.
  • Prevent sprinkler stoppage from power outages with a battery backup or a controller capable of storing programming information even without electricity or working batteries. Memory-retaining controllers won’t work during an outage but will keep all entered schedules intact.

Quick Tips on Getting the Most Out of your Sprinkler Controller

Along with rain barrels and garden hose timers, sprinkler controllers offer you an easy way to save thousands of gallons of water a year. Even though digital controllers practically program themselves, you’ll still need to alter basic information as your irrigation needs change, or for each season of the year.

For better irrigation and eco-friendlier results, you need to know the right amount of water each type of plant in your garden requires. To find out how much water different plants need, check out this landscape watering guide. (source)

Our Recommendation for the Best Sprinkler Controller: Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller

The Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller has all the features you could want in a sprinkler controller and many more. With dozens of options for programming and monitoring the device, you can keep track of your sprinkler system anywhere, at any time. It’s perfect for families and individuals who are always on the go, and retirees who want a lush lawn without a lot of fuss.

The custom irrigation settings help you save money on your water and energy bills and help the environment. You might save up to 50% off your monthly energy bill using this EPA WaterSense certified controller, and receive a rebate. Eco-conscious consumers will appreciate this aspect of the best Smart Sprinkler Controller as much as the programming options.

The mobile app and web dashboard let you tap the option you want and schedule watering time, a rain delay and other options and it’ll immediately update. Even if you wake up at 2 a.m., you can change the setting when you think of it, and avoid over watering or skipping a watering session because you forgot to manually change the controller.

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