Tech takes its place in the garden

Image: Wireless weather station
The Wireless Weather Projection Station ($50) tells barometric pressure as well as humidity, among other features.Gardener's Supply Co.

I don’t have a green thumb. That’s something that I did not inherit from my parents, who were splendid gardeners.

Living in a townhouse, I have a wee small yard and it’s all I can do to trim the hedge and mow the lawn (with a manual mower), and keep it alive. But I’m surrounded by beautiful gardens and landscapes, and there are some gadgets and technology that can help the weekend gardener like myself, as well as those who are year-round, serious enthusiasts.

“The process of gardening/growing has become easier as new products have been developed to allow consumers to enjoy this activity with less time and effort,” said Beth Marshall, marketing manager for the Ohio-based A.M. Leonard’s Gardeners Edge, a horticultural tool company that dates back to 1885.

“When you look at the methods, container gardening seems to be big right now,” she said. “We sell something called the Earthbox ($65) that has made it extremely easy to grow fresh vegetables just about anywhere, a balcony, a small space on a deck.

“Watering has been made easier with products such as Terra-Sorb ($2) a super-absorbent, potassium-based co-polymer gel that conserves water by absorbing and storing excess (water) and slowly releasing it.” Another product, Wonder Soil ($9) is compressed, and “ready to use with the addition of water.”

Both “are lightweight and compact, allowing the consumer to be ready to plant with minimal space for storage and no heavy bags to lift,” Marshall said.

Another item that provides an efficient way of watering is the Solar Irrigation Kit ($75), which waters at the root zone, said Maree Gaetani, a certified Master Gardener and spokeswoman for Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Co.

Using the sun, this self-contained irrigation system waters up to 20 plants at a time, at a rate of 24 gallons of water an hour.

Gaetani also said tools like self-watering planters, which start at $15, are extremely handy. With them, water is distributed from a reservoir, with refill areas in easy-to-access spots.

The Noodlehead Sprinkler head ($15) has a dozen flexible heads that bend to hit the spots you want.

Marshall also recommends OXO’s “Pour & Store” watering cans ($10 to $25). The spout rotates so you can turn it toward the can, making storage much easier.

Another nifty find: the Noodlehead Sprinkler ($15), which covers a 20-by-20-foot area, with a dozen flexible heads that bend to direct water right were you want it.

Gardening tools have also become more ergonomic, economic and efficient. For example, Remington Power Tools has a line of 18-volt battery-operated, cordless tools that are made to appeal to consumers looking for lightweight, easy-to-use products, said Alex Wrinkles, the company’s marketing communications manager.

I tried out the 22-inch cordless hedge trimmer ($95), which was effective trimming at multiple angles. At first, its dual-action cutting blades scared me, but the wrap handle and its shield made me feel safe. The trigger also comes with a safety lever.

The 18-volt battery needed to operate it can also be used on Remington’s other tools, such as blowers, string trimmers and polesaws. If I am going to have any power tools, I’m all for cordless.

Marshall’s must-have for any gardener is the company’s 6-inch Soil Knife ($22). “It digs, pries, cuts, and saws,” she said. “Great for weeding, planting flowers, dividing perennials, creating furrows for planting seeds, scraping out cracks in your drive, walk or patio, and more. “

Many gardeners also swear by the multi-purpose Hori-Hori knife ($25), which does the same things as the Soil Knife.

Your own weather station
Gaetani, of the Gardener’s Supply Co., said technology has made a difference is in terms of devices, including weather stations, which can give gardeners an edge in determining the best conditions to plant and maintain their green spaces.

The Wireless Weather Projection Station ($50) measures time and/or outdoor temperature, barometric pressure and minimum and maximum temperature history, and indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, she said.

"While the weather stations do not take any soil measurements, they do take several measurements including humidity, dew points, heat indices, barometric pressure and moon phases, depending on the model of weather station,” said Heather Ballou, also with Gardener’s Supply Co. All of those conditions are important, she said, depending on what you are growing.

"For example, summer is the ideal time to grow tomatoes because of the nighttime heat index. Oftentimes, it is humid at night with high dew points, which means that the temperatures do not fall below, say 70 degrees. Tomato plants thrive throughout the warm nights as soil maintains the heat from the day, therefore, allowing the plant to yield its fruit."

Ballou also said it’s important to know about barometric pressure. A weather station measures “rise and fall of the atmospheric pressure,” she said. “If the atmospheric pressure is falling, this means that a storm is coming. This can be potentially bad news for gardeners. A wind storm can tear apart poorly staked vegetables or flowers. A hail storm can wreak havoc on a season's worth of effort within 15 minutes."

Another tool, the SunCalc ($30), helps gardeners figure out if they’re placing their plants in the best areas for the amount of sun that’s needed, by reading how much sun exposure an area gets. It runs on a watch battery.

Tools targeted to women have come a long way, said Gaetani, citing the Garden Groom Jr. ($149) as one example. At 7.5 pounds, it’s lightweight, and grooms hedges and collects trimmings at the same time. Its only drawback (to me): it has a cord.

The tech options for gardening tools and gadgets are as expansive as any nursery. It’s up to the gardener to decide what would be most useful. I think I’m going to start with some basics, and see if I can get anything to live past a season.