CO-Horts Blog

Monday, January 16, 2017

Alexa...Water the Lawn!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Alexa has been handy for getting the latest
weather and for listening to music. She will
even tell you a joke when asked!
Many of you own – or have heard about – Alexa: the voice and brains behind the Amazon Echo Dot. In case you aren’t familiar, the Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Amazons’s cloud-based Alexa Voice service to play your favorite music, tell you what’s on your calendar for the day, read the news, tell you jokes, turn on/off or dim lights, lock your doors, turn the thermostat up or down, etc. Alexa becomes “smarter” the more you use the system – by better understanding your voice and learning your personal preferences (for example, whether you are a Ram or Buffs fan).

Of course, all of this (the running your home part) requires that your household be equipped with WIFI that is constantly on and that you have “smart devices” that can interact with and understand Alexa’s commands. For example, the popular Nest thermostats and Philips LED Hue smart lighting systems can be controlled simply by asking Alexa to turn up the heat or dim the lights. While Alexa herself is relatively inexpensive ($50), the smart devices with which she can interact can be a bit pricey.

I have a new Alexa in my office. Some would argue that she is the smartest person to ever occupy that space. I’ve had my Dot for about a week now, and so far have only used Alexa to tell me what’s on my calendar for the day or week, what the temperature is, to play some music, and what the traffic might be like if I’m driving to Denver - all very handy and a fun way to get that information. I don’t have any smart devices in my office for her to interact with, so can’t speak to her effectiveness there. Sadly, she still can’t tell me who is winning the latest golf tournament or who the top-ranked golfer in the world is (her response “Hmmm, I didn’t understand the question I heard”). Maybe, some day, as she gets smarter?

The Rachio phone app will
allow you to control your
irrigation system from anywhere
using you Android or IOS phone.
Intrigued about any horticultural uses for Alexa, I did some research on applications Alexa might have for the home gardener. I discovered an excellent, reasonably priced irrigation controller that is designed to interact with Alexa: the Rachio smart irrigation controller. If the kids want to go out to play or if a sudden rainstorm occurs and the lawn is being watered, you can simply ask Alexa to turn off the irrigation. Amazing and fun and cool!

More amazing, however, than its ability to interact with Alexa is just how “smart” this Rachio irrigation control system appears to be! It can easily replace most existing home controllers (8 or 16 stations), can be controlled using IOS or Android phone apps, and can be made even “smarter” by installing a wireless rain sensor device to turn it off when it rains and soil moisture sensors to run each station or hydrozone. While I don’t have personal experience with the Rachio system, the fact that it has been tested and certified by the EPA WaterSense and Irrigation Association SWAT (Smart Water Application Technology) programs attests to both its effectiveness and ease of use. You can find them online (Amazon, Rachio) or at Home Depot stores for about $200-250 (for 8 or 16 station controllers).

I will be getting one of these to test this year. Since I don’t have an irrigation system myself, I’m thinking that fellow blogger Alison, her Alexa, and her nice lawn would be a great test site? Alexa…ask Alison if this is a good idea? (Alison: "Yes, this is a great idea if it doesn't cost me anything!").

LG's prototype robotic mower (Source: CNET)
I can’t find a robotic mower that Alexa can communicate with - yet. But the home appliance and TV giant LG has hinted that it will soon introduce a robotic mower that can take orders from Alexa. I’ll search out other smart landscape gadgets that are Alexa-compatible and write about them – unless Alexa becomes smart enough to blog for herself?

If you Alexa fans out there have discovered horticultural uses for Alexa, let us know about them!


  1. Don't suppose Alexa wil feature a bluetooth weeding program any time soon?

  2. Ummm...yeah! Count me in to trial awesome technology for my antiquated irrigation system! Alexa was, by far, the most fun Christmas present I got this year--thanks Dad!

  3. When Alexa will mow the lawn I'm in! That being said, pretty soon we won't even have to get out bed every day... :(

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  5. I've had a Rachio for about three years now and love it. Rachio is a Denver-based company, too. One of the things I love about it is the ability to run circuits manually from your phone. That's handy when you're testing circuits. Carry your phone with you (assuming your WiFI has the range), turn a circuit on while you're standing next to it, then turn it off when you see a broken head!