Starting my Summer with the Blossom Smart Watering Controller
Spring brought to South Dakota plenty of rain. The lawns are green, the flowers are in full bloom, and it seems we can't go beyond a couple days without a rain shower or thunderstorm. While water is usually plenty for my city, we do things smart around here and restrict water usage for our lawns year round. It's not uncommon in my part of the country to see the weather pattern quickly change from wet to dry. What once was green can turn brown in a hurry.
If you want a green yard when summer is in full swing, you will do best to respect the water restrictions and program your sprinkler controller the smartest way possible. Here in my city, watering lawns is not allowed during the hours of 12 p.m to 5 PM. Homeowners with even-numbered addresses may water lawns on even-numbered calendar dates and users with odd-numbered addresses may water lawns on odd-numbered calendar dates. Last summer though, my traditional sprinkler controller decided this responsibility was too much of a burden. The failing controller couldn't even keep the time of day correctly yet alone maintain an ideal watering schedule. So this May, I replaced my failing controller with Blossom's Smart Watering Controller in hopes of a greener lawn and a better sprinkler system.
A new generation of sprinkler controllers
Haven't heard of Blossom before this article? Up to a few months ago, I hadn't before I watched Cali Lewis and David Foster at this year's CES interview Manrique Brenes. Blossom's water controller was so new at the time of purchase that it wasn't available for regular sales and I found myself for the first time committing to a product via a KickStarter investment.
What is Blossom? The best way I can describe the product: Blossom's water controller is to your yard what Nest's Learning Thermostat is to your house. There is a new generation of "smart" cloud-based sprinkler systems arriving on the scene from such companies as Blossom, Rachio, Skydrop, and HydroPoint. Until this year, I hadn't used a single one of them until the mail carrier delivered my Blossom.
The Blossom controller self-programs based on real-time weather data and gives you control of your schedule right from your phone. Once the controller understands the vegetation, layout of your yard, and the weather it should then do the most of the thinking for you when deciding how much to water should be used. The company claims that because their controller is "smarter" than conventional controllers where I can expect to save up to 30% on my water bill.
The do it yourself install
Probably the biggest hurdle for those selling Blossom is convincing people they can actually replace their current sprinkler controller themselves. I am not much of a handyman. In fact everytime something breaks in my house, my wife tells me to call her Uncle Lester. This man apparently possesses DIY powers beyond my mortal reach. But you know what, I didn't need Uncle Lester for this project. I found that installing the Blossom sprinkler system was pretty darn easy. If you can read instructions and work a screw driver...you should be able to master this install too.
There are some that claim the Blossom controller can be installed in 10 minutes. If you're like me and like to move more slowly, as well as double check your work, expect the install to actually take a half hour to an hour to complete. The process isn't difficult and really involves no more than removing wires from your old controller, removing the old controller, mount Blossom onto your wall where you had the old controller, and finally reconnecting the wires. If your Blossom is out of WiFi range, a "Blossom Bridge" is included that will use your home's power lines to extend the reach of your home's internet connection.
The Smart Watering Software Is Getting Smarter (Finally)
I installed the Blossom in early May and for the first couple of weeks of usage it wasn't pretty. The initial software on my smartphone as well as the Blossom's own firmware was buggy. There were days when Blossom watered when it rained and there were days it should have watered my lawn but didn't. It was frustrating to have to unplug the Blossom in order to reset it. It also didn't help that when you identified a bug, Blossom support would often reply that fixes were coming but were not yet available. The silver lining here though is the Blossom team acknowledged the issue and by the end of May released a major software update that fixed all the issues I encountered.
Before the May update, the issue wasn't just software bugs, but also the lack of features and feedback in Blossom's app. The initial Android and Apple apps were stingy on information. It's as if Blossom was concerned of giving homeowners too much information as a cause for them to worry. But here is the deal, it's human nature to worry. It's also human nature to worry about what we don't know. For me and many others, the lack of feedback and lack of better control in the original software made it more difficult for us to be convinced that Blossom knows best. No one wants to be told everything is alright, they want to be shown everything is alright.
Here too, Blossom listened to its customers and during the month of May improved their software immensely. Assuming that the iPhone and Android updates offer the same new features (I use an Android), you will be quite pleased with the "new and improved" Blossom app. The latest update includes besides bug fixes the following additions:
- Immediate feedback of estimated Smart Watering durations based on zone configurations
- Dashboard showing next and last watering cycles
- Notification messages for system alerts
- Watering Now with countdown and stop button
- An easy method for adjusting Smart Watering with modulation sliders
Since the May update, I've had no significant issues with my Blossom controller. The software and functionality is at a level where I'm comfortable recommending the product to my friends. Blossom is quickly getting past its kickstarter phase to a full-fledged reliable product. Better yet, Blossom is getting better at explaining the science behind "smart watering". The meteorologist in me is much calmer these days when it comes to watering my lawn. Bravo to Blossom for the recent improvements in its software as well as the improved transparency in explaining how its "Xona Technology" functions.
What I would improve in Blossom
In the future, I'd like to see my Blossom do three additional things. First, when it comes to scheduling my lawn, I'd like to have an easier way to schedule the watering only on odd or even days due to my city's water restrictions. Currently, I have to point my finger at each day on the calendar and manually select the desired days to water or not water. What should take me only seconds to schedule takes me several minutes to complete. I realize this isn't a major issue, but my old controller did let me set the scheduling by odd or even days. The lack of an odd/even day option in the Blossom software feels like a "step back" to me from my old controller.
Better yet, given that everything is connected to the Internet these days, why doesn't Blossom recognize my cities watering restrictions and implement a schedule accordingly? Almost every city posts some type of water restrictions for their residences to follow so the information is out there. I recognize this would be a difficult task for Blossom to do alone, but I suspect Blossom's would have enough customers volunteers to help keep the database up to date for their own communities. I recognize my suggestion may be a little too ahead of it's time, but this is a feature that could separate Blossom from its competitors.
Finally, I'm a weather buff. I'd like to see Blossom recognize data from my own personal weather station similar to what Rachio is already doing. I'll be upfront, I'm not clear which weather stations are fed and not fed into Blossom's algorithms. I'm under the impression that only the "official" weather observations from such places as the airports are being used. However, given that most of us don't live near the airports, it would be nice to see Blossom use other data points available through observation networks such as Citizen Weather Observer Program and Weather Underground PWS. I'd also like to know if precipitation estimates from National Weather Service radars are also used by Blossom. Perhaps, Blossom is already doing this and I'm just not privy on their sources for weather data. If that is the case, perhaps all Blossom needs to do here is be more transparent on their sources for data.
The Question: Should you buy a Blossom Smart Watering Controller?
If someone has a failing sprinkler controller like I did, I would most certainly recommend to them that they consider Blossom for their next controller. It makes no sense to me to replace your current "old fashion" controller with another "old fashion" controller. Besides the new generation of smart controllers being "smarter", they're also competitively priced against the traditional controllers. In fact, you might find that a smart controller is actually cheaper to purchase the exact replacement of the controller you're using now.
However, Blossom is saying the number one reason you should by their controller is because it conserves water and saves you money So, should you replace your current controller even if it isn't broken? At first, I was skeptical of Blossom's claim that I could expect to save up to 30% on my water bill using their product. But after a couple months of usage, it's quite obvious to me now that Blossom's claim holds water. If you desire to replace your current controller with a controller that reduces waste, Blossom is an option you should consider.
With my old sprinkler, I had set my zones year round to water for 20 minutes (sprays) and 40 minutes (rotors). Blossom on the other hands continually adjusts the watering duration in each zone based on such things as vegetation type, past weather, and the weather forecast. In every run of the sprinklers, Blossom has chosen to water my lawn less than I had it set in previous years. Better yet, Blossom also has canceled scheduled watering because the forecast called for rain later in the day. I am indeed expecting my Blossom to use about a third less of water for my lawn than in previous years. In the long run, Blossom can save you money. So the answer to your question is: Yes, I would recommend you buy a smart water controller and believe you should consider Blossom as a top candidate for upgrading your sprinkler system.
Currently, the Blossom Smart Watering Controller is available for $199 at both Amazon as well as through Blossom's own website.