Are you looking for the best irrigation controller? Read my reviews and discover my guide to choosing.
The irrigation programmer is a really useful device, as it gives you the possibility to automate the entire system responsible for hydrating the plants. In summary, once you have set it properly, the control unit will take care of everything: it will be the one who will water the lawn or garden, always knowing which sectors to spray, managing not only the departure times but also the overall duration of the operation. .
Of course, this computer hides many other surprises, to the point of providing you with a series of truly technological functions. Functions that are worth exploring together.
How does the irrigation controller work?
First, let’s start by explaining how an irrigation timer works, although I can assure you that it is a very simple subject. In practice, the control unit is connected to the electrically controlled solenoid valves, by means of wires (positive / negative or common). The solenoid valves are nothing more than automated taps, which open and close according to the signal sent by our timer. From these valves start the irrigation pipes on which the garden sprinklers are installed, i.e. the sprinklers from which the water comes out.
If the valves are easy to reach, and you have an electrical outlet nearby, you can use a classic corded programmer, to connect to the mains. If there is no outlet nearby, or if the distance between the timer and the valve is too large, then you may want to opt for a battery operated irrigation timer. Another plus? You can also install it inside a well or on a tap (keeping it dry).
According to its programming, the computer will communicate with the valve by sending a 24 volt signal (9 volts for battery products) through the wires. At that point, the tap will open according to the timer command, and here there would be a discussion regarding the types of solenoid valves for irrigation. Not being today’s topic, I’ll tell you about it in an upcoming guide. What are the various options you can program with an irrigation computer?
- Departure time: you can set the start time for watering. Once a time is set, you can be sure that the valves will open with the timing of a Swiss watch.
- Timer: you can of course set a certain duration, at the end of which the valves will close the tap and stop the irrigation system.
- Sector management: Certain watering timers allow you to assign different zones to different areas of the garden (such as the lawn and vegetable garden). In summary, you will tell the computer which specific sector you want to water, at what time and for how long.
- Rain sensor: if the control unit allows you to connect a rain sensor, it is able to interrupt the flow of water by itself as soon as a precipitation begins. This way you will avoid wasting water.
As you can see, the operation of an irrigation controller is not that complex to understand. You will realize this even more by reading my reviews: then, if you want, you can deepen the various aspects related to the control unit by studying my guide to choice.
Before proceeding, however, know that there are also models of WiFi irrigation control unit, which can be managed via smartphone app (therefore remotely and remotely). Secondly, some battery-operated products can be installed directly on the tap, as they integrate not only the programmer but also the electric opening valve.
Best irrigation timers
1. Orbit 94874 Pocket Star Ultima 4 Stations
Among the best models ever. This control unit has an excellent relationship between quality and price and provides you with all the most important functions. Specifically, it allows you to set the timer to irrigate from a minimum of 1 minute up to a maximum of 99 minutes, and also mounts a buffer battery, which is activated in case the power goes out. Its purpose? It is used to keep the programming you have selected in memory.
- Diet: flush
- Template: indoor
- Timer: 1 to 99 minutes
- Zones: 4
What are the other functions? It has a large LCD display and a push-button panel, through which you can, for example, set the departure time, and even decide the days. Secondly, you can take advantage of 2 distinct programs (A and B), which you can activate individually or simultaneously. There are 4 stations: this means that you can count on 4 independent starts for each program, for example by setting 4 different times to irrigate each single zone (4 in total). Finally, you can schedule up to 12 irrigations every day.
Note: know that there is also a slightly more expensive version that can manage 6 different zones.
Another useful function is the “Rain Delay” or rain delay, which allows you to automatically start irrigation after a few hours at the end of a precipitation: in our case, the available intervals are 24, 48 and 72 hours. Of course this means that our irrigation controller allows you to connect a rain sensor. As far as programming is concerned, this is very easy, since it is sufficient to consult the instructions on the booklet. The installation also presents no difficulties.
Finally, know that it is an indoor model, therefore it cannot be mounted outdoors as it does not have a waterproof body.
2. CROSOFMI Battery Garden Sprinkler
Let’s change the “bank” for a moment, and study together this battery irrigation programmer, to be mounted directly on the tap. It is a very basic product, with only one program available and without a rain sensor, but with a built-in valve. It allows you to set the delayed start, and also gives you the possibility to set the timer for irrigation from 1 second up to a maximum of 300 minutes.
- Diet: battery powered
- Template: from tap (with valve)
- Timer: from 1 to 300 minutes
- Ways: 1
The frequency of irrigation can instead be set from 1 hour up to 15 days. On the display you will also find an indicator that will tell you how much time is left until the next activation you have programmed. Programming is really very simple, because after all it still remains an economic timer. Being an outdoor product, it is obviously waterproof (IP65) and therefore can withstand rain without problems.
Note: there are two other alternative versions, practically identical in cost, but with 3 and 6 programs instead of 1. The one with 6 programs also integrates the rain sensor.
Other interesting options? It can be set for manual use, so you can use the tap without limits, all without blocking the program you have set. Secondly, it also has a button that blocks access to the display: it is useful to prevent, for example, a child from accidentally changing it by playing with the keypad. Finally, the package includes all the assembly kit, and an adapter for the taps.
3. Claber 8410 Aquadue Duplo Evolution
Let’s stay in the faucet control unit sector, but let’s make a big leap in quality and discover together the Claber Aquadue. As its name explains, it is a timer to be fixed to the tap with a 2-way valve (not independent). It means that you will not be able to program them separately. In total you can get to program 3 activations per day for each of the two ways, and it is possible to program irrigation weekly, excluding the days that do not interest you.
- Diet: battery powered
- Template: from tap (with valve)
- Timer: from 1 minute to 23 and 59 minutes
- Ways: 2
If you want, you can connect it to the Claber Rain rain sensor, to be purchased separately, while the presence of the 2 separate ways will allow you to manage 2 different areas: for example one for the vegetable garden and the other for the lawn, unless use splitters. The body is obviously able to resist both the ingress of water and dust, while the power supply takes place by mounting a 9 V alkaline battery, also in this case to buy. separately.
Note: there is also a second version, the Acquauno Select, which, unlike the first, costs much less and has only one way (valve).
The programs that can be set with the Claber are 6 in total (3 for each way), and they are not at all complex to set. The timer can be set from a minimum of 1 minute up to a maximum of 23 hours and 59 minutes, and fixing to the tap is quick and easy. As far as the battery is concerned, this irrigation control unit has an autonomy that well exceeds 3 months, and which, depending on use, can even reach up to 1 year.
4. Orbit Europe 94915 B-Hyve Wi-Fi 4 Zone
It has a higher price, but it is really worth it, considering that we are talking about a WiFi irrigation controller. It means that, once you have installed it, you can connect it to the home connection and manage or program it in comfort thanks to a smartphone app. In summary, it can work remotely and at any distance, but alternatively you can also use Bluetooth. So you can also use it when you are away from home, or on vacation thousands of kilometers away.
- Diet: flush
- Template: indoor
- Extra: WiFi and Bluetooth module
- Timer: from 1 minute
- Zones: 4
Compatible with all operating systems (from Android to iOS), this indoor irrigation timer can manage up to 4 different zones. Furthermore, it is able to check the weather forecast by itself and manage itself based on the rain risk: this function, however, is not very precise, since it is based precisely on simple forecasts and not on a rain sensor. However, consider that, despite being an intelligent device, it is not a top-of-the-range programmer and therefore has some limitations to accept.
Note: if you like the idea of the WiFi timer, know that Orbit has also launched a tap model on the market, as always manageable via smartphone app.
The connection with the home router is excellent and stable, it is quickly assembled and with the app managing it becomes fun as well as easy. Of course, the management is independent for each of the 4 zones, so you will have the opportunity to try many different programs for each single area. Also know that the device is able to send push notifications to the mobile phone, and that the timer (which can be set via the app) starts from a minimum of 1 minute.
5. Rainbird ESP-RZX RZX6-230V 6 Stations
I close my reviews with this flush irrigation timer, but which you can make smart by purchasing the WiFi module separately. It is a product with a slightly higher price but very versatile and very easy to use, as well as to manage and install. Furthermore, it allows you to manage 6 different zones, and each of them can count on an independent program (date and time setting).
- Diet: flush
- Template: indoor
- Extra: WiFi module (sold separately)
- Timer: up to 6 hours
- Zones: 6
The LCD display is quite large and clear, and other options are also available, such as starting automatic irrigation every other day (even or odd). Each area can be labeled with its own name, instead of being limited to a simple number, and you also have the option of connecting a rain sensor, to be purchased separately as always.
Note: online you will find different versions that also include the module for the WiFi connection in the package. I leave you the link to one of the best sellers.
It is true that it costs more than others, but it is a much easier to use and super intuitive irrigation controller. Probably it would have been more correct to include the WiFi module in the package, but none of them are perfect. As far as the timer is concerned, the latter can be set up to a maximum of 6 total hours of irrigation: obviously, as I mentioned earlier, the management of the timer of each individual zone is independent.
How to choose the irrigation controller
1. Valves and power supply
As I mentioned, there are some irrigation timers that have a built-in electronic valve, as is the case with the battery-operated faucet models. In these products we simply find a valve equipped with an on-board computer, with a built-in display and a push-button panel.
The classic control units, on the other hand, provide for a flush connection with separate and independent valves. Then there are the valveless but battery operated devices, which can be mounted anywhere. In this case it is important to talk about the voltage, since it changes according to the models taken into consideration.
- Programmer without flush valve: the programmer in question acts only as a control unit, it must be powered with 220 Volt electricity and sends a 24 Volt electrical impulse to the solenoid valves. In this control unit, in fact, the valves are not integrated and must be powered remotely.
- Timer without battery valve: works with a 9 volt battery, and sends a 9 volt signal to the valve. Same as above: to work correctly the latter must be 9 volts.
- Timer with tap valve: it is a separate case. In this device, in fact, the battery powers both the timer and the valve.
As you can see, this is a rather simple speech, but not to be underestimated for this. In summary, when you buy a timer, always do it keeping in mind the type of valve you will connect (or vice versa).
2. Types of programmers
Here I will repeat myself a bit, but it is right to do so, to underline some fundamental peculiarities (which – if you have read the reviews – you will now know by heart). What are the differences between the various types of irrigation computers?
- Traditional timer: it must be connected to the house current, it sends a 24 volt signal to an independent valve and is programmable. For example, it allows you to set the automatic start and stop time of irrigation, the days to water, the times and even the zones.
- Battery irrigation timer: if we talk about the independent variant, it too must be connected to the valves and works as well or badly as the first. It is much simpler and cheaper, so it has fewer options, but does not need to be connected to the mains.
- Tap timer: integrates both the computer and the electronic valve, it must be connected directly to the tap spout and can have many programmable options. Being a complete product, it can have different valves, so it can give you the possibility to manage different sprinklers with separate and independent programs.
Consider that tap controllers are solutions designed for gardens, balconies and small areas. But that doesn’t make it inferior to others – it simply serves different purposes.
3. Management and connection
Here comes the beauty, as technologies have allowed programmers to make great strides in recent years. Classic devices, as you well know, can be managed by a pushbutton panel and by means of a special (digital) display. There are also analogue models, from the “old school”, which still do their duty very well. Then there are the devices that you can manage remotely, or via Bluetooth or WiFi.
- Control units with Bluetooth: they are manageable from a distance, but as long as you stay within the range of the timer, due to the integrated Bluetooth module. They can work without a home connection.
- Control units with WiFi: the WiFi module allows you to manage the timer even at sidereal distances, since you just need to connect it to the home connection and interface with it via a smartphone app, even when you are on vacation.
Know that there are also devices online that integrate both modules, and that you can use both at a great distance with your mobile phone and within their range by activating the Bluetooth connection. Finally, even the tap timers can sometimes be managed with the mobile phone.
4. Programming and functions
I anticipate right away that the programming and the type of functions may vary (and not a little) based on the product you purchase. The wisest thing you can do is rely on the instruction booklet, following the various programming steps step by step. I assure you that the best timers manage to make this operation super easy, even if you will have to tinker a bit to get used to the device.
I want to start right from the programs, explaining what exactly it is. To trivialize, a program is nothing more than a set of inputs / outputs that tell the valve to open or close. Each program, however, can be set with certain specifications, such as the switch-on time, switch-off time, days or zones to be controlled.
Practical example: if I have 4 zones, I can tell the timer to start with zone 1 at a time X for a total time X in a day X, while for zone 3 I will set a time Y and a total time Y. Same for the other zones , which, however, I could also disable.
But be careful, because not all models give you the possibility to set individual programs for each zone. The more basic ones, in fact, apply the same program chosen to all the zones, which cannot therefore be treated as single units. In summary, you decide on an X time and a Y day for all connected areas.
Of course, the programming gets progressively more advanced based on the value of the product you will buy. There are the latest generation models, authentically smart, which give you the opportunity to manage an infinite number of factors: you can program them and bye-bye, they will take care of the rest. Conversely, with mid-range or “domestic” products, you will still have to be content with a program to be filed down according to the seasons.
5. Sensors available
I have already told you that some irrigation controllers (such as taps) have a sensor with a float that detects when it is raining. In practice, it stops irrigation if it is in progress and resumes it after a few hours from the end of the precipitation. The latter option is called “rain delay” and can become very valuable. If the model does not have one, like the wired control units, it could still give you the possibility to install an independent rain sensor (but you can’t always do this).
A second sensor, which I haven’t told you about yet, is the hygroscopic one: it is a device capable of measuring the rate of water present in the ground, and also in this case (if the product allows it) you can buy it separately and connect it to the control unit. Speaking of rain: consider that some devices connect to the weather forecast and allow you to set them to “react” to this information.
Since these are predictions, however, I would not trust them at all, since they are often not very credible. Unless you buy one weather station for agricultural use, since in that case they are connected to the satellite and update at a very high frequency (but they cost quite a bit).
6. Programmable zones and ways
When talking about zones, we always refer to wire timers, without any valve. When we talk about ways, on the other hand, we refer to tap programmers, i.e. those equipped with a variable number of valves. In fact, consider that each way corresponds to a different valve (therefore to a separate tap).
- Zones: the multiple zone timers allow you to manage the various sprinklers connected to the electronic valves separately. The number of zones obviously starts from a minimum of 1, but can also reach 16 total units. It is useful to program in a different way how you will irrigate for example the orchard, the vegetable garden or the lawn.
- Ways: the timers to be installed on the tap have the valves (ways) already incorporated, in order to connect the pipes that will then sort the water to the various sprinklers scattered around the garden. Usually they manage a maximum of 2 ways, but by installing 2 splitters you can manage 4 ways in total.
In my opinion it is important to make this distinction, since it is sometimes taken for granted, especially when you do not know well how an irrigation system works.
7. Materials: indoor or outdoor?
When buying an irrigation controller, always ask yourself where you will install it. There are purely indoor models, and others for outdoor: the former are not waterproof and therefore must be mounted indoors or at most indoor, while the latter are infiltration-proof and can be placed anywhere.