For those of us without a green thumb, keeping a single houseplant alive is a nearly impossible task. However, with the help of a little technology you can find the right location in your home, remind yourself to water it, and even automate the watering process altogether. Here's how to do it.
Houseplants usually die for one of two reasons: improper watering or improper exposure to sun. Tracking both and getting them right is easy with the help of technology. The first step is to make sure you have the plant where it's getting the right amount of light.
Find the Right Location
Most plants need sunlight of some kind, and your lightbulbs probably aren't giving that plant what it needs (although sometimes artificial light works). Most houseplants you purchase will suggest one of three different amounts of sunlight:
Full sun: six or more hours of sunlight. Partial sun: four or five hours of sunlight. Full shade: no direct sunlight.
With that knowledge you need to figure out how much sunlight your house gets and find a good place to put your plant. If you have the time and patience, you can sit at home all day long, pop open the windows, and make notes about how long each section of the house gets sunlight.
Better still, you can try out an app like Sun Seeker for iPhone (this seems be having some problems with the most recent update, so check out the free version first) or Sun Surveyor for Android to get an idea of how much sunlight your exact location gets.
Both apps use your location to track the sun's movement. You can do this with a simple compass or use the augmented reality feature to put your phone right where the plant will sit and get a view of the sun's movement throughout the day.
If you live in a cave that just doesn't get that much light, you can also build small LED Light Spikes to help boost the amount of light your plants get.
Set Reminders or Get Notifications to Water the Plants
With a good spot chosen and your plants getting the right amount of sunlight, it's time to actually remember to water them. You have two options for watering reminders. You can either set up a reminder system or use an automated, "low-water" alert system stuck directly in the dirt. Let's look at some of your options for reminders first.
Set Up Reminders
Keeping a plant alive isn't always as easy as just setting up a calendar event for a couple of times a week. Arguably the one exception is if you have a plant that needs watering every day, in which case, a calendar event will be your best option. However, most plants need a different amount of water.
To help you water when you really need it, Koubachi is an iOS app and web app that gets you to enter in your plant's name, average sunlight exposure and your own location. With that, the app will send you reminders on when it thinks your plants needs watering. It's not perfect science, but the more you use it the better it gets at predicting when your plants need water. You can supercharge this process with an expensive Wi-Fi sensor as well, but the free apps do a good enough job for most plants.
Use Sensors to Alert You When to Water
If the setup of a service like Koubachi is too much of a hassle or you just need a more in-your-face alert, you can use sensors stuck directly in the soil that alert you when a plant needs water. Surprisingly, you have a lot of options out there, but the Hydrofarm Thirsty Light is the one I personally use, and it works really well. When the soil is dry the light on the sensor starts blinking, and as the soil gets dryer it blinks faster. If you're more the DIY type, the Botonicalls kit will send you a tweet when you need water.
Automate The Watering Process
If constant reminders still won't help you, then you may want to consider automating the process altogether. Depending on the type of plant you have, you can automate the whole watering process.
An Arduino-powered watering system gives you the most control over how and when the plant gets water. If your plants need constantly moist soil, a self-regulating automatic plant-watering system made from a bottle works well. You can also build a simple system with a timer built in to water plants every day.
If you're just looking for a little green to liven up your house or cubicle, your best bet is to stick with nearly unkillable plants. Combine a hardy plant with the help of technology, and it will survive a very long time.
Have your own tech tricks for keeping plants alive? Share them in the comments.