The Parrot Flower Power monitors your plant, then sends advice to your smartphone or tablet.
Some people talk to their plants. One of my plants has started talking to me.
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Flower Power, which I stuck into one of my flower pots, is sending wireless messages to my smartphone about how my Christmas cactus is doing.
Using electronic sensors, the device tells me when the plant needs more water or if I’ve been drowning it, whether it gets too much sun or too little, when it needs fertilizer and whether the air is too hot or too cold.
It turns out my Christmas cactus wasn’t getting enough light, the Flower Power told me via its iPhone app, so I moved it closer to a window.
The Flower Power is one of a growing list of attempts to bring the ancient, low-tech hobby of gardening into the digital era. For people who regularly kill their plants this gadget may sound like a godsend. No longer will you have to guess what’s ailing your drooping begonia or why the ficus tree has been losing its leaves.
To use the Flower Power, you insert its forked prong into the soil a few inches from the plant you want to monitor. You also need to download the Flower Power app to your iPhone or iPad. (It doesn’t yet work with Android-based devices.)
From the app, you select what plant you want to monitor from a database of about 7,000 varieties—if you’re a plant neophyte and don’t know what your plant is, that could involve a lot of scrolling and some guesswork.
Flower Power, developed by French technology company Parrot SA, gathers information about the soil, light and temperature for about 24 hours. It then sends the data to your
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device via a low-power version of Bluetooth. Your phone or iPad in turn transmits the information via Wi-Fi to an online site for analysis.
Once it figures out how your plant is doing, based on the plant variety you selected, it sends the findings back to your phone or iPad. Using graphs, it tells you the amount of water, light and fertilizer it has detected over time, as well as the ambient temperature.
If your plant needs help, notices will appear on the screen such as “Not enough sunlight” or “Not enough water.”
Flower Power also has a “live” mode that gives instant readouts on moisture, temperature and light at that moment, though not the fertilizer needs.
But as with many tech products there are downsides, starting with the Parrot’s price: $59.95. Since you need a Parrot in every pot—or multiple ones in a flower bed—for continuous monitoring, that could get costly very fast.
You can move the device from container to container, but since it takes 24 hours for the gadget to provide advice that may not be practical except if you are monitoring only a handful of plants.
Then there are questions about how useful the information is that the Flower Power gives you. While it can tell you that your geranium needs fertilizer, it doesn’t say how much—or which of the three key plant nutrients is deficient: potassium, nitrogen or phosphorus. Giving too much fertilizer, or too much of the wrong kind, can be just as bad for a plant as not giving it enough.
A Parrot representative said monitoring that level of fertilizer detail would have been too costly for a consumer device, and that users should follow the information on fertilizer needs contained in the app’s plant database.
At one point the app told me I last added fertilizer to my Christmas cactus eight hours ago. In fact, I never had added fertilizer. The company representative said that likely was a one-time event that occurred as the device was setting a baseline level for nutrients already in the soil.
The low-power Bluetooth connection from the device also can be frustrating. It means you need to remember to set your phone or iPad within a few yards of the plant once a day or so to be monitored. A Wi-Fi link with its larger range would be far more convenient, though I assume that would markedly cut down the claimed six-month life of the AAA battery that the Flower Power uses.
Despite these shortcomings, the Flower Power could be a boon in curtailing the early death that is the sad fate of too many house plants. And it’s just one of many efforts to link garden know-how to smartphones and tablets.
A company called Edyn Garden is working on a similar plant-monitoring device. Some gardeners help scientists study climate change by sending observations about their plants from their phones. And there is a growing list of apps that provide gardening tips and expertise, though when I last examined them I found many of them kind of lame.
For many longtime gardeners the bridging of the plant and online worlds may not necessarily be a good thing. After all, your yard is one of the few places where you can escape the omnipresence of screens.
But I’m no Luddite. While working in my garden I sometimes take photos of unfurling flowers with my phone and post them on
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or look up plant advice from my iPad. Is that a weed or a keeper? Doing a search is far quicker than going inside to find an old-fashioned reference book.
What do you think of the melding of tech and gardening? Leave us a comment.
Write to Bart Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org