What is the best watering timer? The one that can ease your worry and workload when it comes to watering? That's what we want to dive deep into here.
We all know that watering your plants, gardens and lawn is an essential chore if you want a healthy and happy landscape. We also know that because most people dislike watering, it often times gets skipped and because of that, plants suffer.
Of course you can hire someone to install and underground irrigation system. These are the systems you might have seen in office parks or shopping centers or at other commerical establishments. You might also find them installed at larger homes too.
These elaborate systems use timers to control multiple zones to water multiple areas. They can cover large areas with sprinklers that rise out of the ground when they are turned on, and disappear once they are done.
The downside to these types of systems is that they are connected directly to the water supply, not your home spigot, and the water supply lines are run underground - which means digging up your yard and gardens. Plus, as you might guess, they are not cheap.
Fortunately, inexpensive watering timers sold at big box stores such as Home Depot or Lowes can accomplish the same thing; that is, if your yard isn't the size of an office park.
In this article we want to tell you about the best watering timers that will take over your watering chores forever. The one we like best is The Orbit Timer.
Let's get into the details.
What To Look For In A Watering Timer
One common brand of timers you see is Orbit. Many Orbit timers are relatively inexpensive and all do their job well. Orbit makes different models for different uses, and we've used a number of them and can say we like them for our clients that don't want to even think about watering.
The timers we're talking about here are not smart timers. This "smart" category of watering timer connect to the internet and can be controlled by your smart phone. Some even monitor forecasts to decide when to turn them on and off.
If you're a techie and you really want to control your timer from your smart phone and let IT decide when to water, then go for it. For some, technology is a plus and you might love the idea of setting multiple functions using your phone.
If that's you then go for it. The timers we're talking about here do not fall into that category so this might not be the article for you.
For us, using smart phones and tecnology can make the task more confusing and dependent on technology - and we all know how dependable technology is not.
The Orbit timers we are talking about in the posting are less expensive and easier to use. They simply hook directly to your spigot on one end, and your hose on the other and with a few button pushes, are ready to water. Literally, you can set one up in under 5 minutes!
An out of the box watering timer such as the Orbit acts as the valve that turns your water on and off at the times you set. Therefore, your water valve will remain on when the timer is connected and functioning.
There are many features that simple watering timers have that make them the best in their class. However, there is one in particular that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that is ease of use. That's the best thing about the Orbit, it's extremely easy to use.
Another useful feature you'll want to keep in mind when shopping for a watering timer are the number of zones available. We've seen and used Orbit timers with up to 5 zones. This means you can connect 5 different hoses and set each one to come on and off at different times.
This is an excellent feature if you have a large area to cover. As you probably know, one sprinker is only capable of watering a set number of square feet. Setting up hoses in various areas of your landscape means you can water your entire area with a multi-zone timer hooked to your spigot.
In other words, you can get the same zone controls on inexpensive timers connected to your spigot as the larger underground systems the professionals use.
Each zone however MUST run at a different time than the others. All timers work this way, even the pro installed underground systems. It is not possible to run all zones at the same time. Water pressure wouldn't allow it.
Of course, the more zones your timer has, the more money it will cost but they will still be cheaper than a pro-installed underground system.
Another feature that comes in very, very handy is the "rain delay" feature. We have not seen this on all models of the Orbit. In fact, we haven't seen it on many models except the smart timers. However, there is one model of Orbit we recommend below that has this feature.
The rain delay on the Orbit timer allows you to pause the automatic timer settings based on a number of hours, starting at 24 and going up from there. This means you can delay watering for 1, 2 or more days and when set, the timer will not come on until that time frame has been reached. It's an easy setting to add to your program.
If watering during rainy periods is a worry, you might want to consider this model (see below for more information).
The best watering timers in the Orbit brand all have these features.
How To Connect Your Orbit Watering Timer
When we said ease of use, we meant it.
To connect a watering timer, you simply screw one end on to your spigot and then screw your hose (or multiple hoses if using a multi-zone timer) to the other end. After that it's a matter of programming it to come on and off and times you set.
Here's the good news. Programming the on/off settings is no more difficult than setting your alarm clock. You do not need to be a techie to operate them. You simply set the on time, number of minutes to run, the days of the week to run and that's it.
For multi-zone timers you would repeat these settings for each zone.
Finally turn on your water spigot. As long as your timer is connected, your water supply will be left on. The timer itself will control the water on/off function, not your water spigot.
How To Use Your Timer To Water When Needed
Many of the smart timers claim they can save you water by watering only when needed because they use forecast data to determine when to turn themselves on.
We admit we've never used one because we've never felt the need. I tend to question their accuracy when they claim they only water when needed. My question is this... "How many forecasts are wrong?" and "How Do They Know The Moisture Content Of The Soil?"
In our opinion, the only way to know if your plants or your grass needs watering is to measure soil moisture with tools that are available that measure the actual soil moisture or, the way we do it, with our eyes and hands.
Now, if you really want to get into the science and tech of measuring soil moisture using various tools, the read this article here: https://ag.umass.edu/fact-sheets/measuring-soil-moisture and go for it. We say, don't do it. Just look at the soil, stick your fingure into the ground a few inches and feel if it's dry or wet. Simple yes, but effective enough for our purposes.
The point we want to make is this... you can water only when needed by using the simple Orbit timer without smart technology. Just turn the water valve on during periods of dry weather or when you need to keep new plants watered and off when you don't want to water.
You can also adjust the frequency of watering very easily if you're getting some rain, but maybe not enough.
As an example, you've been watering every day for 30 minutes per day for 2 weeks to establish new plants. Now you're in a wet period. Your forcast looks bleak. There's a chance of rain every day. What do you do? It's not hard to figure out. Simply turn your water valve off.
Then you notice your forecast changes and goes back to semi-normal. You will want some water, but not as much. Turn your spigot back on and set the timer to water every 3 for 30 minutes, or ever 4 days for 20 minutes or... whatever you choose.
It would be a good idea in this case to monitor the ground moisture by look and feel and adjusting your timer accordingly. However, we must make the case here that even with smart timers, monitoring ground moisture is still important so you won't be able to get away with skipping this step - but why would you want to.
You're a gardener, right? You like being out in your gardens. Checking on your gardens should be something you enjoy doing anyway.
This is just one example of how to adjust your timer to the weather.
The other example is to purchase the timer model that includes a "rain delay" feature. See below for the models available.
Important: there is no set rule here. Watering is not an exact science. There could be endless varieties of days and times to water and I'm sure you get the picture.
The example we give above is all we've ever needed to do with our own or client's gardens. No need to complicate the situation unnecessarily.
The Orbit Timer At A Glance
Above is the 2-zone Orbit timer. You can see in the image the water spigot connection at the top and the connections for 2 hoses for 2 zones at the bottom. The button called "stations" is actually the zones setting, where you can choose which zone settings you're adjusting. The manual override button is used when you need to have the timer come on immediately. This can be set to come on for any number of minutes you choose. We use this button to test the sprinklers and make sure they are set up in the correct area of the landscape.
The Downsides To Using The Orbit Timer
Even the best watering timers have some downfalls and the Orbit is no exception. Here are a few:
#1 Downside - Leaking:
The first downfall has nothing to do with the Orbit timer. In fact, it can happen with any timer on the market that connects to your water spigot.
One common problem we see at many client's homes where we set up these timers is loose connections - either from the spigot to the timer, or the hose to the timer. These connections must be tight.
Since the water supply is on all the time, loose connections means that water will be leaking constantly, not only increasing your water bill, but keeping the ground around it wet all the time. This is not a good thing.
Here's what you can do to prevent this.
Make sure your water spigot is in good working order. This means the hose connection where the timer screws on is not bent, but able to screw easily. Also be sure the water valve coming out of your home does not leak when turned on.
Second, use a hose where the end is not bent, the threads in good working order and the washer is intact inside the hose end.
Third, make the connections turning as tightly as possible with your hand. You should not need to use a wrench if everything is in good working order. If you must use a wrench, be careful not to bend the fittings when you clamp down.
This is especially important with the cheaper Orbit timers, where the fittings are plastic. Puchasing the model with brass fittings will help with this problem. (more on this later in the article).
#2 Downside - Watering Too Much:
You will need to monitor your soil and adjust the timer as necessary. We said it previously but it bares repeating because it's important.
A few of our clients don't do this water their lawns daily with their timer, even when getting 4-5 days of rain in a row. This won't hurt your grass, as excess water will just run off but it will hurt your flower gardens.
In addition, you'll be waisting water and have the higher water bill to proof it.
So take some time to give your watering timers some attention and you'll be better for it. Even by doing this, you'll be spending much less time dealing with watering plants that you would if you didn't have your timers running.
#3 Downside - Bypassing The Timer:
If you need to use a hose for something else, such as washing your car, you could go to the trouble of disconnecting the timer set up from your water spigot, then connecting the hose you want to use for washing your car. Once you're done, you can reconnect the timer set up. However, don't do this. There is a much better way.
You will need to purchase a "y" connector. See the image below.
The "y" you purchase must have on/off shut off toggle switches on each side of the "y."
You would connect the "y" to your spigot, then connect the timer to one side of the "y" and connect your car washing hose to the other side. You would then set up your timer and hoses exactly as before.
With this set up you can have a hose connected permanently to one side of the "y" that you can use anytime you want. Here's the actual set up.
Step #1: Connect your "y" to your spigot.
Step #2: Connect your timer to one side of the "y"
Step #3: Connect your use anytime hose to the other side of the "y"
Step #4: Turn the on/off toggle swich on the TIMER side of the "y" to the on position.
Step #5: Turn the on/off toggle switch on the hose side of the "y" to the off position.
Step #6: Turn the water valve on your spigot on.
With this set up, your spigot is still always on. However, the on/off toggles on the "y" now control where water flows. If you want to use your hose to wash your car, simply turn the on/off toggle on the "y" to on to allow water to flow to your hose. Once you're done turn it off.
The toggle on the timer side of the "y" always stays on so water can flow to the timer when it switches on.
Which Timer Is Right For You?
Here are some of the Orbit timers we have used, all listed on Amazon. These Orbit timers can all be purchased by clicking the images or text links below and yes, we make a small commission if you purchase through our links which helps support this site.
One note. Amazon does not sell the 5 zone timer that we can see. We purchased ours at one of the big box stores. You may have to do this as well.
One caveat to note here. We've read the reviews of many of these timers and, with the exception of 2 times in our entire careers of using them, we have never had the problems others have reported.
In both instances where we've had problems,the electronics simply stopped working for 2 clients in the second year of using them. Otherwise, we have found them to be reliable. In fact, we've been using the same timer at our house for about 5 years now without issues. Full disclosure, it is the second one we've purchased in 12 years.
Here is the 1 zone watering timer. This model includes a "rain delay" feature, which comes in handy if the weather turns rainy. CLICK HERE to see more.
Here we have the 3 zone timer which lets you hook up 3 different hoses. You can cover a lot of area with this timer. CLICK HERE for more info.
The Best Watering Timers - Conclusions
We can't stress this enough. Plants need water to survive. If you consider watering a chore and you can't seem to find the time to do it, a watering timer is essential.
Using this guide for the best watering timers from Orbit will help you ease that burden and free your time and your mind to do other things... and that's a good thing.
As we say, anything you can do to make things easier, go for it.