We conducted an evaluation of three commercial weather-sensing irrigation controllers to determine the climatic data they use, how easy they are to set up and operate, and how closely their irrigation regimes match landscape irrigation needs established by previous field research. The devices virtually controlled an existing reference irrigation system and used its system performance data as required in their initial setup. Reference standard treatments for cool-season turfgrass, trees/shrubs and annual flowers were calculated using onsite, real-time reference evapotranspiration (ETo) data and plant factors developed primarily from previous research. The reference irrigation system applied the correct amount of water to an actual tall fescue turfgrass planting whose water needs served as the reference standard treatment comparison for the cool-season turfgrass treatment. Virtual applied water was recorded for other plant materials and it was compared to the corresponding calculated reference standard amount. Results show each controller adjusted its irrigation schedules through the year roughly in concert with weather and ETo changes, but the magnitudes of adjustments were not consistently in proportion to changes in ETo. No product produced highly accurate irrigation schedules consistently for every landscape setting when compared to research-based reference comparison treatments. Greater complexity and technicality of required setup information did not always result in more accurate, water-conserving irrigation schedules. Use of a weather-sensing controller does not assure landscape water conservation or acceptable landscape plant performance, and it does not eliminate human interaction in landscape irrigation management.
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