Editors' note, March 26, 2014: Updated with results of long-term testing.
We've noticed some recent activity on Reddit regarding the $79 Click & Grow Smart Flowerpot. If you recall, we received one back in October and said we'd update you when we had something to report. And after five months of testing, we finally have some results to share.
As a quick refresher, Click & Grow's Smart Flowerpot started out as a Kickstarter project. It boasts "smart soil" that's supposed to maintain the correct pH level -- it even automatically distributes water as needed. Basically, it's designed to make the activity of growing plants as hands-off as possible. Simply add four AA batteries, refill the water tank once a month, and expect a full-size chili pepper plant in two to four months (tomato, basil, cockscomb, and strawberry plants are some other options).
Since most of us in the CNET Appliances office have limited gardening experience, we were intrigued by the prospect of a low-maintenance indoor insta-plant. Even so, we kept a pretty close eye on it, making sure it had access to light and that the grow light accessory was on during gloomy winter days.
We did notice sprouts in about two weeks and ,much to our delight, it even flourished for a few months and began to flower. Unfortunately, something happened around the four-month mark. Instead of yielding red chili peppers as the timeline on Click & Grow's site suggested it would, we got something much more sinister: spider mites.
Now, I have to add that we're only mostly sure that these things are, in fact, spider mites. I'll let you gardening experts weigh in below, but either way, some sort of critter colony took over our once-healthy chili pepper plant and totally destroyed it. Given that these mites are really tiny, we didn't know what was happening until it was too late.
Here's a snippet from Click & Grow's FAQ, responding to the question, "Are Click & Grow plants organic?" The answer: "There are no pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, plant hormones, or any other suspicious substances in our products. And there's no need for them -- a well-watered and fed plant with perfect growing conditions can defend itself without any outside help."
I'm not sure about "perfect growing conditions," but we made every effort to keep this plant alive and it still met with an untimely end. So, while the Click & Grow pot does have sensors that alert you if the water level is low, and such, a plant is still just a plant and it's still vulnerable to factors beyond the purview of Click & Grow's tech. The built-in sensors definitely make the whole plant-growing process more hands-off, but we aren't convinced that this Smart Flowerpot is more likely to deliver a full-size chili pepper plant than sticking seeds in a regular ol' pot and hoping for the best. We will be testing a Click & Grow Smart Herb Garden too, so more gardening stuff is heading your way soon.
You might think that $79 is a lot of money to pay for a flowerpot. For an ordinary flowerpot, you would be correct. The Click & Grow Smart Flowerpot, with its sensor and specially designed soil, is hardly ordinary.
I received the Smart Flowerpot about a week and a half ago and I've been dying to try it out. Why the excitement? I have a confession to make.
I kill plants.
I don't mean to kill them. I have lovingly nurtured basil, bell peppers, tomatoes, sage, thyme, and a few very unlucky grocery store orchids. Despite my best efforts, they all met the same doom. I'm the problem. Overwatering, underwatering, and incorrect lighting have led me to frantic sessions of Googling how to resuscitate a chive plant. To no avail. As a result, I can't help but experience intense jealousy whenever my friends post photos to Instagram of their bus-sized rosemary plants with captions like, "I guess I might be OK at this whole gardening thing after all."
I suspect I'm not alone.
For those of you who lack green thumbs, those of you like me, Click & Grow offers hope. The company wants to remove you from the growing equation almost entirely.
Click & Grow first appeared on my radar when I was conducting research for a smart-gardening roundup that included both the Click & Grow
Click & Grow couples sensor technology, its patented nanotech growth medium, and programmed, automatic watering to make gardening a complete no-brainer. In fact, the company claims that with its products, anyone can be a gardener. Given my track record, I'm anxious to put that claim to the test. If the growing process is anything like the setup, I might be on easy street. After adding water to the reservoir, and plugging in four AA batteries, the packaging tells me I can basically do nothing and expect perfect chili peppers within four months.
Step-by-step setup with the Click & Grow Flowerpot (pictures) See full gallery
In addition to the Smart Flowerpot's sleek design, I appreciate that it is reusable. When your basil plant fades, as all things must, you can order another seed cartridge and begin the process anew. Click & Grow offers $20 refill cartridges ranging from mini tomatoes to painted nettles, to lemon balm, thyme, or sugar leaf, just to name a few. The company says more are on the way. Given the cost of herbs at the supermarket, a Smart Flowerpot could pay for itself in short order.
You may wonder how long those batteries will last. Click and Grow states that the four required AA batteries will last eight to 12 months. Rechargeable batteries will work just as well, if you're interested in reducing your energy use further. The time seems reasonable and I hope to be able to substantiate that claim. Along with growth updates, I'll be sure to keep you posted on battery life as well.
This is an ongoing hands-on. As the plant grows and matures, I'll add to this and let you know how the product is doing. I have high hopes for the Smart Flowerpot. Or, maybe, I just really like the idea of having fresh chili peppers at work. Either way, I'm excited to see if Click & Grow is right about anybody being a gardener. Stay tuned for updates about the Smart Flowerpot's performance.