Bonnie Cha

High-Tech Help for the Green-Thumb-Challenged

Confession time: I’m a killer — a killer of houseplants.

Despite my best efforts to care for them, I’ve lost count of how many plants I’ve murdered over the years. Even so, I continue to buy them because I enjoy having them around my apartment. But for my conscience and wallet’s sake, I needed to do something about my lack of a green thumb. That’s why a product called Koubachi caught my attention.

Created by a Switzerland-based company of the same name, Koubachi is a combination of an app (mobile or Web) and a Wi-Fi-enabled sensor for an indoor plant or an outdoor garden, and it alerts you via a smartphone notification or email when your plant needs water, fertilizer, light or other help. It’s great for people who are forgetful about tending to their plants or need guidance on how to care for their green friends.

I’ve been using Koubachi for more than a month with one of my indoor plants, and both the plant and the Koubachi are still alive and kicking. With the chaos of my daily life, feeding my plants isn’t always at the forefront of my mind, so it was great to get reminders right on my phone. It was also helpful and educational to get information about other factors like temperature and sunlight.

The only major downside is that the Koubachi sensor is expensive, at $99 for the indoor model and $129 for the outdoor model. (The difference between the two versions is that the latter is rainproof.) If you’re wary of spending that much, you can use just the free iOS app or Web-based app by itself, but it requires a little more work on your part (checking soil moisture once a day, for example) and you won’t get any guidance about temperature and light. You can alternate using the same sensor for multiple plants.

The Koubachi sensor looks like a sawed-off golf club. The bulbous part contains the sensor that measures light and temperature, and houses two AA batteries and a multipurpose button that lets you get instant readings and connect to a Wi-Fi network. Meanwhile, the stem contains the sensor that measures soil moisture.

Setting up and using Koubachi is generally easy. The first thing you’ll want to do is download the free iOS app or go to the company’s website to create a user account. The company is working on an Android app, but for now, if you’re an Android user, you’ll need to use the website and have notifications sent via email.

You can then select what type of plant you have from Koubachi’s internal library. This system works best if you already know the species name, but if you don’t, there’s a wizard that can help you try to identify the species by type, shape of leaf and so forth. It would be cool if you could use your smartphone’s camera to take a photo of the plant and have the app automatically identify it.

There are more than 600 plants in the app’s library, and the company said it is continually adding to this list. I tested the Koubachi with a Calathea majestica, which was on the list. After selecting a plant, you can try to create a virtual replica of it by selecting a similar pot shape and color, giving it a name (mine’s Marge), adding a picture and arranging it in a Zen-like garden on the app or website. It’s all rather cute.

Next, you’ll want to connect the sensor to a Wi-Fi connection. To do this, you have to hold down the black button on the Koubachi for about three seconds, until an orange light comes on and it’s ready to connect. But it’s not immediately clear how you’re supposed to do that from the app or website. It was only after some tinkering around that I figured out that you have to tap on the Koubachi sensor app icon, which will launch a step-by-step guide for connecting to a network. After that, the rest was a breeze.

Once you’ve inserted the Koubachi into the soil, the sensors measure soil moisture every five hours, and light intensity and temperature every hour. The data is then transmitted wirelessly to the app once per day.

From the app or website, you can then tap on a green leaf icon to see a list view of all the plant’s needs — water, mist, fertilizer, temperature and light — with a brief note next to each one. For example, “Marge has slightly too much shade.”

Having that information right on my smartphone was really convenient, and I often checked it to make sure everything was okay with Marge. Plus, every three to five days, I’d get a push notification on my iPhone saying that Marge needed to be misted or watered. This was a huge feature for me.

You can specify in the settings menu whether you want notifications sent via email or pushed to your phone, or both, and what time you want them delivered.

So, did Koubachi help me gain a green thumb? Well, to be honest, Marge isn’t 100 percent healthy. She has some wilting leaves, but I can’t pin the blame on Koubachi. During my testing period of about six weeks, I went on two week-long, out-of-town trips and didn’t have anyone looking after my plants. While I was gone, Koubachi did its job and sent multiple alerts that my plant needed to be misted or watered. But sadly, all I could do was cringe from afar.

I will say that Koubachi made me feel more confident in my ability to keep a plant alive. Before, I had no regimen, and watered my plants only when the wind moved me, which led to overwatering or underwatering, which resulted in a dead plant. Misting, fertilizing and varying light exposure never even crossed my mind, but Koubachi showed me the way.

Koubachi isn’t cheap, but if you love plants and are clueless about how to take care of them, it’s a worthy investment that can provide you with the guidance you need.

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