How to choose the right lawn sprinkler

When it comes to watering your grass, you need the right lawn sprinkler to get the job done. Why? Well, watering by hand is a time-consuming prospect that many people don’t find worth it, which is why buying a lawn sprinkler or two may be a handy addition to your outdoor maintenance routine.

While some homes come with in-ground irrigation systems already installed, they can be expensive and time consuming to operate. A far more economical solution is to invest in one or more above-ground sprinklers.

All you need to do is set it up where the lawn needs to be watered, turn on your garden hose, and then walk away until the job is done. (As a bonus, if you’ve got younger kids, they’ll like nothing better than to run through the water on a scorching afternoon.)

With so many sprinklers on the market, however, it can be difficult to decide which one you need.

Here’s a primer to help you figure out what kind of lawn sprinkler is right for your lawn or garden.

Oscillating sprinklers

An illustration of an oscillating sprinkler

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Many oscillating sprinklers have adjustable spray patterns.

  • Spray pattern: Rectangular/rainbow
  • Water pressure: Up to ~120 PSI
  • Flow rate: ~5 to 8 gallons per minute
  • Coverage area: Up to ~5,000 square feet

Chances are when you think of a sprinkler, you’re picturing an oscillating sprinkler. These sprinklers shoot water in a wide, vaguely rectangular pattern. The sprayer jets move forward and backwards, launching water up to 70-feet in one direction.
Some models like the Aqua Joe Oscillating Sprinkler will have adjustable spray distances and widths, so you can customize the spray pattern to meet your needs.

These are some of the simplest sprinklers to use, and are great for square or rectangular lawns. Depending on the size of your lawn, you may have to move the sprinkler several times, but with up to 5,000 square feet of coverage on some models, oscillating sprinklers can handle a relatively larger area.

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Pulsating sprinklers

An illustration of a pulsating sprinkler

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A pulsating sprinkler is also known as an impact sprinkler.

  • Spray pattern: Circular or arced
  • Water pressure: Up to 45 PSI
  • Flow rate: Up to 5 gallons per minute
  • Coverage area: Up to 20,000 square feet

Pulsating or impact sprinklers like the Orbit Zinc Impact Sprinkler shoot a single jet of water, which is then slapped over and over with a piece of plastic or metal.

This slapping motion spreads out the water to maximize coverage with the same amount of water. These sprinklers can cover a very large, circular area, with their maximum spray distance as the radius of the coverage circle.

Some models sit on the ground, but others have stands that allow them to shoot even farther. However, because they shoot in a circle, they aren’t great for getting water in the corners of the lawn.

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Rotating sprinklers

An illustration of a rotating sprinkler

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A rotating sprinkler sprays water in a circular motion.

  • Spray pattern: Circular
  • Water pressure: Up to 80 PSI
  • Flow rate: ~3 gallons per minute
  • Coverage area: Up to 4,000 square feet

Rotating sprinklers typically feature two or more arms that spin around quickly while spraying water, like the Blisstime Lawn Sprinkler. These types of sprinklers spray in a circular pattern and can cover a relatively large area, particularly if elevated.

Rotating sprinklers tend not to have many adjustability features, but are simple to set up and use.

Like impact sprinklers, the major drawback of rotary sprinklers is that they don’t typically do a great job getting into the corners of your lawn. These also tend to have a gentler spray then some other types of sprinklers, so are good for watering delicate plants or letting your kids run through.

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Stationary sprinklers

An illustration of a stationary sprinkler head

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A stationary sprinkler sprays a variety of water patterns.

  • Spray pattern: Variable
  • Water pressure: Up to 60 PSI
  • Flow rate: Varies
  • Coverage area: Up to 2,000 square feet

Stationary sprinklers (also called pattern sprinklers) are the specialists of the watering world. Sprinklers like the Styddi Turret Pattern Sprinkler come with a variety of different spray patterns that you can choose from, much like a shower head.

The patterns allow you to maximize coverage in irregularly shaped areas that larger sprinklers might be ill-suited to water.

Stationary sprinklers are fantastic for raised garden beds or oddly shaped corners of your lawn. That flexibility does, however, typically come at the cost of coverage area. Most pattern sprinklers don’t water much space, and would be ill-suited to watering your entire lawn on their own.

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Traveling sprinklers

An illustration of a traveling sprinkler

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A traveling sprinkler, also known as a walking sprinkler, can freely move about your yard on its own.

  • Spray pattern: Adjustable
  • Water pressure: Varies
  • Flow rate Varies
  • Coverage area: Large (around 13,500 square-feet)

Traveling sprinklers, like the Orbit Traveling Sprinkler, are self-propelled lawn sprinklers on wheels that follow a path typically defined by the way you lay out your garden hose. These sprinklers are also known as walking sprinklers.

They start at the far end of the hose and then drive back to the spigot, sprinkling as they go. Typically, traveling sprinklers use rotating sprinkler heads, but they can use other types as well.

These can cover very large and irregular areas, because they’re only constrained by the length and layout of the hose.

If you can find a driving path for it, it can water there. The major drawback of these sprinklers is that they don’t handle rough or sloped terrain very well.

If the sprinkler jumps off the track or falls over, then it will water in one area, and can wind up overwatering the lawn.

They are also bad for newly seeded lawns, because they drag the hose behind them, which will move or destroy the seeds.

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Drip irrigation

An illustration of drip irrigation attached to a garden hose

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Drip irrigation is great for garden beds and areas where you need to saturate the ground.

  • Spray pattern: Slow drip
  • Water pressure: Very low
  • Flow rate: 1-2 gallons per hour
  • Coverage area: Close to hose

Drip irrigation systems are an efficient way to slowly water your gardens. Systems like the Rain Bird Drip Irrigation Kit have small pipes or hoses laying in your garden with holes or porous membranes that allow water to leak out at certain intervals or along the entire length using an attached garden hose.

Like the name states, these watering systems drip water out almost constantly, keeping the soil around your plants moist but not saturated.

Drip irrigation is extremely efficient, because so little of the water is lost to evaporation.

They’re also good for the health of your plants, because the water is inserted directly into the ground near the roots. Depending on the needs of your plants, drip irrigation systems might insert water directly to the ground, or have small sprinkler heads to spray water where needed.

The biggest drawback of drip irrigation systems is that they’re typically relatively fixed. Repositioning the hoses or pipes can take a good amount of time and planning.

They’re also best suited to garden applications—you probably won’t be able to efficiently water your lawn with one of these systems.

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Soaker hose

An illustration of a soaker hose

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A soaker hose is a form of garden hose.

  • Spray pattern: None
  • Water pressure: <10 PSI
  • Flow rate: Varies based on length and diameter
  • Coverage area: Varies based on length

Soaker hoses like the Melanor Flat Soaker Hose are a type of drip irrigation designed to take some of the work out of watering the garden.

These hoses are water permeable. Simply lay the hose through the garden beds that you need watered. When you turn the spigot on, the water leaks out the hose and into the soil.

How much water depends on the diameter of the hose, the length of the hose, and the water pressure from your faucet.

Because they operate at such a low pressure, there’s no risk of damaging the plants, unless you forget to turn the water off and oversaturate the soil.

One way to keep that from happening is to invest in a smart hose timer like the Orbit B-hyve Smart Hose Faucet Timer. Wi-Fi enabled timers like these let you manage your watering schedule even when away from home using the companion app on your phone or tablet.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.


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