Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the most for your money when you buy a sprinkler:
Check the construction. Look for all-metal construction, especially brass and steel fittings, and make sure the connector (the part you attach to the garden hose) is metal. Plastic connectors are less durable; metal connectors can last years with a new washer every year or two.
Examine the design. The simplest sprinklers are hardly more than a bulb with holes in it. The most complex are tractor sprinklers, small water robots that propel themselves forward over a variety of terrains.
Consider the shape of your landscape. If you have a perfectly rectangular lawn, choose an oscillating sprinkler. Chances are, though, that you’ll need other sprinklers to hit small or odd-shaped areas so you’re not watering sidewalks and wasting water. And you may need a sprinkler on a tripod for watering tall plantings.
Consider how far the sprinkler throws the water. If you’re going to water a small bed of annuals by your house, don’t get a pulsating sprinkler that covers an area 90 feet in diameter.
Look at the base of the sprinkler. It should be heavy enough to prevent the sprinkler from flopping around when you turn on the water. A sled-type or wheeled base makes it easier to drag around while it’s still on, so you don’t have to turn the faucet off each time you move the sprinkler. A spike base keeps the sprinkler steady in soft soils, especially on a slope.
Consider timers. Whatever type of sprinkler you use, a timer will make it infinitely easier to use and more efficient. Timers that attach to outdoor faucets cost between $25 and $100, depending on their complexity.
You can set the timer to turn off after a certain period of time or to go on at any hour of the day—perfect for early-morning waterings.
Our buyer’s guide to getting what you need
The water sprays out without any parts that wave, move, or pull. It usually covers a small area, perhaps 10 feet by 10 feet, depending on the design and your water pressure.
Advantages: Few moving parts to break down. Delivers water quickly and works well with low water pressure. Some models have a variety of spray patterns, making them good for hard-to-water areas. Their straightforward design makes them very inexpensive.
Disadvantages: Covers a small area, and not always evenly.
Price range: $5 to $50.
Also called a rotary sprinkler, it has two or three “arms” that throw water up to 60 feet in diameter.
Advantages: Good for small lawns. Works with a variety of water pressures. Usually easy to fine-tune the speed of water delivery.
Disadvantages: Depending on design, water may be distributed unevenly very close to and very far away from the base. The circle-only pattern can be imprecise.
Price range: $10 to $25.
Also called an impulse sprinkler, this sprinkler makes that distinctive “ch-ch-ch” sound as the head moves in a circle. It distributes water slowly—an advantage only in clay soils.
Advantages: The spray tends to stay close to the ground, so evaporation is minimal. Many types come with an attached tripod, making them ideal for watering tall, mature plantings.
Disadvantages: Some people find the sound annoying. Water tends to be distributed unevenly very close to and very far away from the base. Works poorly with low water pressure. Patterns are restricted to circles or portions of circles.
Price range: $15 to $80.
Probably the most commonly used sprinkler (image 1), it sprays out a fanlike curtain of water as the metal arm goes back and forth. Water delivery is moderately fast.
Advantages: Covers areas up to 70 feet by 60 feet. Some have size and direction adjustments and built-in timers.
Disadvantages: Pattern is usually restricted to a rectangle. The water flies high in the air, encouraging evaporation.
Price range: $10 to $30.
These sprinklers deliver water quickly over areas up to 70 feet (image 2). The head is tucked under a column-like casing that rises up from the base.
Advantages: Rotor sprinklers don’t make the “ch-ch-ch” sound of pulsating sprinklers, yet they cover a large area. Water stays low to the ground. Works well with low water pressure.
Disadvantages: Harder to find than other sprinklers.
Price range: $10 to $30.
Sometimes called noodlehead sprinklers (image 3), they have heads that direct water into odd-shaped spaces. Water is delivered slowly.
Advantages: Precise application.
Disadvantages: Harder to find than other sprinklers. How far water is sprayed depends on water pressure—anywhere from 10 to 35 feet.
Price range: $10 to $30.
Also called tractor sprinklers, these are good for large areas with turns or hills. A front wheel pulls them along at varying speeds. The sprinkler covers between 20 to 40 feet an hour, delivering water at a slow or medium rate. Water is sprayed from 3 to 60 feet, depending on the setting, in a circular pattern as the tractor moves along.
Advantages: These sprinklers weigh 20 or 30 pounds and can pull a hose 200 feet or more. They can move over fairly rugged terrain.
Disadvantages: Walking sprinklers are far more expensive than other sprinklers. Also, it’s a good idea not to leave your property while they’re moving.
Price range: $90 and up.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is a garden writer in Ames, Iowa.