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Courtesy of Rain Bird

Short of standing around with a hose in your hand, sprinklers are the simplest and cheapest way to keep growing things quenched.

Which type to choose depends on your climate and greenery, the shape of your lawn or beds, and the texture of your soil—whether it's porous sand, dense clay, or absorbent loam affects how fast you need to put the water out. Unless you have a small, square plot of grass, most likely you'll need a couple of models to reach all the areas that need watering.

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Sprinklers are relatively inexpensive—from $15 to $35 for the more common oscillating, pulsating, or rotating varieties—so choosing a few is easy on the wallet. Here, you'll find out how to pick the best sprinkler for your landscape, plus tips for proper watering.

Rotating Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Watering very small lawns or isolating garden beds in a drought. Adjusts from a gentle mist for seedlings to heavy rain on established grass, at all water pressures. Look for wheels or a sled base so you can move it without getting soaked.

Shown: N54 Rainswirl 45 sprinkler; about $18; Amazon

Rotating Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki
  • Spray pattern: Circle or square
  • Watering speed: Slow to very fast
  • Reach: 50 to 60 feet in diameter

Quiet Rotor Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Large yards that need a lot of water in a short time. The mechanism is concealed inside the head, which muffles the chugging-train noise many sprinklers make. Works well with low water pressure.

Shown: Advanced turbine rotary sprinkler by Gilmour Group; about $16; Amazon

Quiet Rotor Sprinklers

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Full or partial circle
  • Watering speed: Fast
  • Reach: 70 to 80 feet in diameter

Multihead Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Small, oddly shaped yards or plant beds, especially in drought areas since hose heads can be directed to minimize water waste.

Shown: Noodlehead sprinkler N101B; about $17; Noodlehead Sprinkler

Multihead Sprinklers

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Endless variations, changed by bending small hose heads
  • Watering speed: Slow
  • Reach: 10 to 35 feet, depending on water pressure

Oscillating Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Square or rectangular lawns and gardens. Most have size and direction adjustment, and some have a built-in timer with automatic shutoff.

Shown: Craftsman metal oscillating sprinkler; about $30; Sears

Oscillating Sprinklers

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Rectangle
  • Watering speed: Fast
  • Reach: Up to 70 feet long by 60 feet wide

Pulsating Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Large yards and beds, especially newly seeded lawns and clay soils, which are best watered slowly. The flow can be adjusted to suit the absorbency of the soil; and because the spray stays close to the ground, there's less drift on windy days.

Shown: Gilmour large coverage sprinkler with spike base; about $32; Bailey's Online

Pulsating Sprinklers

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Full or partial circle
  • Watering speed: Slow
  • Reach: 85 to 90 feet in diameter

Walking Sprinklers

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Large areas with turns or hills where other sprinklers water unevenly. Guided by the front wheel, the two-speed sprinkler crawls in one direction along a hose, covering 20 or 40 feet per hour. Sometimes shaped like tractors, trains, or earth movers, walking sprinklers weigh 22 to 32 pounds (to pull a full hose) and cost $100 or more.

Similar to shown: Walking sprinkler model A-5 from the National Manufacturing Co.; about $125; National Walking Sprinkler

Walking Sprinklers

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Long, winding path
  • Watering speed: Slow to medium
  • Reach: 4 to 50 feet on either side of a hose up to 200 feet long

Sprinkler Hose

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Watering plant beds invisibly and keeping them hydrated in a drought without evaporation waste. Snaked through a garden, a soaker hose drips water directly onto the soil through dozens of perforations. A sprinkler hose emits low 1- to 12-foot sprays from small heads. Both can be masked by mulch or shallow soil.

Shown: LR Nelson simple soaker sprinkler hose; about $42; Walmart

Sprinkler Hose

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Changeable
  • Watering speed: Very slow to slow
  • Reach: Length of hose

Soaker Hose

Photo by Eric Piasecki

Good for: Watering plant beds invisibly and keeping them hydrated in a drought without evaporation waste. Snaked through a garden, a soaker hose drips water directly onto the soil through dozens of perforations. A sprinkler hose emits low 1- to 12-foot sprays from small heads. Both can be masked by mulch or shallow soil.

Similar to shown: 100-foot Mr. Soaker soaker hose; about $20; Mr. Drip

Soaker Hose

Photo by Ian Worpole
  • Spray pattern: Changeable
  • Watering speed: Very slow to slow
  • Reach: Length of hose

How Much Should You Water?

Every lawn or garden is different, but the guidelines below offer some advice based on your weather, soil, and greenery. A sprinkler should only supplement the natural rainfall, though any lawn is ready for watering if the soil is dry 6 inches down.

One important rule, according to This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook: Try to water only in the early morning. The midday heat will evaporate all your efforts, and plants watered later don't dry before nightfall, leaving them vulnerable to fungal diseases.

Watering Established Lawns

  • Clay Soil: 1 inch in 2 applications every 7 to 14 days for temperate climates; 1 inch in 3 applications every 3 to 4 days in hot and dry climates
  • Loam: 1 inch in 2 applications every 5 to 10 days in temperate climates; 1 inch in 3 applications every 2 to 3 days in hot and dry climates
  • Sandy Soil: 1 inch in 2 applications every 5 to 7 days in temperate climates; 1 inch in 2 applications every 2 to 3 days in hot and dry climates

Watering New Lawns

  • Clay Soil: ¼ inch 3 times daily in both temperate and hot and dry climates
  • Loam: ¼ inch 3 times daily in both temperate and hot and dry climates
  • Sandy Soil: ¼ inch 3 times daily in both temperate and hot and dry climates

Watering Trees and Shrubs

  • Clay Soil: ½ inch in 2 applications every 7 to 14 days in temperate climates; 1 inch in 2 or 3 applications every 4 days in hot and dry climates
  • Loam: ½ inch every 5 to 10 days in temperate climates; 1 inch in 2 or 3 applications every 3 days in hot and dry climates
  • Sandy Soil: ½ inch every 5 to 7 days in temperate climates; 1 inch in 2 or 3 applications every other day in hot and dry climates

Watering Flowers

  • Clay Soil: ¼ to ½ inch every 3 to 4 days in temperate climates; ½ inch every 3 to 4 days in hot and dry climates
  • Loam: ¼ to ½ inch every 3 to 4 days in temperate climates; ½ inch every 2 to 3 days in hot and dry climates
  • Sandy Soil: ¼ to ½ inch every day or two in temperate climates; ½ inch every day or two in hot and dry climates

Watering Vegetables

  • Clay Soil: 1 inch once or twice weekly in both temperate and hot and dry climates
  • Loam: 1 inch 2 or 3 times weekly in temperate climates; 1 inch 2 or 3 times weekly in hot and dry climates
  • Sandy Soil: 1 inch 3 or 4 times weekly in temperate climates; 1 inch 4 times weekly to daily in hot and dry climates