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What are the Different Types of Lawn Sprinklers?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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Deciding on the proper type of sprinkler is important to the maintenance and aesthetic qualities of a lawn. Different types of lawn sprinklers are available to suit every lawn and every budget. Lawn sprinklers fall into about five categories: stationary, oscillating, pulsating, traveling, and rotary.

Stationary lawn sprinklers are arguably the most common. They are usually connected to the water source through a system of underground pipes. While the installation of these systems is expensive and involved, the sprinkler heads themselves are cheap and easy to install. Their spray comes through a pattern of holes in the top which direct the water outward. They can operate even with low water pressure, given the small size of the spray openings.

Oscillating sprinklers are also a popular choice. They usually consist of a plastic base which attaches to a garden hose, and have a curved tube with holes through which the water is sprayed. This part oscillates back and forth, covering a rectangular area with a fan-shaped spray of water. Lawn sprinklers like these are ideal for newly seeded areas or soils that absorb water slowly. They are quite common and widely promoted, so price points vary accordingly.

The most versatile and efficient lawn sprinklers are the pulsating type. Rain Bird® sprinklers are a well-known example of this variety. Their spray is strong and low to the ground, making it wind-resistant. The mechanism of a pulsating sprinkler uses the water pressure to progressively turn the spray of water in a semi-circle pattern and back again. They are highly adjustable to work well on lawns of many shapes.

Some sprinklers are self-propelled, using only water pressure and a system of gears. Two rotating arms spray water in an adjustable circular pattern, slowly moving the unit across the lawn, guided by the path of a garden hose. These are best suited to large or oddly-shaped lawns, and can be left unattended for hours. Traveling sprinklers tend to be expensive, but also well-made.

Rotary sprinklers are like a stationary version of the traveling sprinkler. They have two or three spray arms that water the lawn in a circular pattern. They work best for small, flat lawns. Sandy or sloped areas are not suited to watering by a rotary sprinkler because these throw water down very quickly. Some models allow the spray to be adjusted to expel water at a slower rate, or in a different diameter.

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Discussion Comments
By Sara007 — On Jun 22, 2011

If you have kids investing in a few different kinds of lawn sprinklers, or one with multiple settings can be a great idea for summer fun at home. While water parks are expensive, you can save cash by just setting aside 30 minutes of time aside on a hot day to let the kids frolic in the sprinklers.

I remember all the fun I used to have when I was little with my slip and slide and the sprinklers that surprised you with their varying patterns.

The sprinklers aimed at kids are also quite cheap and for under $50 you can put in a mini waterpark in your own backyard.

By popcorn — On Jun 21, 2011

For those of you living in areas with water shortages or restrictions in place a good idea is to invest in a sprinkler with a good timer. A timer will end up saving you a lot of water and will not only keep your water costs down but will keep your lawn looking gorgeous.

Generally most people give their lawn a good soaking and just walk away, but the grass really doesn't need that much water. I know I’ve seen a lot of people leave their sprinkler on for hours. It really makes me wince.

Most lawns need a total of one inch of water a week. A good guideline is to set your timer for 1 hour a week, or two 30-minute sessions.

By Potterspop — On Jun 21, 2011

@Acracadabra - I think you can find a lawn sprinkler design which is aimed at saving water.

In my case, and remember that I have lived with water restrictions for years, I combine the device with a whole host of other measures which help keep my grass and flowers healthy with less water.

I set the timer on my system for the early morning, which avoids needless evaporation. I also mulch as much of the yard as I can, to aid water retention.

Do some research into the type of soil your lawn has, because sandy types need more water while clay needs it little and often.

Also, don't just set the automatic lawn sprinkler at the start of the warm season and then forget about it. By readjusting weekly to complement the environment you live in and the weather in that period, you can make the most of any natural rainfall.

By Acracadabra — On Jun 20, 2011

I'm interested in a lawn sprinkler system but the concern about conserving water keeps nagging at my conscience.

There are no local laws about water usage in my area, so that's not a problem, but I still can't really justify using water this way when the benefit is really all about me enjoying a green yard.

Maybe I should dig up the lawn and plant vegetables!

By pennywell — On Jun 20, 2011

Wouldn't an underground system pose a risk of flooding the soil? In a garden with plants that require different types of water amounts, what is the best solution? For example, a herb garden usually requires a good deal of water, but lavender bushes thrive best in rather dry soil.

By yseult — On Jun 20, 2011

There are also underground lawn sprinklers which sound quite fancy but it can easily turn into a weekend DIY project! It does require some pre-planning to make sure that the sprinkler system won't run into any other pipes below ground. The actual construction simply consists of attaching a series of pipes to run below the garden area. Has anyone tried experimenting with other sprinkler systems?

By Perdido — On Jun 20, 2011

My grass started dying this month because it has rained maybe once since last month. I got a traveling sprinkler, and I love it. My garden hose serves as the guide for the sprinkler, which follows along it until it reaches the end. It's kind of like a train on a rail.

The traveling sprinkler is best for lawns like mine without many obstructions. My trees sit at the edge of the property, so I can set the hose up between them instead of around them. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone with lots of trees that drop branches or pine cones all the time, because you will have to pick these up before each time you use the sprinkler.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 20, 2011

The previous tenant of the house I rent left behind his rotary sprinkler, and I am grateful for it. This multiple-armed sprinkler fits the design of my garden perfectly.

I have a semi-circular garden with one added arm jutting out to the right, so my garden makes the shape of a "P." I place the rotary sprinkler in the middle of the semi-circle, and the water reaches all of the spots that need it. Even the end of the arm where the strawberries grow get plenty of water.

The rotary sprinkler pumps a good bit of water while spinning rapidly, so only small amounts are delivered to any one area at a time. If I leave it on for about 30 minutes, my garden is happily saturated.

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