8 Different Types of Lawn Sprinklers Explained (with Pictures)

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Types of Lawn Sprinklers

Lawn sprinklers provide an efficient and easy solution for keeping your lawn watered and healthy during dry months, without you having to stand out in your yard manually spraying a hose around the property. There are many different types of lawn sprinklers available, and the one most suitable for your property and situation will be dependent on many variables. Some of the things you need to consider when looking for a sprinkler are the size of your lawn, the shape of your lawn, and the water pressure at your property.

You will also want to think about how you want your sprinkler to look, and if you want it to be fitted underground or above soil level. Some sprinklers can be quite noisy, which is another factor you should consider before fitting a sprinkler system at the family home. To learn all about the many different types of lawn sprinklers, and that lawns they are best suited to, read on.

Automatic Vs. Manual Sprinklers

Automatic Vs. Manual Sprinklers

Sprinklers can be set on an automatic system to turn on and off at specified points in the day, or they can be operated manually. The obvious advantage of automatic sprinklers, or those set on a timer, is that you can set up your sprinklers and then forget about them for the remainder of the season. They will turn on at a set time, and turn off at a set time, with no manual intervention needed. As the best time to water a lawn is early in the morning, an automatic sprinkler can be set to operate before you have even woken up. If you want to water the lawn at this time of day with a manual sprinkler, this will probably mean an interruption to your sleep! Instead, if you have manually operated sprinklers, it’s more likely you’ll turn them on during the day or in the evening, which are not times that are as beneficial for the health of the grass as watering it in the morning.

The other great thing about automatic sprinklers is that they will come on even if you’re away from your property. You can go on vacation for several weeks, knowing that you’ll return to a lush lawn. By comparison, if your sprinkler has to be manually operated, you’ll need to ask a neighbor to turn them on in your absence or hire somebody to do this job. Otherwise, you risk returning from vacation or a business trip to find a dry and dead lawn. Similarly, even if you are home, a manually operated sprinkler requires that you remember to turn them on and off every day to keep your lawn in good health. If you remember to turn the sprinkler on, but then get distracted with another task and forget to turn it off, you risk drowning your lawn and also wasting water and racking up a large water bill. Or, if you forget to operate the sprinkler altogether, the lawn could dry out.

An automatic sprinkler, by comparison, will run for a set time to ensure your lawn gets exactly the right amount of water each day. There is a drawback to this, though; if you have had rain or storms, your automatic sprinkler will still turn on and water the lawn even when it may not need the additional moisture. This leads us to the one main advantage of manually operating a sprinkler; that you can judge each day based on the weather how long to leave your sprinklers on for. Most people find that automatic sprinklers represent the most convenient method for irrigating their lawn, but these also tend to be the most expensive to buy.

Types of Lawn Sprinklers

1. Rotary Sprinklers

Rotary Sprinklers

Rotary sprinklers mechanically rotate while spraying streams of water over a lawn, going back and forth to create specific angles or circles of dispersed water droplets. Rotary sprinklers are popular in gardens of all sizes, but they particularly excel when used on large lawns, because they are able to throw water further than any other type of stationary sprinkler. Some models can send water across huge distances, as far as 90 feet in one direction, therefore covering a diameter of up to 180 feet.

They are also great for lawns with soils that water does not infiltrate quickly, such as clay or compacted soils. This is because rotary sprinklers have a lower rate of precipitation than other sprinkler types, such as pop-ups, meaning that it takes them longer to spread the same amount of water than a pop-up sprinkler. This is helpful for some soil types where run-off or pooling of water would occur if too much water was dispersed at once. A slower precipitation rate will allow a slower draining soil to absorb the water more evenly.

Rotary sprinklers are also the best type of sprinkler for distributing the water evenly. They operate in a way that ensures the same amount of water hits every patch of lawn. There are many different types of rotary sprinklers that have various different spraying patterns. They are typically designed to be adjusted in quarter-circle increments, but some work on smaller angles. For best performance, you will need a psi water pressure of between 40 and 50 to be compatible with a rotary sprinkler. If you have a lower water pressure than a rotary sprinkler may not be the best option for you, though the one exception to this is stream rotary sprinklers, as some are able to operate on lower water pressure.

There are three main types of rotary sprinklers. These are impact sprinklers, gear-driven sprinklers, and stream sprinklers.

1.1. Impact


This is the type of sprinkler that many people will immediately think of when they think of rotary sprinklers. These types of sprinklers were first invented by Rain Bird, and so they are now mistakenly called ‘rainbird sprinklers’ by some people, but in fact, Rain Bird is a brand and not a type of sprinkler. Impact sprinklers can easily be identified by the noise they make while they are running. The head of these sprinklers rotates as the pressure from the nozzles water stream hits the spring-loaded arm, and it is this action that makes the sprinkler very noisy. Impact sprinkler heads are usually constructed from metal, namely brass or bronze. This makes them hardwearing and better able to withstand the elements and wear and tear than their plastic counterparts. They tend to have a long lifespan, but the noise they make can put a lot of people off from using them. They also require regular maintenance to keep them running properly, as they have many intricate parts that can wear down and need attention. They are considered to be a little old fashioned, as other rotary sprinklers that operate more quietly and require less maintenance are starting to replace impact sprinklers. The best time of day to irrigate a lawn is early in the morning, and this is why people living in residential properties will choose to avoid impact sprinklers, as the sound of them going off in the early hours of the morning can disturb sleep. For this reason, impact sprinklers are best suited to commercial properties, such as the grounds of golf courses, where their loud noise isn’t going to be a problem.

1.2. Gear-driven


Gear-driven rotors have rotating heads that spray a stream of water in a continually turning pattern. The head rotates due to a series of gears, which operates as a result of the pressure from the flowing water. Like impact sprinklers, these rotary sprinklers can spread wide streams of water, at a distance of anywhere between 18 to 60 feet in standard models, making them ideally suited to medium and large-sized lawns. The body of gear-driven rotors are encased in plastic, which hides the moving parts. This, teamed with the way they operate, makes them much quieter than impact sprinklers. They are well suited for use in both residential and commercial settings, being almost silent when in operation. Gear-driven sprinklers are also less expensive to buy compared to impact sprinklers, and they are low maintenance.

1.3. Stream


Stream rotor sprinklers, also known as multi-stream sprinklers, spray rotating streams of water in multiple directions all at once. These are interesting to watch, and put on a spectacular display of moving water fountains that can be mesmerizing. The benefit of these is that, like gear-driven sprinklers, they operate quietly. They also have low precipitation rates compared to some other sprinkler types, which makes them ideal for soils that absorb water more slowly, or sloped and uneven ground where too much water dumped at once can slide down the slope instead of being taken into the soil as it should. The main drawback of this type of sprinkler is that the head is prone to getting clogged up if the water flowing through it is not filtered. ‘Dirty’ water can block up the mechanism and cause operational issues.

2. Fixed Spray Sprinklers

Fixed Spray Sprinklers

These types of sprinkles spray a pattern of streaming water that does not move. It can fan out in full circles or patterns of various angles as designated by the user. Standard models might have the option to spray quarter circles, half-circles, and full circles, while more advanced models can have specific selections that allow the user to set the sprinkler in increments of 40 degrees. One of the benefits of this type of sprinkler is if you have a straight-edged lawn, you can position the sprinkler against the edge with it facing towards the lawn. When set at a half-circle, this will be able to adequately spray the whole edge of the lawn without wasting water on the sidewalk.

These sprinklers aren’t as strong as rotary sprinklers and are not able to throw water as far. They typically spray streams of water ranging between 3 and 16 feet, making them most suitable for small to medium-sized lawns. These sprinklers are also able to operate well on lower water pressure than rotary sprinklers, ideally with somewhere between 20 and 30 PSI. If you have a small to medium lawn on a property that has low water pressure, then a fixed spray sprinkler is probably your best lawn irrigation option.

3. Oscillating Sprinklers

Oscillating Sprinklers

These types of sprinklers work by streaming water out of a straight bar with a row of holes in, which moves back and forth to create a moving curtain of water. This is a simple sprinkler device that is low-cost, and can often be picked up at dollar stores or similar types of retailers. They spray water in a rectangular or square pattern, and sometimes have a knob on the side that allows the user to adjust the distance of water being sprayed. The maximum distance these types of sprinklers can throw water is around 20 feet, making them ideal for small to medium-sized lawns.

4. Traveling Sprinklers

Traveling Sprinklers

Traveling sprinklers, also known as tractor sprinklers, are self-propelled sprinklers that travel the lawn to deposit streams of water droplets. These types of sprinklers are an alternative to having one sprinkler that you move throughout the day, or several sprinklers set at different locations across a lawn. They provide an efficient way to water a lawn from just one hose point, without having a user to continually move a sprinkler around manually. They are useful for large plots of land, such as sports fields, big yards, or agricultural properties. Smaller models of traveling sprinklers operate on a guide wheel that sits at the front of the sprinkler, whereas bigger models will need straining wires that pull the traveling sprinkler in a straight line, and it will shut off when it reaches the end.

5. Misting Sprinklers

Misting Sprinklers

A misting sprinkler sprays water at a much lower rate. This is ideal for flower beds that might be damaged from the pressure given off by stronger sprinklers or for soils that struggle to absorb water quickly enough to warrant a heavier flow of water. Some soils, such as clay soils or poorly draining soils, absorb water more slowly. This means that if a sprinkler is spraying water at a rate that is too fast, dropping a large amount of water in a short space of time, the water cannot be absorbed fast enough and will pool on the top of the soil. This will lead to run off and be a waste of your water.

To support the health of your plants and lawn, you should use a sprinkler that sprays water at an appropriate rate for your soil type. A misting sprinkler is best for the most compacted and slow-draining soils, as it has a very low rate of depositing water. As the name suggests, it produces more of a fine mist spray of moisture rather than the streams of water produced by more traditional sprinkler systems. A misting sprinkler won’t throw water very far, so they are also ideal for small lawns that might be overwhelmed by larger sprinklers. They are also perfect for positioning in flower beds, which are typically smaller and require less water than lawns. Due to the low water pressure of misting sprinklers, they are very economical to run, as they make a small amount of water last a long time.

6. Sprinkler Hoses

Sprinkler Hoses

These are not technically sprinklers, and instead or a sort of hybrid between a sprinkler and a hose, though they can be used in place of traditional sprinklers in some situations. A sprinkler hose looks like an ordinary hose, but it has a long row of holes in the body. When attached to a hose point, the flow of water will be released from the holes, causing water to stream up into the air. The benefit of this type of sprinkler hose is that you can angle the hose however you like so that it sprays vertically or points in a particular direction. You can also easily adjust how far the streams of water reach simply by turning down the hose pressure at the faucet. As a general guide, you can expect a sprinkler hose to spray water at a maximum distance of around 20 feet. These types of sprinklers are ideal for irregularly shaped lawns, as the hose can be positioned at a curve or whichever shape you want to fit the shape of the garden. It is also great for narrow lawns as the hose can be positioned in a long, straight line, to water the length of the narrow lawn without wasting water by hitting patches of sidewalk or driveway unnecessarily.

7. Pop-Up Sprinklers

Pop-Up Sprinklers

Pop-up sprinklers are exactly that; they sit in the ground being unseen when not in use, then pop-up when activated. The benefits of this type of sprinkler are obvious; they are almost invisible when not in use, so they won’t affect the clean look of your lawn. As they don’t stick out from the ground, they also don’t present a trip hazard, which is especially beneficial if you have children or anyone in the home who is prone to falling over. The very nature of pop-up sprinklers makes them the most aesthetically pleasing and safest type of sprinkler application to use. They are commonly used in both residential and commercial settings and are installed below ground.

Pop-up spray nozzles have a moderate reach, being able to spray at distances of up to 15 feet. This makes them best suited for small to medium-sized lawns, but they can also be used on large lawns when setting up a system that uses several pop-up nozzles at various points throughout the space.

These types of sprinklers can be purchased in various heights, from 2 inches all the way up to 20 inches, but those of 12 inches and under are the most common. The reason for the different heights is so that you can customize your water spray specifically to what you are watering. Low and flat lawns will only need lower sprays of water, whereas if you have any obstacles in your garden or you have sloped ground, then a taller pop-up sprinkler will be more appropriate. The 2-inch models are really only suitable for a flat and rocky yard where the soil is difficult to dig up.

Many people, even with low and flat lawns, find that the water spray of a 2-inch pop up can be blocked by the surrounding grass, which will cause spots amongst the lawn that do not get watered. For this reason, pop-ups at a height of 4 inches or more perform best. If you have a regularly cut lawn that is mown at a height of 3 inches, then a 4-inch pop-up will be fine; however, if your lawn is infrequently cut and may sometimes be on the long side, then a 6-inch pop-up will be most effective, as it will be able to rise above taller grass and not get blocked.

If you have shrubs, groundcover, planters, flower beds, or rock gardens you want to water, then a pop-up of between 8 and 12 inches will be most appropriate. These are able to spray water at a height that will reach the foliage of plants and also irrigate the soil in any taller pots and planters. Taller pop-up sprinklers can also be useful for watering hedges, ornamental grasses, and vegetable gardens. Pop-up sprinkler heads can settle into the ground over time, so when calculating that height of pop-up you need, it is wise to then go one size up. For example, if you opt for a 4-inch pop-up that then settles an inch into the ground over the course of a few years, you will soon end up with a 3-inch pop up that cannot spray over the height of your lawn and it will no longer be functional.

8. Raised Sprinklers

Raised Sprinklers

Raised sprinklers are those that cannot retract into the ground when they are not in operation. The benefit of this type of sprinkler is that it can be easily moved to a different part of the garden or tidied away when not in use, but the main disadvantage is that while it is in use, it can look unsightly and be a trip hazard.

8 Different Types of Lawn Sprinklers Explained (with Pictures)