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Choosing the Right Type of Sprinkler for your Lawn or Garden

There are four general types of garden & lawn sprinklers: stationary or decorative, rotary or revolving, oscillating and  pulsating or impulse. The type and size of lawn or garden coverage needed and price range will determine which lawn sprinkler you should purchase.  Generally, the higher the price, the longer a sprinkler will last and the better the materials and construction are.

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Stationary Sprinklers
Most fixed sprinklers spray water through a pattern of holes in the top of the sprinkler. Many The size, shape and pattern of these holes, and water pressure, determine the area covered. Generally, they are the lowest cost sprinklers. Smaller lawn or garden areas are watered quickly and effectively by stationary sprinklers.  Stationary sprinklers may have alternate purposes such as pest control - in the popular Motion Activated Scarecrow Sprinkler.

Stationary sprinklers include a variety of designs. These include rings, full- and half-circle, which spray water through two or three rows of holes along the top edge for a circular pattern; salt shaker types with a single pattern on a sled or spike; multiple patterns on a turret which can be set to different patterns such as square, rectangle, strips or circles, and swirling type spot sprinklers.

Pulsating (Impulse) Sprinklers 
Pulsating sprinklers are the most efficient and versatile. A pulsating sprinkler operates on lower pressure, yet will discharge more water in a given period of time and cover a greater area than other sprinklers. The spray is strong and close to the ground, making it wind-resistant. The large orifice prevents clogging, unlike oscillator holes.

Pulsating sprinklers are manufactured in a number of materials-brass, zinc, aluminum, plastic, stainless steel and combinations. Top-of-the-line units offer four advantages:

  • Baffle plate - controls height of stream to allow sprinkling under low tree branches, etc. 

  • Diffuser pin - adjusts water stream from full jet to fine mist by screwing the pin into or out of the stream. 
    Part circle operation - manually spaced adjustment rings allow user to select narrow segment or almost full-circle operation. 

  • Full-circle operation - moving reverse pin away from the adjustment rings allows sprinkler to operate in a full-circle pattern (no reverse action occurs). 

Rotary or Revolving Sprinklers
Rotary sprinklers spray water from the tips of two or three spray arms that spin as the sprinkler waters the lawn. These spray arms may have fixed or adjustable tips. Designed for watering small- to medium-sized areas, rotary sprinkler prices range widely.

Deluxe units provide three adjustments: mist or jet spray by turning the nozzles; spray diameter by swiveling the nozzles inward or outward; stationary watering by the use of a locking collar.

Oscillating Sprinklers
Oscillating sprinklers spray multiple streams of water out of openings in a spray tube that "oscillates" back and forth, watering a rectangular pattern. Traditional designs use curved aluminum tubes. However, recent designs use corrosion-free, molded straight tubes with jets set at progressive angles. Oscillating sprinklers water medium to large areas and are one of the most popular designs with consumers. They are widely promoted and, as a result, price points vary widely.

Important features affecting performance include the length of the tube, the number of spray openings (usually 13-19 as coverage increases), and if the tube has spray jet nozzles (nozzles control the jet of water for longer throw). Coverage varies from 1,600 sq. ft. or less up to 4,000 sq. ft. To get these coverages, use at least a 5/8" garden hose and have a minimum of 40 psi water pressure available, smaller hoses or less pressure reduce coverage significantly. However, recent design changes on some models allow full operation at lower water pressures.

Pattern adjustments are usually full sweep, left, right, or center.

Units with multi-position dials allow fine tuning coverage settings between these basic settings.

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