The Best Sprinkler

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After testing nine new sprinklers and comparing our notes with those from our 25-sprinkler test in 2013, we’re sure the best sprinkler you can buy today is the Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base ($50). No other sprinkler we found has its unique combination of versatile spray patterns and even coverage over such a wide range of large and small spaces. It’s durable, sturdy, and adjustable, with a spray that you can fine-tune to entertain sprinkler-jumpers of any size.

Last Updated: Two years ago
Reports indicate that our previous pick, the cheaper Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler 7900PP, broke too quickly, so our new pick for best sprinkler is the Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler. If the ZoomMaxx is unavailable, we recommend the Naan Irrigator Pro, a rotating sprinkler that doesn’t put out as even a stream as our top pick, but delivered some of the most consistent flow among the other models we tested. Our budget pick is the Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler, which gets the job done but is stationary and doesn’t offer a perfect stream.
Expand Most Recent Updates
Two years ago: We've replaced our previous pick, the Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler 7900PP, after multiple reports that it broke too quickly. Our new pick is the Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base ($50), a durable, sturdy oscillating model with versatile spray patterns and even coverage over large and small spaces. We've also found a lower-priced rotating option that delivers flexible watering patterns and decent performance: The Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base ($21). And for very small areas, we recommend the Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler ($5+$3 shipping), a stationary sprinkler that waters a circle up to 10 feet in diameter. Look for our fully refreshed guide in about a week.
Two years ago: Due to quality concerns with our pick, this guide is on wait status. We hope to have a new pick by the end of May, so check back then.
Three years ago: Due to quality concerns with our pick, we're setting this guide to wait status. We'll research a new pick before planting season begins in spring 2015.
Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base
No other model could water such a wide range of yard sizes and shapes with such a consistent amount of water at different distances and settings.

This compact, effective sprinkler can water anything from a mere 10-by-10-foot square up to a 40-by-60-foot rectangle of lush lawn. We measured its output at 1, 5, 10, 15, and 25 feet, and it proved to be among the most consistent water distributors in our test. That means you’ll get roughly the same amount of water over the entire area you’re sprinkling: no dry spots or flood zones.

This pick replaces our previous top choice, the Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler 7900PP ($26). Although that sprinkler has a lower price and more flexible settings than the Gardena Zoommaxx, we can no longer recommend it, as there have been more and more reports over the past two years that it breaks quickly under normal use. By contrast, the Gardena ZoomMaxx gets comments like “the sprinkler has so far lasted longer than any other sprinkler I’ve owned.”

Also Great
Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base
This rotating sprinkler delivered some of the most consistent flow among everything we tested, with even watering over a 22-to-30-foot radius in either a full circle or a 30-degree wedge.

This year, we did find a lower-priced option that still delivers flexible watering patterns and decent performance: The Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base ($21).

The rotating head of the Irrigator Pro doesn’t put out quite as even a stream as the Gardena Premium—in measurements very close to the sprinkler, it deposited less water than it did at 10 and 15 feet. But on its shortest setting, it did deliver the most consistent water coverage in tests against 17 other models. Plus, it completely watered its entire circular range, which can reach as far as a 22-to-30-foot radius, in either a 30-degree pie-slice or a full circle. If your yard isn’t a tidy quadrilateral shape, the Irrigator Pro is great choice.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler
This will water a 10-foot circle for under $10. The stream isn’t perfect and the sprinkler is totally stationary—but it beats standing around with a hose.

For some very small areas, even the Naan is more sprinkler than you need. So if you just want to dump some water on a small garden patch, we recommend the Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler ($5+$3 shipping).

You can’t adjust it, and under typical household water pressure (65 PSI) it will only water a circle up to 10 feet in diameter. The stream is not very consistent, either—during 2015 testing, our 10-foot water gauge received less than a quarter of the water we measured at the 5-foot gauge. But for the price, this stationary sprinkler is a fine alternative to standing around with a hose.

Table of contents

Why you should believe me

I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, watering seedlings, mature trees, tomato plants, roses, and lawns with watering cans, soaker hoses, and sprinklers. I am one of the pillars of the Menotomy Gardeners e-group. I earned a certificate in Field Botany from the New England Wild Flower Society in 2007, and I co-founded the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, which is devoted to preserving working agricultural land. In 2010, I published Boston Gardens and Green Spaces, a Boston Globe Local Bestseller, and I am the co-creator of the GREEN SPACES: Boston app. I have appeared on NPR’s Radio Boston and WCVB’s Chronicle discussing Boston’s open space, and my work has been featured in the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, Boston Magazine, and the Time Out Boston guide. I give frequent talks to historical societies, garden clubs, and book groups about New England landscape history and agriculture. My blog about Boston’s plants and landscaping appears at Green Space Boston.

Who should get a sprinkler?

Someone who hasn’t decided yet to get rid of their lawn and replace it with something that doesn’t need watering.

A portable sprinkler—called a “hose-end” sprinkler by irrigation techs—is a temporary stand-in for better weather, more advanced or permanent irrigation, or better landscaping. Sprinklers are cheap, fast to set up, and fun to jump in for pool-deprived children. If you’re seeding a new bed of grass, they can make the difference between having a lush new lawn and a weed-ridden dust patch. Some more creative gardeners use them to moisten compost, protect flowers from frost, wash salt, spray off plants in coastal areas, or provide mud for butterflies.

If you’re looking at watering a lawn or garden for more than a few weeks, though, sprinklers can get expensive because they’re not very efficient at getting water to plants’ roots. It can be hard to set up a sprinkler so that all the water goes to your plants, rather than running down the sidewalk. The main alternatives are soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems; soaker hoses ooze water slowly out of pores every two inches or so along their length along the ground, while drip irrigations systems are adjustable to drip out water slowly in specific locations.

Instead of using sprinklers, you may want to rethink your landscaping so that it doesn’t need extra water. The EPA has advice on water-smart landscaping and a water budget tool so you can calculate how much water—and how much money—you’re spraying out of your sprinkler.

On using sprinklers

Sprinklers distribute water by spraying through the air; they have a hard time getting water to plants’ roots because water lands on the leaves and can be lost to the evaporation. Although sprinklers themselves are inexpensive–they generally cost less than $30–you can end up spending a lot of money on water that never gets to the ground, especially if some of that water is hitting pavement instead of soil.

Poorly-controlled sprinklers also promote garden diseases. Water that sits on leaves can encourage fungal diseases and blights that can leave your landscape looking worse than than it did when the soil was dry.

If you’re going to use a hose-end sprinkler, you’ll need to spend some time establishing how much water your landscape needs to use the sprinkler efficiently and effectively. Most homeowners water their lawns shallowly and frequently. That approach weakens plants; since all the water is at the surface, their roots grow at the surface and dry out quickly in hot weather. It’s better to water less often and more deeply, so that at least six inches of soil is soaked and the roots grow down into moister, cooler soil.

The best time to water your lawn and landscape is around dawn. The air is cool enough then to minimize the amount of water lost to evaporation, but the sun will dry leaves off quickly, reducing the chance of fungal diseases. It’s a good idea to put your sprinkler on an automatic timer, so that you don’t forget to turn it on or accidentally leave it running when you get an unexpected phone call. However, those timers need to be turned off when rain is predicted, or you’ll just waste money and look silly. There is no suburban sight more pathetic than sprinklers watering the lawn in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Lawns with cool- and warm-weather grasses, or clay, sandy, or loamy soils will need varying amounts of water. Consult with your local agricultural extension to get information about soil tests, soils, and plants in your community. The state of California has a useful site about watering lawns and gardens. If you’re establishing turfgrass, this page has watering tips; serious gardeners will want to read Fine Gardening’s advice on using water in gardens.

To calculate how much water your sprinkler puts out, use this calculator.

How we picked

A sprinkler is a fairly simple idea. The perfect sprinkler should be adjustable and capable of water areas of many different shapes and sizes. It should water the entire space evenly and consistently throughout its entire range and not leave any spots dry or sodden.

Unfortunately, the physical realization of sprinklers is ridiculously complicated. Even the terms for sprinklers smack for needless complexity. Depending on exactly what publications and web site you read, you’ll find oscillating sprinklers, impact sprinklers, impulse sprinklers, pulsating sprinklers, rotary sprinklers, rotating sprinklers, stationary sprinklers, and travelling sprinklers.

Oscillating sprinklers (like our pick) are what most Americans think of when they hear the word sprinkler. They’re pipes with a line of small holes drilled along the length of the tube. Water shoots out in thin streams from the holes, and the pipe rotates along its length to make the water jets move from side to side. If you’re buying a sprinkler to entertain children, this is the type to get. You can jump through it when it’s high, run away from the jets as they get lower and lower, put your finger over some of the jets to make the others shoot higher—you get the idea.

Impact sprinklers, impulse sprinklers, and pulsating sprinklers are interchangeable terms for the same thing; the sprinklers you see on golf courses and athletic fields that go shhk-shhk-shhk. These sprinklers consist of vertical pipes (heads) that rotate slowly in a full circle and shoot water out in pulses; that’s what makes the shhk noise. They put out a lot of water quickly through powerful pulses and can generally be adjusted to spin in a full circle or part of a circle. Their disadvantage is that when water pressure is low, they may get stuck in a single spot, so avoid these if you have pressure problems at your home.

Rotary and rotating sprinklers (like our runner-up) have spinning heads that shoot out water in a circle as it spins. They can’t be adjusted to make a part-circle like impact sprinklers, but they can work with lower water pressure.

Stationary sprinklers (like our budget pick) stay still and pump out water, like a hose turned to face upwards. They can provide a greater range for water than an upturned hose, but they’re not adjustable.

Traveling sprinklers generally move along the path of a hose, spraying water as they go. They’re not really suitable for small yards and weren’t included in this review.

The cheapest stationary sprinklers cost about $8. Impulse sprinklers cost about $20, and oscillating sprinklers cost anywhere from $20-$60 depending on how large an area they can water.

The experts I contacted at irrigation firms believe that using sprinklers is wasteful because it’s hard to adjust hose-end sprinklers to exact landscape and weather needs.
Experts don’t recommend sprinklers. In all honesty, I scoured the net to find any mention of sprinklers, and found very few articles that name any brand of sprinkler, much less undertake objective reviews of their performance. The experts I contacted at irrigation firms believe that using sprinklers is wasteful because it’s hard to adjust hose-end sprinklers to exact landscape and weather needs; the experts I spoke to at the nonprofit Greenscapes and the Seattle Public Utilities Water Efficient Irrigation Program would rather have you eventually use soaker hoses or drip irrigation and don’t review sprinklers either. As Bill Christiansen, Program Planner at the Alliance for Water Efficiency put it: “The level of water use efficiency with portable sprinklers has a large behavioral component. Things like watering at the right time, setting up a sprinkler so water does not hit the pavement, making sure there isn’t a leak at the hose/sprinkler connection, and not overwatering.”

In my initial sample, I researched 48 sprinklers and tested 25. For this update, our team evaluated 96 sprinklers, and I tested nine.
Virtually all the articles about sprinklers on the web are roundups of types of sprinklers, explaining the differences, as I did a few paragraphs ago. In the end, I located candidate sprinklers from gardening chat sites like GardenWeb, blog posts, and Amazon.com reviews. I limited my search to sprinklers for small yards (60-foot maximum width), and found candidate oscillating, rotating, stationary, and impact sprinklers. In my initial sample, I researched 48 sprinklers and tested 25. For this update, our team evaluated 96 sprinklers, and I tested nine.

Testing

The first time we ran this evaluation, I tested our sample sprinklers using my standard hose (and its pressure of 70 PSI as measured by a water gauge placed on a hose-splitter at the end of the hose). I set up all sprinklers at a standard location and placed tomato stakes on the ground at five-foot intervals to measure the sprinklers’ range. For our round of testing in 2015, the available water pressure was 65 PSI.

To see just how much water these sprinklers put out, and to evaluate consistency of flow across the sprinklers’ range, I set up three rain gauges at intervals: both parts of a Springfield 90107 2 in 1 Sprinkler and Rain Gauge and an AcuRite Instrument 5-Inch Capacity Easy-Read Magnifying Rain Gauge. (The rain gauges were tested during a one-inch rain storm, and all recorded one inch of rain: the third rain gauge I obtained, the Springfield 91755 Rain Gauge Spike, Green, had a reading of 1.35 and was discarded.) Rain gauges were set up at 1-, 5-, 10-, and 15-foot intervals to directly compare sprinklers over a shorter, more typical home watering range, and run for 30 minutes to highlight variance in water distribution across distance.

We were looking for consistent water delivery throughout the sprinklers’ coverage areas. Sprinklers are notorious for missing spots near the sprinkler, or leaving edges dry, so I set up the rain gauges to see if I could diagnose these shortcomings. I set all sprinklers on their maximum range for these tests. Impulse sprinklers were set on their “sprinkle” setting, as opposed to the jet setting, which tends to just shoot a glob of water as far as possible, leaving the intermediate grass dry. For rotary sprinklers, I adjusted rotation to the minimum angle, in part to save my house foundation from ceaseless soaking.

Temperatures ranged from 65 to 82 degrees during testing, but humidity was pretty standard, and did not impact testing. According to a white paper we found on evaporation loss during sprinkler irrigation, evaporation during delivery would have been very low. I rated flexibility by looking at the difference between the maximum and minimum range the sprinkler could water, and the number of different shapes it could produce. I also rated ease of use—how long did it take (and how difficult was it) to set up?

Our pick

Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base
No other model could water such a wide range of yard sizes and shapes with such a consistent amount of water at different distances and settings.

The Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base ($50) won out over other sprinklers because it can adjust to water a wide range of yard sizes and shapes, it can deliver a consistent amount of water at different distances and settings, and its user reviews frequently comment on its quality and durability.

No other sprinkler in our sample had that combination. The most adjustable sprinkler, the Gilmour Pattern Master oscillating sprinkler, wasn’t as good because it delivered a much more variable flow of water across its range, depositing more than twice as much water at 10 feet than five (2 centimeters versus 0.8) in a half hour. In contrast, our pick, the Garden ZoomMaxx delivered a steady 0.2 to 0.3 cm of water throughout its entire range. (The Gilmour model was our former pick for this story; we’ve seen a steady stream of complaints about it breaking over the past two years).

The next best sprinkler for consistent flow, the Rainwave oscillating sprinkler, wasn’t as flexible as our pick. You can adjust the length of the Rainwave’s spray (up to 67 feet), but the spray will have a constant width of up to 56 feet depending on your water pressure. The Gardena ZoomMaxx is far more versatile, as it can be adjusted to water anything from a 10-by-10-foot square up to a 40-by-60-foot rectangle.

The Gardena ZoomMaxx consists of a small rectangular oscillating sprinkler head with two rows of nozzles mounted high over a low, round base, a structure that makes it look vaguely like Wall-E. You can adjust the Gardena ZoomMaxx with three different bright orange adjustment areas. The rectangular head has width adjustment levers on each side, which both control the whole head; you can’t adjust the two rows of nozzles independently. Below the head are two length control levers, which can be adjusted independently. You can choose to have it water a different length to the front than to the back. Finally, there’s flow control dial on the front which can control the water pressure going into the head, so you can make micro-measurements to dial in exactly how far the water spray reaches—or put together multiple sprinklers in series from the same spigot (if you have high enough water pressure).

The Gardena ZoomMaxx attaches to your hose with a “Quick Connect Product Adapter.” Screw the adapter onto your hose, and attach and detach the sprinkler simply by sliding the adapter collar to release it. Of course, you can’t attach any other brands of sprinkler or hose nozzles while the adapter is on, so it isn’t all that useful, but it is slightly easier to unscrew the easy-to-hold adapter from the hose than an entire sprinkler. Like most other sprinklers in this sample (apart from our budget pick, the no-frills Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler), the Gardena ZoomMaxx also comes with a removable filter screen at the hose end to keep grit out of your sprinkler.

The Gardena ZoomMaxx’s base is weighted so it doesn’t creep or jump while it’s watering, as can happen with lighter-weight sprinklers. At 2.6 pounds, it doesn’t feel heavy, and it’s easy to carry from place to place—but make sure you know how you like the ZoomMaxx’s settings before you start toting it around your garden because it may take you some time to reproduce them if you move this sprinkler. See “flaws but not dealbreakers” just beneath this about this model’s settings.

Gardena advertises that the ZoomMaxx has “flexible rubber nozzles for even water distribution.” It’s not clear what “flexible rubber nozzles” actually do to water distribution, but the ZoomMaxx is a consistent performer. I tested the ZoomMaxx on its narrowest width, highest flow, and longest front-to-back distance to maximize the amount of water coming out of the spigots. Running the sprinkler at 65 PSI, I measured output at 1, 5, 10, 15, and 25 feet. The ZoomMaxx produced 1, .09, 1.4, 1.6, and 2.2 centimeters of water respectively, or .35, .39, .55, and .63 inches —the third-lowest variance in our sample, after the Gardena 250 Oscillating Sprinkler and the Rainwave. That’s good, because it means you’ll be getting roughly the same amount of water over the entire area you’re watering—no dry spots or flood zones. And unlike those other consistent performers (the Gardena 250 and the Rainwave), the ZoomMaxx is far more adjustable and simply a better fit for many different sizes and shapes of yards.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The Gardena ZoomMaxx is a great sprinkler for perfectionists, but it can take a little work to figure out your ideal watering setting. As one Amazon commenter wrote, “You’ve got five adjustments to play with, [front, back, left, right, and flow] so if you move the sprinkler around there’s no way you’re going to get the settings right on your first guess.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t any numbers or tick-marks next to the adjustment levers and dial that control the width, length, and power of the spray. If you move this sprinkler to a different area, and you want to return it to its previous adjustments afterwards, you’re either going to have to memorize the exact positioning of the levers and the dial, take a picture and try to match it later, or make your own tick marks with something water-resistant—a china marker grease pencil, a Sharpie, black nail polish, etc.

Unlike the other Gardena sprinklers I tested, the ZoomMaxx does not come with a tiny thumbtack-shaped tool for unclogging the spray nozzles. I’m not sure why. You’ll have to dislodge the inevitable gunk with your own unspecialized thumbtacks, I suppose.

Runner-up

Also Great
Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base
This rotating sprinkler delivered some of the most consistent flow among everything we tested, with even watering over a 22-to-30-foot radius in either a full circle or a 30-degree wedge.

For smaller areas—or yards that don’t have bored children who want to run through a moving sprinkler spray—the $25 Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base rotating sprinkler consistently watered a 22-to-30-foot radius, from a 30-degree pie-slice to a full circle. Our testing showed it covers a shorter radius than the 40 feet the manufacturer claims.

The reason the Naan Whisper Quiet stands out, though, is that it was the only sprinkler in my entire sample of 17 different models that had a consistent flow across the entire area on its shortest setting. In our original round of testing in 2013, after 15 minutes of sprinkling, the one-foot, 10-foot, and edge (20-foot) rain gauges all held exactly .3 inches of water. No other sprinkler came anywhere close to that precision. 2015 testing of a brand-new Whisper Quiet revealed it wasn’t quite as reliable, but it was still pretty good; after a half-hour of running, I measured .2, .5, .8, and .8 centimeters at 1, 5, 10, and 15 feet.

However, it isn’t perfect. Like all rotating sprinklers, the Whisper Quiet waters in a circular or wedge shape. The area watered near the sprinkler is more narrow than the area farther away. If your yard is shaped like a triangle, that’s a feature; if you have a more conventional square or rectangular yard, you will miss some spots.

Last, because the water flow stays lower to the ground than the oscillating sprinklers, and doesn’t move around in a variable spray pattern, it’s not nearly as fun to run or jump through. For entertainment purposes, get the Gardena Premium or one of the stationary multi-pattern sprinklers below.

The budget pick

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler
This will water a 10-foot circle for under $10. The stream isn’t perfect and the sprinkler is totally stationary—but it beats standing around with a hose.

If you just want to water a small patch of grass or garden, get the Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler ($5+$3 shipping.) It doesn’t spin, or pulse, or flip into the air and do jumping jacks. It just sits on the ground and spurts out water in a circle with a 7½-foot radius—after a half hour running, you get about half an inch at one foot and five feet from the sprinkler, and we measured one tenth of an inch at the edge of the spray pattern.

Be warned, though, that it is made of iron. All that stands between this sprinkler and rust is a coat of paint—paint which my son managed to rub off the sprinkler by accidentally stepping on it with his soccer cleats. That said, it’d take a while for rust to have a fatal effect. If you can handle it gently, you won’t find a better sprinkler for $8.

The competition

In 2015, I tested three more oscillating sprinklers—the Gardena Premium Oscillating Sprinkler 8151-U, the Rainwave 94010, and the Nelson 50945 Triple Spray. I also tested an impulse sprinkler, the Gilmour Metal Head Impulse Sprinkler 167SMB, and I retested a spinning sprinkler, the Dramm 15076 ColorStorm Spinning Sprinkler.

Gardenia Premium 8151-U Sprinkler

The Gardena Premium Oscillating Sprinkler 8151-U ($63) is adjustable, durable, and easy to use, and can water a swath 30 feet wide and anywhere from 15 to 50 feet long, depending on your water pressure. It was the most consistent waterer in the 2015 sample, producing .25/.2/.3/.2 centimeters (.1/.08/.12/.08 inches) of water at 1/5/10/15 feet. It’s simple to adjust the length of the spray to the front or back with two sliders on the side of the sprinkler’s main tube, and the Premium Sprinkler’s wide base doesn’t shift during use. However, the Gardena Premium didn’t take top honors in our sample for three reasons. Since the width is fixed, and it doesn’t have a flow control valve, the Gardena Premium can’t water as large a range of sizes and shapes of yard as our top pick, Gardena ZoomMaxx. It’s also the most expensive sprinkler in our sample by $13. More seriously, the “Quick Connect Product Adapter” end got stuck on my sprinkler after one use, and cannot be dislodged for love or money. That wouldn’t be so terrible if that only meant that I have to spend a few extra minutes unscrewing it from the hose. The problem is that the permanent “Quick Connect Product Adapter” now blocks access to the hose-end water filter, which now cannot be moved or cleaned.

Nelson Triple Spray Sprinkler

The Nelson Triple Spray 50945 ($29) is semi-adjustable. In a not-very-dramatic departure from typical sprinkler design, you can adjust the side-to-side width of the spray but not the front-to-back length. Turn the central tube and you can select 6, 12, or 20 nozzles for a spray ranging from 8 to 56 feet wide, while the front-to-back spray will stay 67 feet. It also has a flow control toggle so that you can reduce the spray from front to back by decreasing the water pressure. The Nelson Triple Spray did an average job at watering consistently, putting out .2/.4/.5/.7 centimeters at 1/5/10/15 feet. However, it doesn’t have a grit screen, or a charming cleaning thumbtack, or a quick-connect adapter like the Gardena models, and it isn’t as adjustable as the Naan Whisper Quiet, which costs $6 less. There’s nothing exceptional about this sprinkler.

Rainwave 94010 Sprinkler

The Rainwave 94010 ($25) is an obvious step down from other sprinklers I tested. There’s no grit filter, and the entire casing is made of breakable-looking plastic. It comes with a detachable timer which can screw into the sprinkler or the hose spigot. As with the Gardena Premium, you can adjust the length of the spray (up to 67 feet), but the spray will have a constant width of up to 56 feet depending on your water pressure. In testing, it gave a fairly consistent flow over short distance, although it was confusingly light on the five-foot sample; I recorded .4/.1/.4/.3 centimeters at 1/5/10/15 feet. No other sprinkler showed this pattern of low spray at the five-foot mark; every other sprinkler that had a noticeably lower measurement at just one location either underwatered the closest or farthest gauge. On Amazon, there is roughly an equal number of complaints about this sprinkler not watering the advertised range, and having too large a watering area for a yard. If you’re only going to spend $20 on a sprinkler, the Gilmour Pattern Master is far more adjustable, but it may have manufacturing quality problems (see below.) If you want a hose timer, buy a hose timer, not a sprinkler.

Gilmour Metal Head Impulse Sprinkler

The Gilmour Metal Head Impulse Sprinkler ($35) is a rotating sprinkler that can put out a lot of water in a very short time, or far less, if you adjust the settings. I tested it at its narrowest rotation setting (around 15 degrees of a circle) and farthest distance setting on top distance dial, and it was one of the few sprinklers in this sample that actually projected water more than 30 feet from the center, for a range of more than 60 feet in diameter under my 65-PSI water pressure (the manufacturer claims it can water up to 86 feet in diameter). If you’re not in a rush, you can use the front diffuser screw to adjust the water flow from heavy stream to a fine mist spray. If you’re watering a narrow wedge, you’ll get a large area wet fast. In 30 minutes of watering that 15-degree pie-slice of a circle, my gauges collected 2/1.6/1.2/1 centimeter of water at 1/5/10/15 feet—not a the most extreme variation across that distance I observed, but a worrying trend. Don’t count on even watering across a 30-foot diameter with this sprinkler. The Gilmour Metal Head does, as advertised, have a brass and zinc head, and a die cast metal sled base. There are complaints on Amazon about older Gilmour Metal Head sprinklers ceasing to rotate after a few months; it’s not clear to me if any of the interior gears are easily-stripped plastic. It’s a fine sprinkler, but you can get the Irrigator Pro Whisper Quiet for $16 less. The Whisper Quiet doesn’t put out water as quickly as the Gilmour Metal Head, but it waters more consistently over a large area for a lower price, which is why it’s our main pick.

Dramm Colorstorm Sprinkler

Puzzled by 90+ enthusiastic Amazon reviews, I retested the Dramm Colorstorm Spinning Sprinkler. It looks charming in bright summer colors, and it makes a cool humming noise as it spins, generating a mist cloud that settles over plants and slow-moving children. As before, I found that the Dramm ColorStorm sprinkler is terrible at distributing water evenly. In my initial testing, in 15 minutes at 75 PSI it deposited .1 inches of water in the one-foot and 10-foot gauges, but a whopping 1.5 inches of water in a gauge set at 15 feet. In the 30-minute 2015 retest at a lower 65 PSI, I got opposite results, collecting 1.6/.8/.5/.2 centimeters of water at 1/5/10/15 feet. Perhaps if I tested this sprinkler at 70 PSI I’d get even watering, but I have my doubts. Dramm advertises this sprinkler as working “with low pressure” but also as having “a range of up to 38 feet.” These two statements seem to be mutually exclusive, as it barely watered a 15-foot diameter under moderate (65 PSI) pressure. Perhaps it waters more evenly under lower water pressure, but if you’re serious about watering your plants consistently, buy the Irrigator Pro Whisper Quiet. If you’re frivolous about watering, though, this silly candy-colored spinning mister is just the thing.

Older competition

In 2013, I also previously tested three other oscillating sprinklers: the Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler 7900PP, the and the Gardena 1975 Aquazoom 3900-Square Foot Oscillating Sprinkler.

If you want an inexpensive, traditional, easy-to-use, adjustable sprinkler for square and rectangular areas that will water your lawn quickly and entertain children romping across your lawn, and you don’t care if it breaks down after a few months, choose the $20 Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler 7900PP. In this story’s previous version, this model was our pick. However, since we first tested this sprinkler in 2013, an increasing percentage of Amazon reviewers have been complain that the Gilmour Pattern Master Oscillating Sprinkler doesn’t hold up over time due to degrading plastic gears—in several cases, less than a week. If you want to be sure your lawn gets watered, choose a different model. If you’re curious about what’s inside a Gilmour sprinkler, you you can view all the working parts of another Gilmour sprinkler at the Gilmour Sprinkler Gut Check.

When it works, it works well. It has a range of 20 to 30 feet front to back, and six feet to 15 feet side to side. Instructions on the box for changing the range are clear, and the location of the controls are obvious. You push tabs at the side of the pipe to control the back-and-forth motion, and push controls at the top of the jets up or down to adjust the width (although the width-control tabs are a bit stiff.) Out of the three oscillating sprinklers I tested, it put out the most water in 15 minutes ( .4/.9/.1 inches at 1 foot, 10 feet, and 15 feet), although other sprinklers were more consistent in their output. It also comes with a pin conveniently seated on the side of the sprinkler for cleaning out clogged jets. MSN Real Estate praised it, saying, “Compared to the standard design, the Pattern Master Polymer Sprinkler provides superior flexibility, with its spray tube flexing to adjust the width of coverage. Plus, its rotating dials let you create your own pattern of movement.”

The Gardena 1975 Aquazoom had a large range–it covered 56’ in my tests from front to back, and 20’ side to side–but on its high setting, it was terrible at distributing water. After 15 minutes, I could barely detect water in any of my gauges: 0 in the one-foot gauge, .1” in the ten-foot gauge, and .05” in a gauge set at 25 feet. At that rate, it would take two and a half hours to get an inch of water to the lawn ten feet from the sprinkler—and who knows if the lawn next to the sprinkler would get any water at all?

I also tested three other rotating sprinklers besides the Naan Whisper Quiet: the Gilmour 196SPB Pattern Master Impulse Sprinkler on Polymer Sled Base, the Contech 300000812 Rainforest Spike Sprinkler, and the Dramm 15076 ColorStorm Spinning Sprinkler.

The $20 Gilmour Pattern Master Impulse Sprinkler is a decent competitor to the Naan Whisper Quiet. It’s easy to control the amount of the circle the sprinkler covers with two levers. Range  is semi-adjustable too; there is a series of twelve pins around the sprinkler’s circular base that can be set up (longest distance, 30’ radius  in my testing) or down (short distance, 20’ radius). The pins can be set individually, so that you can have a sort of wavy circle if you like. The reason it lost out to the Naan Whisper Quiet, though, is that at low pressure, it simply ceases to move, and will water one spot ceasely like the little robot it is. It also showed inconsistent watering; at 30’, it watered only .1” at one foot, .2” at 10 and 30 feet: on the 20”, it underwatered the 10’ spot at .1”, spurting .2” at one foot and 20’.

I don’t entirely understand the Contech Rainforest Spike Sprinkler. It spins, and shoots out a sort of misty spray that principally seems to humidify the surrounding air. It certainly doesn’t water the ground; after 15 minutes, there was .4 inches in the one-foot gauge, .1 inches in the 10-foot gauge, and no water at all in the the 20-foot gauge.

The Dramm ColorStorm Spinning Sprinkler is very good at making noise–a sort of ominous hum, like a giant swarm of very damp bees. That’s really what it looks like while it’s operating, creating vast clouds of mists that go wafting up towards the roof, where very few of us grow lawns. After 15 minutes, it managed to deposit .2 inches of water a foot away, .05 inches ten feet away, and nothing at the purported edge of its 15 foot radius. You have better things to do with your time.

None of the other stationary sprinklers beat out the Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler for economy and watering capability. The Nelson Cast Iron Circular Spray Pattern Stationary Sprinkler Head 50950 looks exactly the same as the Naan, and works the same way, but puts out slightly less water (about .2”) and costs $1.40 more. The Nelson Cast Iron Square Spray Pattern Stationary Sprinkler Head 50951 has the same no-moving parts construction, but it waters inconsistently. If you really need to water a small, square patch, buy an oscillating sprinkler and reduce the water pressure to it by turning your hose down.

Dramm and Melnor also make stationary multi-way sprinklers, where you turn a dial to get different patterns that shoot out the sides, straight up, in a semi-circle and so on. I looked at the Dramm 15024 ColorStorm 9-Pattern Turret Sprinkler with Heavy-Duty Metal Base ($20) and the Melnor Eight Way Turret Sprinkler ($19). If I had to choose between them, I’d take the Dramm ColorStorm because it looks like what it is: a toy. You can’t adjust the distance these things throw water, and if your lawn isn’t the exact shape of one of these shapes, they’re useless.

The Noodlehead is a special case. It’s a great idea: put 18 flexible hoses on a sprinkler head, so you can adjust the flow however you like. I bent all the noodles as far as I could towards one side of the sprinkler, and timed it watering for 15 minutes. I found very uneven watering, which was to be expected (.1/1/.6 inches at one, 10, and 12.5 feet)–but I also found that several noodles had straightened up during the 15 minutes, and had started spraying water straight up and in the opposite direction. The Noodlehead is fine if you don’t intend to adjust it too much, but since adjustability is supposed to be the point of the Noodlehead, it’s hard to recommend it.

I also tested two small rotary sprinklers on spikes, the RainBird Gear Drive Shrub Rotor on Small Spike and the Fiskars Turbo Rotary Sprinkler Stake (formerly known as the Melnor 2950). The RainBird put out an astonishing amount of water for such a small sprinkler: in 15 minutes, I measured .7, .5, and 1.1 inches at one foot, 10 feet, and 25 feet. The Melnor put out one-tenth as much (.1, .3,.2”). The RainBird has a slightly greater range of motion limits (20-360 degrees) than the Melnor (30-360) degrees, but you need a small screwdriver to adjust the RainBird. Still, the RainBird’s inconsistent spray means that it didn’t rate at the top—and delivering one inch of water in 15 minutes might create more runoff on clay soils.

My last samples were two impact sprinklers: the RainBird Brass Impact on Large Spike and the Melnor 9536H All Metal Pulsating Sprinkler with Step Spike. Both of these sprinklers simply stopped rotating at low pressures, continuing to dribble in place. They both work well, with a maximum radius of 30 feet and a minimum of about 20. But both of them deliver water inconsistently. The RainBird showered an inch of water at the one foot gauge, but only .3 inches at the ten-foot and 30-foot gauges, while the Melnor curiously put out one inch at one foot, half an inch at ten feet, and .8” at 30 feet. More water farther away? It’s like it’s creating energy…

Wrapping it up

The Gardena ZoomMaxx Oscillating Sprinkler on Weighted Sled Base will do what you expect it to do, it can adjust to a range of square-to-rectangular shapes, and kids can jump in it. What more do you need? For lawns that are shaped like a triangle or circle, choose the rotating  Naan Irrigator Pro 525054 Whisper Quiet on Sled Base, and to just dump a bunch of water on a small area, the no-frills stationary Naan Irrigator Large Round Specialty Sprinkler is your best bet for under $10.

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Sources

  1. How Long Should I Leave the Hose On?, Rodale's OrganicLife, July 5, 2011
  2. Janet Macunovich, Learn to Water Well, Fine Gardening, March 2009
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