After 10 hours of research and testing, plus ongoing daily use in a community garden, we’re confident that the Fiskars 2.6-Gallon Easy Pour is the best outdoor watering can for most people. It’s relatively compact, easy to fill, and comfortable to carry and lift, and it’s the only watering can we found with an adjustable sprinkle head that converts from a rainshower to a stream of water with one easy click. With other watering cans, you have to remove the sprinkle head completely to get a steady flow of water.
The rainshower setting is effective and suitable for watering both established and immature plants—even seedlings, crucially—without your having to worry about damaging them. Its steady pour is gentle enough to target crop plants’ roots without washing away the soil around them. And the twin handles—a fixed one on the side and a hinged one on top—make filling, carrying, and pouring exceptionally easy. Finally, the Fiskars can is sturdy, with a high-quality all-plastic construction that will never rust and has no sharp edges or seams that can chafe bare hands.
If you’re a serious gardener or just looking for the best-performing can out there, the Bosmere Haws 1.3-Gallon Longreach V115 is it. This watering can emerged as our pick in our original 2014 test because it delivered the gentlest rainshower, the most precise pour, and, with its long spout, the most comfort and least back strain when we reached into deep flowerbeds. It’s been a standard among professional gardeners for years. It would have remained our pick if not for a few notable drawbacks, namely cost (it often goes for $40 or more), size (the long spout means you’ll need to make room to store this can), and availability (which is inconsistent).
If you’re an indoor gardener, the Bloem Living 56-ounce Aqua Rite is an inconspicuous, affordable, and efficient watering can. The Aqua Rite comes in several colors (and also slightly smaller and larger sizes, depending on your demands) and provides a direct and consistent stream into the planter. And unlike a measuring cup or coffee mug, it offers extended reach and doesn’t dribble when you pour.
I’m a community gardener hell-bent on growing as much of my own food as I possibly can given the time, budget, and space constraints of a freelancer in Brooklyn, New York. I recently moved from Portland, Oregon, where I grew 80 percent of my food last year in a cooperative garden and completed Oregon State University’s Beginning Urban Farmer Apprenticeship program. I have experience on urban farms and in community and school gardens of all sizes. I really like plants, and I really like good garden tools.
A watering can is not strictly necessary for many people. If you live in a house or have a community garden plot, you probably have a hose. If you grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, or flowers on a larger scale, you probably have an irrigation system. If you live in an apartment, you might have some indoor plants or a little balcony garden and can get by with a measuring cup or kettle. But watering cans still have a place in most homes.
Hoses can be too harsh for seedlings and too short to reach some parts of the yard, and sprinklers can leave some parts of your garden totally dry while making others dangerously soggy. Indoors, ad hoc watering tools tend to dribble and force you to engage in acrobatics when you’re reaching for hanging plants. Watering cans are invaluable for addressing such shortcomings and frustrations.
If you’re seeding indoors and transplanting outdoors, watering cans provide the gentle spray and volume of water required for germination and deep roots. In the garden, tomatoes, eggplants, and squashes (zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, and the like) need deep waterings right at the base of the plant but hate having their leaves get wet—and hoses and sprinklers soak them head to foot. A good watering can lets you water their roots directly and deeply using the “pour” setting and still give lettuce and other leafy greens the gentle rain they prefer using the “rose,” or sprinkle head. Indoors, a dedicated watering can with a long spout makes keeping your plants hydrated much easier and neater—you’ll never go back to using a measuring cup.
Based on initial research and a long conversation with Sweethome editors who are also gardeners, I developed parameters and began to narrow down a test group of watering cans for this review. Storage, price, and availability all came up as important factors and potential dealbreakers. Additionally, we decided to concentrate on cans in the 2 to 3 gallon range (to balance trips to the spigot against carrying weight), as well as to assess the benefits of longer-reach cans against more-compact cans that are easier to store.
When researching and selecting models to test, I focused on several considerations and specifications: high-grade molded plastic for longevity plus a lightweight, solid construction; a relatively pleasing design and shape; a total volume of 3 gallons or less; a large, well-placed fill hole; a total height of less than 12 inches for ease of filling in a sink; a good handle design for comfortable gripping, carrying, and pouring; and a removable, preferably adjustable, sprinkle head (sometimes called a “rose”).
The ideal watering can is unobtrusive visually and functionally; as with any hand tool you use in the garden, its design should never get in the way of usability. Versatility, consistency, and sturdiness are key. As for materials, plastic is best: It won’t rust, and it will last for a long time if you store it properly, out of direct sunlight and away from drastic temperature changes. Urban gardeners and even most home gardeners have limited storage, so for most people a watering can shouldn’t take up a lot of room.
The sprinkle head should cast water evenly and with consistent pressure, and it should allow for direction and precision; if you’re watering plants in containers, you don’t want to be watering the ground around them. If the sprinkle head has a light flow, you may want to remove that piece for direct, deep waterings, so the spout should also be designed to deliver a consistent flow of water that doesn’t glug percussively or bore a hole in the soil at the base of your plant.
The handle on the watering can should be wide enough so that you can grip it without crushing your fingers, and the molded plastic should be smooth all the way around—some have a seam that digs into or even slices your hand. Each of the cans we tested had two handles or a handle that wrapped across the top and down one side so that you can carry it from the top and then lift and pour using the handle on the side to create leverage.
For filling and cleaning, you want a fill hole big enough that you can see the water level and you can stick your hand or at least a heavy-duty bottle brush into it to scrub it when debris builds up. The sprinkle head should have a close press-fit in its attachment to the spout—not plastic threading that will warp or strip, or a weird angle that’s hard to get right when you’re reattaching the piece. And the head must be easily removable for cleaning.
I selected watering cans that were generally well-received across the board among home gardeners and professionals alike, and I tried to stick with trusted brands with good reputations for manufacturing, availability, and shipping. Most of the people I spoke to during my research agreed that they would definitely not spend more than $50 on a watering can, unless it was a gift and “super fancy.”
I did all of the testing for the outdoor watering cans at Q Gardens, a Brooklyn Queens Land Trust community garden in my neighborhood. The garden is relatively new, just in its second season, so the infrastructure is pretty minimal, and, significantly, we have no direct access to water—no hoses or sprinklers. Instead we depend on rain-collection barrels and a generous neighbor who fills up our barrels with his hose when we’re short on rain. We fill watering cans from the barrels and water our crops daily, based on need. Prior to receiving the four cans I tested, we had a small fleet of dinky, budget cans handed down from a larger community garden.
We have solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants), some climbing beans and squash, salad and cooking greens, very small crops of assorted other vegetables, one raspberry bush, culinary and medicinal herbs, and flowers, which all require different amounts and styles of watering. Almost everything is in a container or burlap sack, although we just got some raised beds put together, and a hedgerow of sunflowers and perennials sits along the fence line. With our garden’s space and its limitations, we rely entirely on watering cans to grow food for ourselves and our neighbors.
I used the watering cans to water the entirety of Q Garden several times, using each can in succession and making sure to use each can on all the plants in their various containers and beds at least twice. I took copious notes after each test, and I asked my fellow gardeners for their opinions and observations when they used the cans.
Fully hydrating the garden takes anywhere from 10 to 20 gallons of water, depending on the time and thoroughness of the previous watering or rainfall. Each time I watered to test, I rotated through the cans so that I used each can at least twice. Generally I watered the tomatoes and potatoes first, then some of the squash, cucumber, beans, and greens, and finally the herbs, flowers, and seedlings still waiting to be potted up or moved to the raised beds. This way, I used the watering cans for both broad and targeted watering on delicate young plants as well as on more developed, though still fussy, fruiting plants.
To test the ease of filling, the possibility of spillage or sloshing, and the comfort of carrying, I filled the cans at our water-catchment system and then made a full loop of the garden—a distance of about 150 feet featuring enough obstacles to make it a sufficient testing ground for sloshing and comfort. I also filled the cans in my kitchen sink and in my bathtub before bringing them to the garden, to see how they fit under indoor faucets. Over the two weeks of regular testing, we built and installed raised beds, so the cans got fairly dirty and required rinsing out, which is how I tested for ease of cleaning.
The Fiskars 2.6-Gallon Easy Pour is a sturdy and versatile watering can, perfect for medium-size gardens with an assortment of plants and crops requiring regular hand-watering. The most significant feature that sets it apart is the removable sprinkle head, which has an adjustable rose that rotates to provide a moderate sprinkle or a direct, consistent stream of water. This Easy Pour function, combined with the can’s large but manageable volume, comfortable handles, and unusually convenient fill hole, makes the Fiskars model our top pick.
The adjustable rose is unique to this watering can; with all the other watering cans we tested and researched, switching from sprinkling to pouring requires removing the sprinkle head completely. With the Easy Pour design, a simple twist (the watering can has a raised diagram with arrows indicating which way to turn for which function) rotates the the outer part of the head on an axle so that the water can flow through a smooth, trough-shaped chute, or through a bigger chamber with sprinkle holes. That it allows you to toggle between the two modes is handy in terms of speed and convenience, but more significantly, it means you don’t have to remove the head and are therefore less likely to misplace that piece.
The Fiskars Easy Pour has two perpendicular handles to make filling, carrying, and pouring a bit easier. The shorter vertical handle is part of the molded body of the can while the longer horizontal handle is a separate piece, hinged to the sides of the can so that it can rotate out of the way of the fill hole. The second handle is removable, in case you decide you don’t need it, but using that handle is more comfortable when you’re carrying a full can, and it helps to provide control when you’re pouring. This design has some quirks that make for a bit of a learning curve, but it became my preference after about a week of use.
The fill hole is offset (another unique feature among the models we tested), which makes filling in the sink or under a spigot quite easy. Due to the relatively small size of the hole, I experienced absolutely no leaking, spilling, or sloshing while filling, carrying, or using the can. Other tested cans, such as the OXO and the Dramm, sloshed water out.
The pour function of the Fiskars sprinkle head is flawless, providing a direct and steady stream of water without gushing in a way that damages the soil. No other can in this year’s test group delivered this level of performance—most other models poured too hard, risking washing soil away from delicate roots. I prefer this function specifically for the tomatoes and the hedgerow, which together take up the most square footage of growing space at our garden, so it’s been getting a lot of use.
With the overlapping handles and large orange rose, this model is not the most aesthetically pleasing can, but it also isn’t garish in the least. It is practical and sturdy, and it won’t look amiss in any garden.
The removable second handle, which is unique to the Fiskars watering can, gives it an unusual level of versatility. However, the handle can be unstable when it isn’t secured by the full weight of the can as you’re toting water. The first time I brought all the watering cans to the garden, I was carrying this one by the removable handle; I swung it a little, and the handle detached and sent the can flying. This happened only once, and the problem is easy to avoid once you know it’s a possibility. But Fiskars could probably improve the design to remove the risk entirely.
The fill hole is a bit small, so thoroughly cleaning inside the can is difficult—but because it’s small, I doubt much debris that you can’t just pour out the spout will get in there.
The sprinkle function of the adjustable head leaves a bit to be desired. The rainshower could stand to be a bit gentler, and the head tends to dribble some if you don’t hold the can just so, but it does provide a deep and mostly consistent watering without fail. In truth these are complaints common to most cans we tested (only the OXO didn’t dribble), but they’re worth mentioning in addition to the absolutely stellar pour function.
During my research, I found some reviews and comments mentioning that the adjustable function of the sprinkle head can begin to wear out and break after extended use, which given its handful of moving parts seems fairly likely. This is something we’ll keep track of, and we will update this review if any issues with the function of the sprinkle head arise.
Our upgrade pick, the standard of professional gardeners worldwide, is the 1.3-gallon (5-liter) Bosmere Haws Longreach V115. It was our pick in our original 2014 test because it delivered the gentlest rainshower and the most precise pour from its extra-long spout. But it costs a lot, it’s big, and it can be hard to find.
The particularly gentle rainshower comes from the distinctive design of the sprinkle head, or rose, which you can turn so that it faces upright. With the head in this position, water sprays upward and then arcs downward, falling as gently as rain. Most cans, including all the others in our test group, spray only downward, producing a somewhat rougher spray of water that can be a little too harsh for tiny seedlings or loose soil.
The extra-long spout makes reaching plants in wide beds easy and allows you to keep the can near the centerline of your body, reducing strain on your spine. The V115 is also well-balanced overall; if you garden every day or have lots of watering to do, that makes a real difference in your comfort and pleasure over time.
Finally, the fill hole is wide enough for you to fit your hand or a scrub brush in for cleaning (though the same is true of some other cans, including the Dramm and OXO cans we tested). The removable sprinkle head has a clever storage peg on the can, so you won’t lose it.
Although this model was our pick in a previous version of this guide, its price and availability have never been ideal, and we think the Fiskars Easy Pour solves these problems while still delivering satisfying performance. The price of the Bosmere Haws model varies online but is generally higher than the price of the Fiskars, and due to this model’s popularity and the manufacturer, it’s often out of stock. The long spout also makes this model more difficult than the Fiskars to store, and the placement of the handle and fill hole makes it rather tall and unable to fit under low-profile kitchen faucets—so you may need to fill it in the tub or at a spigot.
The Dramm 10-12450 5-liter/1.3-gallon watering can is a lightweight, made-in-the-USA, affordable long-reach can, but it’s much too long for easy storage and can be a little unwieldy, especially in small urban gardens. Its removable sprinkle head casts a gentle, rainlike shower that’s ideal for big tables of seeding trays or wide flower beds but too imprecise for small crops or containers. Without the sprinkle head, the water rushes out of the spout and can flood pretty quickly.
The holes on the sprinkle head of the 2-gallon Union Products 63065 are too small to get anything especially wet, and the size of the fill hole combined with the angle of the spout makes this model nearly impossible to clean fully. The two handles are comfortable and easy to use, and the can stores easily, but the quality of the molded plastic seems to be the lowest among our test group.
The 2.1-gallon/8-liter OXO Good Grips Outdoor Pour & Store has a sprinkle head made of a flexible rubber material that does not consistently get a secure fit with the spout and is frustrating to reattach after removal. The sprinkle head isn’t strong enough to control or distribute the volume of water reliably, so I found myself using this can without the sprinkle head. The spout is tapered through the length and angled at the end, however, which gives it a great shape for an easily controlled stream without the sprinkle head attached.
For indoor watering cans, design and reach are the two most important factors. We wanted a watering can that looks decent sitting on the shelf or sill next to your plants and makes you want to use it regularly. A long reach is key for watering your hanging plants. Since such cans are meant to be stored inside, I didn’t exclude metal from my testing group, although molded plastic is less likely to break down over time and spring leaks.
Ultimately I selected small (approximately 1.5-liter or nearly half-gallon) watering cans with long, ideally almost gooseneck, spouts. I also heard from friends and colleagues that many folks use coffee pour-over kettles for watering, so I looked at those, too.
Like outdoor cans, indoor watering cans should be easy to fill and clean. The handle should make carrying as well as pouring easy and painless, and you shouldn’t have to worry about water spilling over the edges while in transit or as you’re watering your plants, especially when you’re reaching up to a hanging plant. A relatively small and rearward fill hole generally helps to prevent spills, but it also depends on the angle of the spout and how far you have to tilt the watering can to get the water out.
Availability is another factor—several cans that looked good on paper proved to have limited availability or were entirely unavailable, so we eliminated them.
To test the indoor watering cans, we used them on our houseplants for regular waterings. My apartment gets pretty low light, so my houseplants are not thriving, to put it lightly, but I’ve managed to keep them alive for the past eight months by making sure they lack for nothing that I can control, which is primarily water. I have a few aloes, several small jade plants, an ivy, a lily, a dracena, and a snake plant, and I recently acquired a broadleaf thyme and a rose geranium. All of the plants except the peace lily (because it’s the biggest) are on windowsills or on a table that gets a few hours of direct or partial sunlight in the morning. They’re all in small to medium-size pots, and my usual watering technique varies from plopping an ice cube in the pot to watering with my drinking glass to giving them a proper soak and drain in the sink.
Houseplants don’t vary in their watering preferences as much as vegetables and herbs do, but they do come in all shapes, sizes, and (especially) locations—watering a hanging plant is especially challenging indoors. Outside, you can use a hose to create “rain” from ground level, but indoors you have to rely on gravity-fed water from a can. Water flows only downhill, of course, which means you have to get the can above the plant, and that often means using a footstool or stepladder.
Luckily for us, the Wirecutter/Sweethome downtown Manhattan office has amazing plant life and made for a much better testing ground than my apartment. One large windowsill is totally full of houseplants, mostly succulents and air plants including an aloe and a big elephant ear, as well as a few philodendrons hanging in planters. The Sweethome’s Thais Wilson-Soler and Krishna Shastri tested our models there and gave me feedback.
We tested the Bloem Living 56-Ounce Aqua Rite at the office and found it serviceable for most of the plants. It pours well and remains comfortable to handle, it’s small and unassuming in appearance, it doesn’t slosh or spill, and it typically costs less than $10. There really isn’t much more a person could ask for in an indoor watering can, and that’s why it’s our pick.
The 56-ounce capacity is enough for multiple plants—meaning fewer trips back to the faucet. It comes in a number of colors and sizes, it has a sturdy and comfortable handle, and it’s made of durable plastic, in the US. During the month I was working on this article, I saw this can or a similar model tucked on the windowsill with the plants in several homes and offices, so it’s definitely a popular item.
This is an excellent watering can if your plants are all waist-height or below, but it gets trickier to use the higher you have to reach. It isn’t awesome at watering hanging plants, since it requires you to tip it pretty far to pour fully at an angle. Our testers specifically mentioned having to hold the can from the bottom with their fingertips to get the last of the water out into the hanging plants. That said, this watering can is light, so taking this extra step is not a serious hardship. And it’s a requirement common to all indoor watering cans: Because water flows only downhill, you have to raise the can above the plant somehow. Our testers also had this issue with the previous office watering can, which is similar in design to the X3 (described below); the OXO Pour & Store indoor model, meanwhile, is too big to make an overhead lift comfortable.
Even when you hold it by your fingertips well overhead, the Bloem Living Aqua Rite does not spill or slosh water over the sides, so you’ll be in no danger of wetting your floors or drowning your plants. Like a pour-over kettle, which is on average four times the price of this little can, or the X3 watering can, which is typically 15 times the price, this model delivers a steady, controlled stream of water, and the tapered tip at the end of the curved spout helps to direct the water even in the smallest pots.
You’ll find a bunch of Bloem and Fiskars-branded models (Bloem bought Fiskars earlier this year) on Amazon that have different model numbers—these seem to correspond to colors—but are otherwise the same 56-ounce can. And if your main concern is cost, the less-popular colors (such as purple) sometimes come at a steep discount. Finally, if you find the spout too long for your needs or tastes, you can easily trim it with a sharp knife or scissors.
If you’re interested in using a pour-over coffee kettle, this Mira kettle usually costs less than $20. The gooseneck spout helps it get into hanging plants and provides a steady and controlled stream of water to give your plants a good soak. The lid helps prevent sloshing. At 24 ounces (3 cups), it holds only enough water for a few plants at a time; if you have a green thumb, you’ll want something bigger. The bulky plastic handle, heatproof for the stovetop, detracts from the sleek design a bit, but the heatproof nature of the kettle also makes it dishwasher safe in the event that it gets funky.
If you have a lot of houseplants and are not concerned about aesthetics, OXO makes an indoor 101-ounce/3-liter version of its OXO Good Grips Pour & Store. That’s almost twice the capacity of our indoor pick—and makes it heavier than you’ll want unless you have a ton of houseplants. Everything about this watering can is the same as with the 2-gallon/8-liter outdoor size, except that the flaws are not as noticeable. It’s comfortable, it pours steadily, and it represents a great option for anyone who starts seeds inside for summer gardens or has a windowbox, balcony, or fire-escape kitchen garden. But it’s expensive for an indoor can, and few people would call it pretty.
If you’re searching for something that works well but primarily looks good on the shelf (and you’re willing to pay for it), consider Kontextür’s X3. This watering can is similar in function to the one used, happily enough, at The Sweethome’s New York office prior to this review. It comes in four colors of powder-coated metal or copper and holds 48 ounces of water—enough for several plants between refills.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: July 25, 2016