If you want a watering can, you should go ahead and get the Haws Bosmere V115 5-liter watering can because its excellent balance makes it easy to carry and control, its careful design allows users to precisely control water flow, and its removable sprinkle spout produces a gentle rain the spindliest seedlings could love.
That said, a watering can is a gardening luxury, not a necessity. To water indoor plants, floraphiles use anything from wine bottles to pourover coffee kettles. Outdoors, many gardeners and landscape professionals employ homely items like old milk jugs, detergent bottles, or cat litter jugs to lug water around their gardens; if they’re feeling fancy, they poke some holes in the cap with a hot skewer for sprinkling. It’s hard to carry enough water around in a watering can to soak soil deeply enough to get to all the roots. (Frequent shallow watering encourages plants to grow shallow roots, which dry out more quickly than deep roots, which make the plant wilt, which makes the gardener water it again…)
But a watering can is convenient, especially if you’re growing plants in containers, transplanting small plants, or watering tiny seedlings that could be uprooted by an accidental hose blast.
There are also aesthetics to consider. If you’re concerned about chlorine in your water harming your plants, and typically leave water out so that the chlorine can evaporate, you may be happier displaying a watering can instead of an old milk jug. But aesthetics only go so far; watering cans designed by artists tend to slosh water out when you carry them, and they dribble and drip all over their carefully-crafted exteriors.
Watering cans really only have a few jobs to do, but good design makes a difference in how well they do those jobs. Good handles make a can easier to carry than a milk jug, and for long-handled cans, good balance can make the difference between a precisely controlled stream of water and plant-wrecking floods. Better control makes it less likely you’ll leave water on your plants’ leaves—damp leaves are prey to dismal fungal diseases like powdery mildew—and more likely you’ll get water to the plants’ roots where it belongs. They need to be easily carried and not spill a lot of water when they do; they need to pour water where you want it; and they need to be easy to occasionally clean. It’s nice if a can fits under your faucet so you can fill it. But hoses, bathtub faucets can do the same job.
The more expensive watering cans will also have removable “roses,” otherwise known as sprinkle heads. The roses keep you from washing your seedlings and soil away. Fussy gardeners water with the sprinkle head facing up, not down, for an even gentler sprinkling for their discerning plants.
I chose to look at watering cans that could hold about a gallon because in my experience, carrying two gallons of water (16.68 lbs/7.56 kilos) in a single container with a handle is a fast ticket to back pain. You’re better off carrying two one-gallon containers, one in each hand. It might take longer, but you’ll still be able to walk after you’re done watering. Better yet, get a hose.
I concentrated on plastic watering cans because metal is heavier than plastic—making carrying water more difficult—much more expensive, and prone to rust and breaking around the joints. They can be very pretty and shiny, but in my garden, I use flowers to decorate, not garden tools.
Out of the watering cans that were left, I eliminated cans with obvious flaws. Some watering cans where the top opening was clearly much too small to allow for cleaning; one wayward leaf, and you’d never be able to use it again. I also dispensed with watering cans with swiveling spouts the detach at the base of the can due to frequent complaints about leaks at that connection. Watering cans with spouts that start anywhere other than the base of the can were summarily dismissed. However charmingly designed that high-spout can may be, sooner or later water will pour out of its top when you tilt it to fill the spout. They just don’t work. Sadly, this last criterion cut the Novelty 30500 Pig Watering Can out of competition, but since that particular item makes it look as though you’re watering your garden with pig snot, it was no great loss.
I tested the remaining models that had garnered positive commentary by gardeners or landscape professionals.
The best watering can, the Haws Bosmere V115 5 liter, costs almost $40. When you spend money on a watering can—instead of picking up an old jug from your neighbor’s recycling bin—you get a container that does nearly everything beautifully. Spend less money, and you’ll strain your arms a bit more, squish a few fingers, and perhaps wash away a few small plants with an uncontrollable torrent of water.
I tested watering cans by filling them up to the brim to check their capacity by weight on a kitchen scale, carrying them 1000 feet up and down a sloped driveway, then reweighing them to check for spillage. I checked for dribbles and leaks when pouring, and how easy it was to control water flow when the watering cans were full.
Who should buy this?
People who have plants in containers outside, or wish to water a few plants without resorting to a hose or sprinkler could use a watering can. They’re also useful in communities with outdoor hose-watering bans during summer droughts, though I can’t imagine watering a lawn larger than a welcome mat with one.
My experience gardening (AKA why you should consider my advice)
I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, and 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 the 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 landscape appears at Green Space Boston.
The Haws Bosmere V115 5-liter watering can is a great watering can. It is sturdy, beautifully balanced, and easy to carry and control, and the removable rose makes a gentle rain, facing up or down. The top opening is just large enough for putting in your hand (if your hands are slim), or a scrub-brush, or a sink sprayer if you feel the urge to clean instead of working with dirt—a necessary chore for watering cans left outside to collect leaves and other spout-clogging debris. It comes with an additional extra-narrow tip for watering in tight places, although the connection between that tip and the spout was loose and drippy on the model I tried. It has a peg for storing the rose or the spout.
But there is a flaw, and that flaw can be annoying if you have a short sink. This particular model is tall (nine inches/23cm) with a high, narrow opening at the top. That design makes it hard to spill water, but it also makes it harder to fit under many sink faucets. Yes, you can fill the watering can by putting a mug in the sink, filling it, and pouring the water into the watering can—but if you’re getting a watering can for convenience, that’s just plain silly. That’s not a huge deal, though–just fill it up in the bathtub, with a hose, or in the shower.
Some gardeners who live in southern climes will object that the Haws is made of plastic, which will indeed break down under harsh sunlight, as noted by commenters on Amazon.com. That said, I have a Haws plastic watering which has lasted over a decade under the New England’s pale, gray sun. If you live in Arizona, don’t leave this watering can outside. I wouldn’t leave it outside in a New England winter, either.
Who else likes it?
Irwin Ehrenreich, owner of the Rose Man Nursery is one of the few landscape professionals who admits to using watering cans. About the Haws cans, he says “I like the shape and balance, the long neck and green color… I use them for filling my birdbaths, watering newly planted roses (instead of dragging a hose through my garden) and to water my potted roses that are growing under lights in my basement.”
Other competition I don’t recommend
These are not as good.
The $24 Dramm 5-liter watering can, available in six astonishing colors suitable for 25-cent gumballs, is a decent, hard-working runner-up to the Haws can. Unlike Haws, the Dramm has a wide, open top, making it easy to slide under most bathroom faucets. It can hold almost an entire quart of water more than its stated capacity, and lost only eight ounces (240ml) during the carry test. It’s well-balanced, doesn’t dribble, and easy to carry without straining arms or losing circulation to your fingers. The detachable rose works nicely, creating a uniform, fine spray.
The problem with the Dramm is what happens when you take the rose off. When this watering can is full, water almost shoots out of the spout. The diameter of the Haws spout is two centimeters; the diameter of the Dramm spout is 2.5 centimeters—and that difference has a profound effect on how easy it is to control the water flow. The Dramm’s water shoots out markedly faster and farther than the Haws can, and it takes much more effort to tilt the can back far enough to slow the flow. If you have small seedlings or easily-uprooted plants to water, you will want to pay very close attention when you tilt this watering can, or only use it when it’s half-full; its sudden surges can easily gouge out loose soil.
The Dramm’s handle is also disconcerting. Instead of a closed tube, the flexible plastic is open at the top. It’s hard to close your hand around it in a completely comfortable way. Still, for $8 less than the Haws V115, it’s a reasonable purchase if you’re bored with the reliable, dull-green Haws.
The Akro-Mils 1-gallon watering can is cheap at $11.50, well-balanced, easy to control, and lost only four ounces of water (120ml) during the carry test. It has a good large opening at the top for easy filling under tight faucets, and even has markings on the side for measuring water (if you can stick a flashlight inside to see how much water is in there.) But it doesn’t come with a rose, and you can’t buy one separately for it, so it can be difficult to water delicate seedlings without washing them away.
The Novelty 30702 Plastic Watering Can is similar, and even cheaper, but has two small holes at the top instead of a single large one, making it impossible to clean the insides and remove debris and more difficult to fit it certain types of faucets. That closed-top design makes it distinctly inferior to the Akro-Mils 1-gallon can. Again, there’s no rose.
For smaller containers and houseplants, the Fiskars 1.5 liter (1.6 quart) watering can is compact, well-balanced, and pretty much unspillable—and the cheapest of them all at $6.33. It doesn’t take top ratings because as with the other economical watering cans, there’s no rose attachment—and with such small capacity, it would a lot of trips to get enough water out to your potted banana tree.
If your primary objective in watering plants is to make sure your butler doesn’t spill water while strolling amongst the guests at your Modernist Garden Fete, I can confidently recommend the heavy, astonishingly expensive $140 Blomus Aguo 65210 stainless steel 5-liter watering can. If you’re going to try to water anything with it yourself, though, forget it. This ghastly instrument of garden torture has a flat-edged metal handle that cuts into your fingers as you carry it, and all attempts to water with the rose resulted not in a gentle sprinkle, but in a vampire-like two-toothed flow of streams of water cascading off the sides, with a seedling-smashing dribble from the middle. Pass on this.
Wrapping it up
If you’re going to buy a watering can, the Haws Bosmere V115 5 liter watering can will fill all of your watering needs for years to come—but if your faucet space is tight, get a Dramm.
The Watering Can Report, The Principal Undergardener, March 7, 2011,"A writer for a regional 'lifestyle' magazine called yesterday. They are doing a feature on 'fun' watering cans for an upcoming issue and wanted some gardening tips to go along with the watering can story... "Then do you use a watering can?" the reporter asked, hopefully. "No, the milk jugs work just fine," Betty replied. "How about watering your container gardens?" Betty explained that for our exploding population of containers, we have a basement full of two- and three-gallon jugs that originally held cat litter. "
Fed Up with Cheap Watering Cans, GardenWeb, July 10 2006
Best Plant Watering Can, Tibesti,
Our Top 25 Watering Cans, Design SpongeThe best watering cans offer good balance when fully loaded, they don’t tip over easily when set down, their handle is formed upright and stays upright for less bending to retrieve, and the rose (sprinkler) has holes of the right diameter to achieve the proper “shower” intensity. One other added perk, if the edge of the top catches overflow and directs it back inside the vessel, bonus points are awarded.
Watering Can, Everything 2Prior to 1692 watering cans were called watering pails. A major paradigm shift occured in 1886 when founder "John Haws of Clapton, London obtained a patent for an improved watering pot. The first patent read: 'This new invention forms a watering pot that is much easier to carry and tip, and at the same time being much cleaner, and more adapted for use than any other put before the public.'" The famous Haws watering can brought us today's classic design of a pail, spout, rose and side handle instead of a handle on the top. It is analogous to a teapot, well balanced both when empty and when full of water. Between the materials used (galvanized steel cans with brass roses) and the craftsmanship these cans lasted a half a century or more. They were repaired by their owners when leaks sprung in their old age. Today, while they are still manufactured and while their design continues to improve they are quite expensive and often speak as much to the salary and the aesthetic tastes of the owner as the function of moving water from point A to point B.
The Best Watering Cans, Real Simple,Best for Perfectionists Practican by Haws This sturdy plastic model won’t tip over and includes two attachments: one for a gentle sprinkle and another for more directed control. Capacity: 1 1⁄4 gallons.
Watering Cans, Yardener
Handle placement is important as well because you want a water-filled can to balance perfectly; otherwise water splashes out of the can as you walk. The length and shape of the spout varies on watering cans, and some are better than others depending on how and where the can is used. Standard-sized spouts are ideal for all-purpose watering, but cans with long spouts work best for hard-to-reach spots.