The Best Watering Cans

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. It’s currently out of stock on Amazon, but Bosmere, the official U.S. Haws importer, assure me that more Haws watering cans will reach our shores by “the end of July” 2014. Put it on your wish list now, because it’s much, much better than the competition and worth the wait.

Last Updated: July 23, 2014
We took a look another look at the field of watering cans and found that our current pick, the Haws Bosmere V115, is still the best one for most people. But since it's out of stock until the end of July, we've named a runner-up in case you need one right now (OXO Outdoor Pour and Store). We also included our long-term test notes from using the Haws for the past year, and updated the competition section.

If you need something now and can’t wait, our runner up is the OXO Outdoor Pour and Store 8 Liter Watering Can ($37). It doesn’t drip when carried, comes in bright colors, and has a spout that can be tucked away for tidier storage. But its shower is not as delicate as the Haws’ sprinkle, and it can be fussy if you tip it too gently.

If $40 is too much to spend, we also like the the Dramm 5-liter watering can ($19) for its wide top opening and large capacity. But it shoots water out too quickly without its detachable rose, and its handle is not as comfortable as our pick.

Should I upgrade?

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…)

Watering cans really only have four jobs to do, but good design makes a difference in how well they do those jobs.

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.

How we picked and tested

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.

Our pick

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.

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.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

But there is a flaw, and that flaw is annoying. 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 impossible 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.

Some gardeners who live in southern climes will object that the Haws is made of plastic, which will indeed break down under harsh sunlight, according to 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.

The Haws is a UK brand imported by Bosmere, and sometimes the can goes out of stock because, as a rep from Bosmere told us, it takes 3 weeks for the watering cans to get here. We think it’s much better than the competition, though, and worth the wait.

Testing results

With bad watering cans, the pressure of the water inside makes them shoot out a tsunami stream of plant-flattening water when they’re full. I was never worried about that with the Haws.
The Haws Bosmere V115 5 liter watering can hold about eight ounces (240ml) water more than its advertised five liters (although those eight ounces will spill out if you’re carrying it 1000 feet up and down a driveway.) If you only fill it up to capacity, it’s very difficult to spill. There was no leakage during watering with the plain can or with the rose, although the extra small tip did leak. It was the easiest watering can to control when full, pouring and stopping easily, and releasing a steady, moderate stream of water close to the tip. With bad watering cans, the pressure of the water inside makes them shoot out a tsunami stream of plant-flattening water when they’re full. I was never worried about that with the Haws.

Long-term test notes

A year after its first sprinkling, the Haws Bosmere V115 5 liter watering can is exactly the same as it was its first day; perfect. I’ve had to remove the rose and shake out small leaves and sticks a few times, but that’s normal for cans left outside. It should continue to moisten my petunias for years to come.

Runner up

Also Great
The OXO doesn’t drip at all when carried and handles well with one or two hands.
If the Haws Bosmere is out of stock (and it seems to go out of stock pretty regularly), we recommend the OXO Outdoor Pour and Store 8 Liter Watering Can ($37). It is the watering can the Jetsons would use to moisten Man-in-the-Moon marigolds in their hip space pad. Its rotating see-through spout turns so that you can store the watering can in compact spaces, and there’s a round notch at the side of the top opening where you can tuck the removable rose when you’re not using it. And it’s available in four garish 60’s-fab colors! It’s so cool.

The OXO Pour and Store doesn’t drip at all when it’s carried, and it handles well as long as you’re definite about your intentions. Try to tip it gently to pour a modest rain out of the rose, and you’ll get a boorish, thick stream of water dribbling out of the bottom holes. It’s better to just tip it over quickly. It’s easy to control with one or two hands. You’ll get a decent shower of water—not as delicate and refined as the Haws’ signature sprinkle, but not the sort of downpour that would bother most seedlings, either. The rounded, stiff plastic handle is strong and easy to carry when fully loaded with eight liters of water (17.6 lbs/ 8 kilos).

However, the OXO Pour and Store doesn’t perform quite as well as the Haws because it does dribble slightly if you don’t tilt it enough while pouring, and it doesn’t have quite as fine a spray. And, at eight liters, it doesn’t save much space.

The step down

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $26.
Less precise and easy to control than our pick, but easier to fill up in smaller sinks -- and it's $10 cheaper.
The Dramm 5-liter watering can ($19), 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, you can get the neon-orange watering can of your dreams.

Competition

The Fiskars 2 Gallon Watering Can, Thyme Green ($14) is a staid grayish green, suitable for discreet British perennial borders and Army surplus stores. The rose can’t be removed or cleaned, and when it was full of two gallons of water, I could feel it bending in my hand as I carried it. I could see water dribbling out of the spout as I carried it up and down the steep driveway during testing, and its pouring radius is very wide. If you’re growing plants in pots that are less than 8” wide, you’re going to end up watering a lot of your deck, patio, or floor if you use this model. The flow is heavy as well, and could dislodge delicate seedlings. Save up and get the OXO if you’re going to be spending a lot of time carrying water, or get one of the smaller indoor cans if your pots are petite.

The UCan ($30) is designed for gardeners who like to use liquid fertilizer. It holds a measuring cup and spoon for dry mixes, and there’s an attached jar with a pump lid for storing liquid fertilizers, or maybe for squirting ketchup onto your al-fresco hot dogs. Just push down on the pump and voila! Your measured dose has been added to your mix. You can even record what day you fertilize your plants on an attached plastic ring. And there’s a little niche where you can store your gloves! It’s all very tidy.

Unfortunately, water doesn’t entirely agree with the UCan. When I tipped it to pour out water with the rose attached, it dribbled slightly at the spout, and burped. The water flow would stop, then glugg out a few times when I started pouring it, as though it had to release air bubbles before the water could flow. It’s easy to control the UCan’s flow after it starts for the second or third time, but this stutter-start behavior is disconcerting. It’s a sturdy can, though the finger-indentations in the handle are mildly annoying if your fingers don’t exactly fit them. And, as with every other can, it doesn’t yield quite the delicate seedling-preserving flow as the Haws.

If you’re the sort of gardener who uses liquid fertilizer on a strict schedule, or who hosts a lot of ketchup-intensive cookouts, this watering can could make your life simpler. If you don’t use liquid fertilizer regularly, the fertilizer jar just takes up air space. For those of us who rely on compost and various dry amendments, it’s hard to justify buying a watering can that burps.

The Fiskars 2 Gallon Bloom watering can ($23) has a removable twist-off rose, which is a plus; you can clean it if it gets gunked up with stray leaves and twigs. Unfortunately, once I removed it, I never managed to get it on quite right again. Every time I unscrewed the rose and attempted to put it back on again, it never felt like I could get it completely tight, and there would be a gap somewhere around the nozzle–a gap that would inevitably dribble when I tilted the can to start watering. It never felt like the thing was seated correctly. Eventually, I gave up. If you don’t mind some dribbling, the Bloom gives a decent moderately-heavy spray suitable for watering established plants and containers on patios and decks. If you’re a perfectionist about attachments, though, it will drive you mad.

If you don’t care about watering dainty high-maintenance seedlings, there are several economical alternatives. 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.

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 where the gentle sprinkle should be. It was fairly easy to control the flow when it was full if I ignored the stabbing pains in my fingers from the knife-edged handle. On the bright side, this model only lost 8.5 milliliters (less than one third of an ounce) during the carry test, so your spats will still be clean when you arrive at the refreshment tent. Unfortunately, the watering can won’t be. Yes, like many stainless steel appliances, the Blomus I tested got water stains.

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.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.
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Sources

  1. Neal Sanders, 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. "
  2. Fed Up with Cheap Watering Cans, GardenWeb, July 10 2006
  3. Anne Marie Van Nest, Best Plant Watering Can, Tibesti
  4. The 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.
  5. Watering Can, Everything 2
    Prior 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.
  6. Madaline Sparks, 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.
  7. Watering Cans, Yardener
  8. 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.