A wide range of watering equipment is available to home gardeners, ranging from a simple watering can to an automatic, underground irrigation system. A common watering tool for gardens and lawns is the portable sprinkler. There are several different types of sprinklers, each producing a characteristic spray pattern. Portable sprinklers are inexpensive and readily available. When used properly, they do a good job of watering. The most commonly used portable sprinkler is the oscillating sprinkler. An oscillating sprinkler consists of a horizontal tube which has several outlets along it. The tube turns slowly back and forth, applying water in a rectangular pattern. Oscillating sprinklers apply water to medium-sized areas. The spray pattern of many models is adjustable. Oscillating sprinklers tend to apply more water to the outer edge of the pattern than toward the center.
Impulse sprinklers send out a stream of water that strikes a pin or hammer, breaking the water into droplets and causing the sprinkler head to turn in a full or partial circle. While the impulse sprinklers cover a large area, they often apply more water near the center of the pattern than at the outer edge. Also, the water is distributed with considerable force.
Fixed sprinklers are generally used to water small areas. When in operation, fixed sprinklers don't move. They deliver water in a specific pattern. Many fixed sprinklers, however, do contain several different heads. Possible patterns include a circle, semicircle, square, or rectangle.
Traveling sprinklers are generally used to water lawns. They follow a cable or cord on a predetermined path, the sprinkler applying water as the device creeps over the turf. (One such device resembles a toy tractor.)
Regardless of the type of sprinkler you select, the spray pattern and the distribution of water will vary. In order to water efficiently, it is best to test your sprinkler to determine the size of the spray pattern and the rate of distribution. Place several small, straight-sided cans on the ground within the spray pattern. Attach the sprinkler to the same length and size hose you will be using when irrigating and turn on the sprinkler at the pressure it would normally be operated. After a set amount of time, measure the amount of water in each can. This will give you a good idea of the amounts of water distributed within the spray pattern. While the amounts of water accumulating in the containers may vary considerably, uniform water amounts can be achieved by overlapping the water patterns
Since the spray pattern of portable sprinklers is disrupted by tall vegetation, an excellent tool to water perennial beds and the vegetable garden is a soaker hose. A popular soaker hose is made from recycled tires. Water oozes out along its entire length and into the soil. When watering the vegetable garden, the soaker hose can be laid between the rows. A distinct advantage is that vegetables can be watered without wetting the foliage. This should reduce disease problems in the garden.
Another watering device is the sprinkler hose. The plastic sprinkler hose emits water from tiny, round holes along its length. As with the portable sprinklers, water distribution can be poor as the sprays of water strike tall vegetation. However, the problem can be overcome by turning the hose upside down with the holes pointing downward. Turn the water on slowly so the water soaks directly into the soil.
This article originally appeared in the July 19, 1996 issue, p. 129.