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Types of Sprinkler Heads for Lawn and Garden Irrigation

Sprinklers in residential backyard

Many homeowners dream of a lush, vibrant, healthy lawn. In most areas of the country, you need a sprinkler irrigation system to make that dream a reality. Sprinkler systems offer precise, consistent irrigation to ensure that your plants and grass get just the right amount of water (without the stress and hassle of manual watering).

With so many options available, how do you choose the right types of sprinkler heads for your lawn's needs and the layout of your yard? Each type of sprinkler offers distinct advantages, from pop-up spray heads for small areas to rotary heads that cover a large landscape. Here's how to select the perfect sprinkler types for your irrigation system.

Different Parts of a Sprinkler

Close-up of a sprinkler head spraying a residential yard

Looking at an irrigation sprinkler head, it seems simple enough. But this crucial component of your irrigation system does a big job—it distributes water efficiently across your yard while minimizing the water required.

If you’re trying to decide on the best sprinkler head for your system, it helps to know the different parts of a sprinkler, what to look for, and how they function. For any sprinkler head type, the moving parts should work smoothly, and the material should seem durable.

Sprinkler Body

The sprinkler body is the main housing of the sprinkler, connecting to the water supply line. Most sprinkler bodies are made of durable plastic or metal that can withstand the conditions of an outdoor environment. When choosing a sprinkler, you should look for a body made of high-quality, corrosion-resistant material. Getting a good-quality sprinkler is especially important if you live in harsher climates with variable weather.

Sprinkler Cap

The sprinkler cap is found at the top of the sprinkler body. It covers the top of the sprinkler, protecting the inside components from dust, debris, and damage. In some sprinkler heads, the cap is adjustable to control water flow and direction. Look for a cap that's securely attached to the body and made of durable materials. The cap shouldn't leak.

Stem or Riser

The stem or riser of your sprinkler is the telescopic piece that pushes the nozzle above ground level when the sprinkler runs and then helps the pop-up spray head retract when not in use. These mechanisms are commonly found in pop-up sprinkler heads. When selecting a sprinkler head, look for a smooth riser mechanism with consistent pop-up and retraction. Make sure the riser doesn’t stick (which indicates sprinkler damage).


The nozzle is where the water comes out of the sprinkler. The type of nozzle determines the range, distribution, and spray pattern of your sprinkler. Many nozzles are adjustable or changeable for different spray options. When looking at nozzles, choose one that is easy to clean and maintain, with an option to replace as needed.

Spring Mechanism

Inside a sprinkler, the spring mechanism plays a critical role—helping the sprinkler heads pop up and retract. The spring helps prevent sprinkler damage when it isn't in use (and makes it less of a tripping hazard, too). Sprinklers should have consistent, smooth spring operation.


The valve of your sprinkler head helps you control the flow of the water. Some sprinkler designs feature built-in check valves, preventing water leakage when the system is off. Valves should offer reliable flow control. It’s especially important to have a check valve if your yard is on a slope—this prevents low-head drainage.


Some sprinkler heads also include a small filter under the nozzle (or occasionally inside the sprinkler body). The filter helps keep the nozzle clear of debris that can cause clogs. Filters should be easy to access so you can clean and replace them as needed to prolong the life and efficiency of your sprinkler head.

Adjustment Screw

Finally, most sprinklers feature an adjustment screw at the top of the sprinkler head or nozzle. The small screw allows you to adjust the spray distance as well as the water pressure. Set the sprinkler at a low angle as needed for hard-to-reach plants. 

Each sprinkler component has an important function. Understanding the different parts of the sprinkler can help you make an informed decision when choosing the right sprinkler head for your irrigation needs. It can also help you inspect and maintain your sprinklers and troubleshoot any concerns that may arise.

Why are the Right Sprinkler Head Types Important for Your Irrigation System?

Sprinkler spraying water in all directions to cover yard

Why is it so important to choose the right type of sprinkler head? Using the wrong size or type of sprinkler can lead to water waste, oversaturation, flooding, and a shorter life of the sprinkler system itself.

A few of the most important reasons to choose the right sprinkler head include:

  • Water efficiency: making sure each area gets adequate water without waste.

  • Optimal, uniform coverage: choosing the right heads ensures even, uniform distribution without dry spots or overwatering.

  • Plant health: over-saturation can waterlog plants, causing root rot and fungal disease. Underwatering can stunt growth, causing plants to wilt and die.

  • Soil conservation: proper watering helps maintain the soil structure and health, avoiding erosion and compaction.

  • Cost savings: Water usage leads to higher utility bills. Conservation helps you keep costs down and save on replacement parts and plants.

If you use the wrong size sprinkler head, you may have uneven water, stressed vegetation, and plant damage. The wrong sprinkler can lead to water waste, causing higher water bills, excess runoff, and soil issues. It’s essential that you choose the right size and type of sprinkler for your yard’s size, shape, and soil condition. Consider the needs of your plants so you can make the best decision.

Sprinkler Head Types

Rotary sprinkler head

Now that we understand the parts of a sprinkler and why choosing the right one for your yard is important, let's explore the main types of sprinkler heads available and the main differences between each sprinkler head type.

Gear Drive Sprinklers

Gear-drive sprinklers rely on gears to rotate spray heads. They offer quiet operation and uniform distribution. Gear-drive sprinklers are ideal for mid-sized to large lawns, covering areas evenly and efficiently.

Impact Sprinkler

Impact sprinklers move in a circular rotation. They make the distinctive click, click, click sound. Impact sprinklers can cover a very large area, and they’re adjustable to accommodate different patterns and distances. These unique features make impact sprinklers ideal for open, larger areas. These are durable workhorse sprinklers that can handle hard water with high mineral contents.

Rotary Nozzle

Rotary sprinklers work by delivering water in a rotating stream (sometimes multiple streams) or circular pattern. Rotary sprinkler heads offer slow, efficient watering by minimizing runoff and increasing water absorption by plants. Rotary nozzles are best for small to mid-size yards that need precise water distribution in specific areas.

Flood Sprinklers

Flood or surface sprinkler heads are low-pressure and high-saturation. They offer slow, deep irrigation that gets to plants' roots and helps minimize erosion and runoff. Flood sprinklers are best for dense gardens and flower beds. Plants that require slow, deep watering, especially near the base, will do well with flood sprinklers.

Fixed Spray

Fixed spray sprinkler heads offer a continuous spray pattern. These sprinklers are usually not adjustable but offer consistent watering amounts to a specific area. A fixed spray is ideal for any small area with uniform water needs (like flower beds) or certain sections of a lawn.

FAQs: What Type of Sprinkler Head Should You Use?

Sprinkler spraying water in one specific direction

If you're trying to figure out the best sprinkler type for your yard and situation, a few questions can help you make the choice. Here are the most common questions to help you select the best sprinkler.

  • What is the size of the area to be watered?

Size is one of the main factors in sprinkler selection. Large areas benefit from gear drives and impact sprinklers. Medium-sized lawns and smaller areas might be better off with a fixed spray or rotary nozzle to offer more precision.

  • What types of plants are being watered?

Lawns are often best served with gear-drive or rotary sprinkler nozzles. Flood sprinklers are ideal for deep, targeted watering of trees, shrubs, dense ground cover, and deep-rooted vegetable gardens.

  • Is the area regularly windy?

For windy climates, lower-trajectory and stream-spraying sprinklers, such as rotary nozzles and gear drives, reduce water wastage. Flood sprinklers will also reduce water loss from wind but can use more water due to the nature of their watering style.

  • What are the temperature fluctuations like? 

Depending on your area, you may be able to use your sprinkler system all year round, or you may need to prepare your system for winter. If you get cold, freezing temperatures in your area, an above-ground sprinkler system will need to be properly turned off and winterized.

  • Are there any local water usage regulations?

Many parts of the United States have restrictions on outdoor water usage. If there are water usage regulations or water-efficiency requirements, you may need to choose a sprinkler head that meets those metrics. Water-efficient rotary nozzles are often the best choice for these situations.

  • What is the water pressure like in your area?

If you have lower water pressure, you may be unable to use certain types of sprinklers. For example, gear drives require a set pressure level to operate effectively. If you have fluctuations in water pressure or use well water, you may need to choose an appropriate type of sprinkler head to accommodate those variations.

Choosing the best sprinkler head for your yard and situation requires a little research and understanding of the specific needs of your area. Sprinklers aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all solutions. You’ll save money and water if you select a sprinkler that ensures efficient and effective watering for your types of plants and environmental conditions.

Other Irrigation Systems for Watering Your Lawn & Garden

Man filling up a garden watering can with rain barrel

Beyond sprinkler systems, you have other irrigation options for watering your lawn and garden. Depending on your situation, area, and climate, some of these options may be better suited to your yard.

  • Drip Irrigation: A drip irrigation system uses a network of tubing to deliver water to the base of each plant in the garden. Drip systems are highly efficient, reducing water waste and evaporation. Many folks use this watering style for their garden beds, vegetable gardens, and landscaped areas (especially those on a hill or angle).

  • Soaker Hoses: Soaker hoses consist of a porous hose that lets water seep out slowly along the entire length. Soaker hoses provide a gentle, steady flow of water. To use these hoses, you lay them on the ground or bury them under mulch. They're an excellent choice for garden beds, hedges, and shrubs.

  • Rain Barrels: Rain barrels are an eco-friendly way to conserve water and reduce your dependency on municipal water systems. To use a rain barrel, you place it in a spot to collect runoff from your rooftop gutters. You can then water your lawn or a small garden using the rain barrel.

  • Ooze Tubes and Tree Bags: These watering solutions are useful for younger trees and shrubs. They slowly release water near the plant's root zone to promote root growth while reducing wasted water.

Each of these alternative watering options has advantages, depending on what you need for your particular lawn and garden situation. Consider the local climate, water regulations, and your personal water conservation goals.

Get Everything You Need to Water Your Yard at Do it Best

Choosing the right sprinkler system for your yard and garden requires a little knowledge of the different types of sprinklers on the market. You know your yard the best, so once you have some idea of how sprinklers work and their different parts, you can explore your options to choose the right system to fit the needs and size of your lawn.

Several of the most common sprinklers are: gear-drive, impact sprinklers, rotary nozzles, flood systems and fixed spray sprinklers. Each type has its own merits and works best for different types of scenarios.

Ask yourself important questions when choosing the right type of sprinkler. What is your yard size? What kinds of plants do you have, and what are their needs? What are the environmental conditions and water conservation rules for your region?

There are alternative watering options on the market, including rain barrels, soaker hoses, and drip irrigation systems. Some of these unique watering methods are better suited to certain homeowners.

No matter what watering option you choose, you’ll find everything you need at Do it Best. We carry all the gardening, watering, and lawn supplies you need to keep flowers blooming and grass looking bright and green. Shop Do it Best for all your sprinkler needs!

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