Sumo Gardener

What Do You Need in a Sprinkler System?

Manual watering might give you more face-to-leaf time with your garden — but it is undeniably a pain. When you don’t have time or energy to water your plants, they’ll die, which means you’ll need to devote even more time and energy to removing them and planting something new. So, you should agree: You need to install sprinklers.

However, there is hardly a one-size-fits-all sprinkler system, which means you need to understand your options and pick your features carefully. Here’s a guide to some of the more important features of sprinkler systems, so you can be informed and make the right choice for your garden.

Sprinkler Heads

Sprinkler heads boast the most diversity by far of all the elements of a sprinkler system

Source: Amazon

Sprinkler heads boast the most diversity by far of all the elements of a sprinkler system. This is because much of a sprinkler system is relatively one-size-fits-all — you can use the same valves and pipes to water either a garden or a lawn — but the heads at the end of the system determine how the water is dispersed. The heads you choose will depend on the types of plants you need irrigated, the size of your landscape and other factors. Some of the most common sprinkler heads include:

  • Spray heads. These fixed heads spray water in a fan shape. You can attach different nozzles to produce different patterns, like a full circle, a half circle, a three-quarters circle, etc.
  • Rotors. These sprinkler heads rotate, spraying streams of water back and forth. There are two dominant types of rotor sprinkler heads.
  • Impact rotors are the most common, largely because they are the most affordable. They make the recognizable tic-tic-tic-tooka-tooka-tooka sound.
  • Gear-driven rotors are rapidly replacing impact rotors. Driven by a turbine, these sprinklers are nearly silent and require less maintenance than impact rotors. Plus, you can get multi-stream gear-driven rotors, which look like a ballet in your yard.

Sprinkler Bodies

pop-up sprinklers should be your first choice

Source: Amazon

Below the head is the body of the sprinkler, which also has an impact on how the sprinkler system functions. In almost all cases, in-ground, pop-up sprinklers should be your first choice. These sprinklers use the force of the water in the system to rise out of the ground to irrigate, and when turned off, the sprinklers disappear. This allows you to create a landscape free of unsightly irrigation equipment, but more importantly, it eliminates tripping hazards around your garden.

When I moved into my current residence, my landscape had more than a few outdated shrub sprinklers, which are installed above the ground on a tall, thin pipe. These were once thought to be beneficial to larger plants, so water could sprinkle down through the plant body, but modern gardeners know that this isn’t necessary with most plants. I immediately acquired handyman services near me to replace the shrub sprinklers with pop-up versions. 

When choosing a pop-up sprinkler, you need to consider what height your sprinkler should rise to, which will depend on the plant you are watering. There are pop-up sprinklers anywhere from 2 inches to 12 inches, and the sweet spot for most gardeners is 4 inches or 6 inches. This ensures that the sprinkler’s spray will not get caught by ground cover and will provide thorough irrigation.

Pipe Type

Types of Sprinkler Pipe

Source: Amazon

Laterals, which are the pipes or tube that carry water between the zone control vales and sprinkler heads, are typically made from one of two materials: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene (poly). Both materials are a form of plastic, but each has unique properties and thus should be used only in specific circumstances.

PVC is semi-rigid; it’s the white or gray, hard-plastic pipe you see used in school projects or in some plumbing. Generally, PVC is used only in environments that enjoy warm winters. This is because PVC has a tendency to crack or shatter in extreme cold, which means if the ground freezes in your area, you would need to repair your sprinkler system every spring. However, PVC also doesn’t do well in sunlight, so it must be fully buried to survive for years on end.

Poly tube is black and extremely flexible; it is the primary choice for gardens that experience harsh winters as well as those with exceedingly rocky soil. A few recent developments in poly technology, including universal fittings and high-pressure ratings, have made poly a more attractive option across the board, but it’s worth noting that poly can get expensive fast.

Each sprinkler system should be unique to the landscape, meaning you can’t copy your neighbor’s irrigation strategy and expect your garden to thrive.

By educating yourself on the elements of sprinkler systems, you can design a system that fits your needs perfectly and will keep your garden alive and flourishing.

About the Author Ann Katelyn

I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.

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