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Tips for Choosing the Correct Sprinkler Head

How to choose the right sprinkler head for your project?  It really breaks down to knowing what pressure per square inch (PSI) is available for each head in your system and the size of the area you wish to water. Knowing these 2 factors will help guide you into making the right choice for which sprinkler heads to purchase and install.  First, I will describe the 3 basic types of sprinkler heads. Followed by a short checklist that will help in your selection. Remember, a healthy lawn is dependent upon having the correct arrangement of heads throughout your lawn.


Types of Sprinkler Heads

Spray heads:  Are best used for small to medium sized lawns and/or in systems that will be operating with PSI between 20 - 30 PSI. Because of the lower PSI the distance of the spray rarely exceeds 15ft.  Meaning that spray heads should never be placed further than 15 ft. apart as this would create dry spots (i.e. dead grass) in your lawn.   

Spray heads have a higher application rate than other sprinkler heads.  Meaning they put out a lot of water fast.  One benefit to spray heads is that there are no moving parts eliminating mechanical failure. They can be installed on pop-ups or fixed risers.  

Spray patterns are available in 90, 120, 180, 210 & 360 Degrees. Many manufactures also have speciality nozzles for short radius, narrow strips or corners.

Note: Spray heads give a fine, misty spray so watch out on windy days. The spray can be easily blown away thus reducing watering efficiency greatly. If you live in an area that is very windy spray heads would not be a good choice for you.

Rotary Heads:  Are best used for medium to large lawns with and irrigation system that can supply a PSI above 30.  Smaller rotary heads can cover distances of 15 to 50 ft.  It is important when planning your sprinkler system to keep in mind that the distance between each rotary head should be less than the PSI supplied to each rotary head.  For example: you wish to install a rotary head every 35 ft.  This means that you will need at least 36 PSI supplied at each rotary head.  

Rotary heads deliver water slower than spray heads which is Ideal for slow-draining soils and slopes. Also rotary heads are less susceptible to wind as they deliver water in a stream instead of fine mist like spray heads. Due to the slower precipitation rotary heads tend to lead to less runoff which means less wasted water when compared to traditional spray heads. To learn more about rotary heads watch this short video by Hunter Irrigation.


Bubblers:  Designed for delivering a lot of water fast in small spaces like tree basins or around shrubs and ground cover.  These are not used to water lawns. Avoid using bubblers in places that are not level or has soil that does not drain quickly (i.e. clay) as the water will either run away from the plants to be watered and/or flood the area.  Bubblers can be effective for areas that are too far away from sprinkler spray or for areas that you don’t wish to be sprayed like up against houses or plants near windows.  If you have an extensive landscape that you wish to water we strongly recommend installing a drip irrigation system instead of lots of bubblers.  Drip systems are much more efficient for large landscapes.

Note: Whether you use bubblers or a drip irrigation system both should always be placed on their own zone and not connected to the same irrigation valve that runs the spray heads or rotors.  Having everything on one zone seems like a good idea, however; it will result in over watering some plants and under watering others since the applications are so different. To learn more about installing a drip irrigation system for landscapes check out the video below.


Checklist for Choosing the Right Sprinkler Heads for Your Project

Can your irrigation system supply 40 PSI of water pressure?

If no, then we recommend using spray heads since they can function at lower PSI.

Is your area larger than 30’ x 30’?

If yes, then rotors are the way to go.  Provided you have enough PSI.

Does your lawn have curved borders?

If yes, you can use rotors if the non grass area is okay to be sprayed (like a flower bed).

If the area should not be sprayed (borders a house) or you wish to minimize overspray for water conservation purposes then go with spray heads


Do you have a few ( 2-3) shrubs or trees to water outside of your lawn?

If yes, then incorporate a few bubblers into your design.  If you have more than 3 of such areas to water then consider installing a drip irrigation system.  Drip irrigation systems are easier to install (don’t have to be buried) and are much more efficient.

What if I need more than one type of sprinkler head in my design?

By answering these questions you may realize that you might need each kind of sprinkler head or 2 of the 3 in your design.  Which brings up the question can you mix and match sprinkler heads?  The answer is yes, as long as you install like heads on separate zones.   

Why is this important?  We mentioned earlier that spray heads deliver water at a much faster rate than rotary heads(often 2x faster).  If you had both on the same zone there is no way to control the flow water without either reducing the run time to prevent over watering the spray head area.  

However, this would result in an under watered lawn in the rotary head area. If you compensated for the under watering and ran the system longer for the rotor area, the opposite would occur where the spray head watered lawn would receive way too much water.  With irrigation systems it is important to always group like items together on one zone.