Water is a basic need for all plants. Lawns need regular amounts of water to grow and be healthy. Lack of water causes grass leaves to turn brown and wither, and allows weeds to take over. Grass requires water that gets down into the soil at the root to nourish it completely. The best types of watering systems place the water as low to the ground as possible to avoid heavy evaporation into the air before the water ever hits the ground.
Underground systems are basically PVC pipe laid in a grid with spigots that stick up at various intervals. These systems are usually run on timers, but can be turned on and off by hand if desired. They are the most time-consuming to install because the entire lawn area must be excavated to lay the pipes and then covered. Complete underground systems usually get installed in new developments before landscaping is done.
There are six basic types of surface sprinklers as described by the University of Missouri Extension. Rotary pulse sprinklers send out sprays of water in one of several set patterns. The whirling head sprays water in jets as the head spins. Water from the whirling head places the most water close to the head and lighter sprays at the ends of the stream. Stationary sprinklers offer the best coverage for small, tight areas. They make watering large areas difficult because the head has to be moved to cover anything but the most immediate area. Oscillating water heads spray water in a large path over a wide arc. They are a common type of sprinkler head and water the largest area of all the head type sprinklers without requiring movement. The final sprinkler head type is the traveling sprinkler. This is a sprinkler head that sprays water in a rotating stream that rides on wheels and moves at regular intervals on its own. This system helps avoid over-watering when property owners forget to move the sprinkler in time.
The soaker hose is actually the sixth version of the sprinkler type watering system, spraying a slow stream of water close to the ground. It is a version of the sprinkler that incorporates the coverage of surface drip without the permanent installation, so even large areas can benefit.
Surface drip systems are a happy medium between sprinkler systems and underground watering systems. A surface drip employs perforated hoses, or pipes laid out in a grid on top of the lawn. Surface drip systems work best in areas with intricate patches of lawn, gardens and landscaping. Large patches of sod lawn make surface drip systems too obvious and easy to trip over.
Automatic watering systems are cost effective in many ways. There are low cost, small timing devices that install easily on any type of watering system. Automatic watering timers save money on water usage, too, by making the best use of the water and turning off before areas get too much water.