How Long to Water Lawn with Oscillating Sprinkler

How Long to Water Lawn with Oscillating Sprinkler vs. Other Types

Every sprinkler is different, and if you’ve ever wondered how long to water lawn with an oscillating sprinkler, you’re not alone. Do you feel like no matter how much you water your lawn it still looks dry and dingy? Or, do you feel like you are wasting water and drowning your lawn and running up your water bill? Do you not know how much water your lawn needs?

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Certified Horticulturist Nicole Forsyth, M.S.

Finding out how long to water your lawn with an oscillating sprinkler (or any kind of sprinkler) is not always easy, but I’m here to help.

Ensuring precision with your watering amounts means your grass will grow stronger, developing roots and staying healthy all year long.

Below I outline some general guidelines for watering lawns. Please be sure to make changes to our suggestions based on your lawns needs, your climate, and your sprinkler type (I’ll tell you how to do that below).

One type of sprinkler that often trips people up when it comes to knowing how much and how often you should water your lawn is the oscillating sprinkler. is reader supported. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

What is an Oscillating Sprinkler?

What is an Oscilatting Sprinkler and Why is it Great for Watering Lawns?

An oscillating sprinkler is one of the most common types of sprinklers around. It works by spraying a fan-shaped curtain of water.

Oscillating sprinklers have metal arms that oscillate back and forth, covering a larger area than a stationary sprinkler. This means you won’t have to move your sprinkler as often, which is one reason they are so popular.

This is different from a stationary sprinkler in which the sprinkler head does not move in different directions, but stays in one place and sprays 360 degrees around the lawn, or in a specific range that you set.

You will often see oscillating sprinklers on larger lawns, as they cover larger areas more effectively than other types of sprinklers. You can usually buy one locally, or order it cheaply online, and often you can connect several oscillating sprinklers together to water your entire lawn.

Here are some tips about how long to water your lawn when using an oscillating sprinkler.

Start by Learning How Much Water Your Sprinkler Puts Out

The first step to knowing how long to run your sprinklers is finding out how much water your sprinklers are distributing.

That is known as the water flow. One great way to measure your sprinkler’s water flow is by placing shallow containers all over your lawn. A rain gauge is best, but honestly any empty piece of Tupperware will give you a sense for what you’re working with.

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Be sure that they are evenly space in each section of grass that you want touched by your sprinkler.

After your containers are evenly placed about your lawn, turn your sprinklers on for 15 minutes. Running your sprinklers for 15 minutes gives your sprinklers enough time to cover your entire lawn at least three times. This will give you enough water in each container to understand how much water your sprinklers are putting out.

After the 15 minutes are over, take a ruler and place it in each container. From there, calculate the average amount of water collected in each container and multiply that by four. This will tell you how much water your sprinklers are putting out per hour.

So, now that you know how much water your sprinklers are putting out, you are probably wondering what to do with that information. Read on!

So … How Much Water Does My Grass Need?

As a general rule of thumb, grass in established lawns needs between one and two inches of water each week.

Now, we know what you’re thinking, “Great! I have a whole week to give my lawn one to two inches of water.”

Wrong. The water should be distributed to your lawn all in one go (twice if you have sandy soil).

This will encourage your grass to grow strong roots, keeping it healthy all year long.

Most oscillating sprinklers will put off about one inch of water an hour. That would mean that you would need to water your lawn for one hour, once a week (twice weekly in periods of extreme drought).

What About New Lawns?

For less established lawns, you may need to increase the frequency as your lawn’s root system becomes more robust. In this case I recommend two 30-minute periods of watering weekly (four during periods of extreme drought).

The goal is to allow water to soak deep into the soil and saturate it so that as the surface dries, grass roots grow deeper to seek out that remaining moisture while waiting for their next rainfall or watering.

Over time this produces a more resilient lawn. If you water daily for only a few minutes, you’re encouraging your lawn to put energy into developing shallow roots.

Most established lawns need between one and two inches of water each week to thrive.

How to Spot-Check to See if Your Lawn is Getting Enough Water

Another way to tell if your lawn is getting enough water is to poke it with a soil sampling tube.

You will know that your lawn is getting enough water is the soil is moistened one to two inches below the surface after the initial watering.

If you lawn is not damp all the way through, water it for another hour to get at least one more inch of moisture into your lawn.

Now that you know how much water your grass needs, you need to know how often you need to water your lawn.

How Often Does My Lawn Need to be Watered?

Watering Your Lawn with an Oscillating Sprinkler
I recommend enjoying wine when you water your lawn. 🙂

How often you water your lawn depends heavily on the climate in which you live.

As I’ve mentioned, a great rule of thumb is to water your lawn once a week for about an hour, but your mileage may vary.

If you live in a wet climate, you will likely need to water your lawn less. Similarly, if you live in a dry climate, you will need to water your lawn more.

In drier, windier climates you will need to water your lawn more due to the soil drying out more quickly. As I’ve mentioned, the best way to know if your lawn is too dry is to stick a soil sampling tube into your lawn. If your lawn is not moist two inches below the surface, then I recommend watering your lawn another hour to ensure the moisture soaks in. Another way to tell if your lawn is too dry is looking to see if you are leaving behind footprints.

If neither of those methods work for you or if your climate changes too much to depend on those, we recommend investing in a rain gauge. A rain gauge can help to determine is the rainfall in your climate is enough to water your lawn sufficiently.

Now That You Know How Long to Water Your Lawn with an Oscillating Sprinkler

Knowing how much to water your lawn can be difficult and annoying, especially when using oscillating sprinklers.

Oscillating sprinklers can help you water your lawn more evenly. Here is a summary of the tips we discussed above for ensuring your lawn is getting enough water no matter what type of sprinkler you are using.

My Best Tips, Summarized:

  • As a rule of thumb, your lawn needs one to two inches of water to ensure it grows healthy all year round. One to two inches of water will make your grass grow long roots that will help to keep it healthy, even in the colder months.
  • Water your lawn roughly once a week.  Do not water your lawn every day.  Watering your lawn every day will only harm your lawn by drowning it.  If you water your lawn once a week, you will be able to ensure it has enough moisture to stay healthy, but not so much moisture that you risk killing it.
  • Water in the morning.  As an act of water conservation, it is good to practice watering your lawn in the morning.  Why?  We water in the morning because of the weather.  It is generally cooler in the morning, meaning your lawn is not dried out from a day of baking in the sun.  This will give the water the best chance to soak in and keep your lawn moist all day.
  • Change your watering frequency depending on your climate.  If you live in a drier climate, it is important to water your lawn more.  If you live in a wetter climate, you can afford to water your lawn less.  Remember that most watering recommendations are just that, recommendations.  Be sure to adjust the recommendations to fit your watering needs.
  • Check on your automatic sprinklers.  Especially for stationary sprinklers, be sure to check on your sprinklers to ensure they are watering your lawn evenly.  This is less of a problem with oscillating sprinklers, but sprinklers and irrigation systems in general can get grass cuttings stuck in them, clogging them up.  This can cause uneven watering and even dead grass.
  • Don’t assume brown grass means a lack of water.  Brown grass does not always mean that your grass needs more water.  If your grass is not turning green after adding more water, look for a deeper problem in your lawn. 

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Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

4 thoughts on “How Long to Water Lawn with Oscillating Sprinkler vs. Other Types

  1. Norm G

    Mostly good stuff. I would like to point out that Oscillating Sprinklers waste a tremendous amount of water from wind, air, evaporation. The hotter the area, the greater the loss. The other thing is water prices have gone through the roof! The cost to have green lawn is steep in summer. It’s better to let it go dormant, which is its nature. However, it still needs some water for the crowns and roots to remain strong. 1/2″ once a week or every other week (depending on your heat) will keep the grass healthy and it will quickly green up when rains and cooler weather return. Your lawn will also be less stressed and will be healthier.

    • Hey, Norm!

      Thanks for the comment. It’s a great point you make regarding efficiency. Whatever type of sprinkler I use for my yard I make a point to water early in the morning when it’s cool and when there isn’t much wind.

      Where you live really dictates best practices for watering your lawn. I’m in New England and we are blessed to only have a week or two each summer with brutal heat/drought conditions. Most of the time we get 1/2″ – 1″ of rain so I don’t have to water my lawn that often, but I’ve used an oscillating sprinkler this summer on a section of lawn I overseeded this spring, and as long as I use it before 7am there’s very little evaporation for me since it’s still nice and cool and calm on my property.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  2. Barb Filibeck

    You talked of oscillating sprinklers. I’m wondering about the non-oscillating types. How effective are those? Do they get good ground coverage? How long should I water the lawn and how often?

    • Hey, Barb!

      Yes, there are many options. I’m currently using some impact sprinklers to get good coverage of my whole lawn during my fall overseed with great results. Basically you want to look for a sprinkler that has good even coverage within the area that you can reach, and the shape of your lawn can also play a role in determining the best sprinkler for you. You want to get all of your grass without a lot of ovespray/waste on driveways, roads, and hardscapes.

      As for the watering duration, it really depends on a variety of factors (your type of grass, the age of your grass, soil type, environmental conditions such as heat and wind, the amount of sunlight your lawn receives, etc.). So there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all number.

      If you have a rain gauge, put that out in the watering area, run your sprinkler and see how long it takes to collect an inch of water. Generally most lawns will need 1-2 inches of water per week (your mileage may vary based on the factors mentioned above), so the water distribution of your sprinkler in the rain gauge can be used to help you understand how long you should be watering with whatever type of sprinkler you’re using.

      Hope this helps! Sorry I can’t be more precise without more information about your lawn and use case. 🙂

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