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Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for best water timers

A lush, green lawn can serve as the crowning jewel of your property. To keep your grass healthy, it often takes a good sprinkler system to maintain proper hydration – particularly in hot, dry weather.

But remembering to turn your sprinkler on and off can be difficult when you lead a busy life, and your lawn can suffer as a result. Fortunately, you can program a water timer to turn your sprinklers or irrigation system on and off automatically. With a water timer installed on your property, brown, crunchy grass becomes a thing of the past.

If you’re not familiar with water timers, shopping for one may seem daunting. You need to know what type, zone quantity, programs, and other features would best meet your watering needs. At BestReviews, we can help you make sense of all the water timer options on the market. We consult with experts to get deeper insights into products, and we field-test top contenders to make sure they meet the highest standards. We never accept products from manufacturers either, so you can trust our recommendations are completely unbiased.

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To set up your timer, it helps to break your landscape into zones or stations. For example, a large section of the lawn might be one zone, while your flower beds might be another.

Water timer 101

What is a water timer?

A water timer is a device that connects to a sprinkler or irrigation system to control the water flow to the system. It allows you to set a schedule for watering your lawn and other garden features, so the sprinklers automatically turn on and off on the days and at the times that work best for your landscape.

Water timers are usually fairly easy to install; you may be able to set yours up as a DIY project. However, if you’re unsure how to proceed, you could also have an irrigation or landscape specialist handle the task.

Benefits of a water timer

  • Convenience: A water timer makes watering your lawn extremely convenient. You don’t have to manually turn your sprinklers on and off; the system does it for you.

  • Optimization: The timer allows you to water your lawn at the optimal times. You don’t have to be home for your lawn to receive water. And with more advanced water timers, you can be sure to water your lawn the optimal amount. No over-watering or under-watering problems to worry about; these advanced timers can detect rain and moisture and adjust the amount of water that flows to the system.

  • Economy: You may save money using a water timer, because you won’t accidentally leave your sprinkler on for too long.

  • Peace of mind: You don’t have to worry about your lawn getting dry and brown when you’re on vacation. Your water timer will continue to turn the hydration on and off automatically.
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Did you know?
With a water timer, you can be sure that your yard gets the ideal amount of water even when you’re enjoying yourself on vacation.

Mechanical vs. digital water timers

Mechanical water timers

Some water timers are mechanical in design. To program the timer, you must manually move sliders or switches. Mechanical water timers feature a motor, dials, gears, and pins, so they’re usually quite easy to set and aren’t as vulnerable to power surges as digital water timers. However, they typically don’t have as many features, either.

Digital water timers

Digital water timers feature a digital screen without any moving parts. They utilize integrated circuits to provide the clock, memory, and programming features. Some have a touchscreen to make operation even easier. All digital water timers provide a wider array of features than mechanical timers, but they also tend to cost more than mechanical timers.

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Expert Tip
When you’re setting up your sprinklers, position them so they only hit your lawn and plants. You’ll waste water if the flow hits your sidewalk or driveway.

Water timer power sources

Water timers use different power sources, including batteries, solar power, and electrical power.

Battery-powered water timers

Many water timers run on batteries, so you can use them anywhere in your yard without worrying about whether an electrical source is nearby. Depending on how often you use the timer, the batteries may require frequent replacing.

"For best results, program the rain sensor on your timer to shut off when it detects half an inch of rain or more. "

Solar-powered water timers

If you don’t want to worry about replacing batteries, look for a solar-powered water timer. Keep in mind that these timers can experience performance issues if there isn’t enough sunlight on a given day.

"Warm-season grasses like St. Augustine, Centipede, and Bermuda typically require less water than cool-season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass and Fine Fescue. "

Electrically powered water timers

Some water timers must be plugged into an electrical outlet. You don’t have to worry about replacing batteries, but locations are limited because the timer must be stationed near an outlet. Plug-in water timers are also vulnerable to power surges.

"If you notice water puddling up on your lawn during watering, shorten your programmed run times. "

Hardwired water timers

You can have an electrically powered water timer hardwired into your home system. This is usually recommended for water timers that accompany sprinkler systems.

Zone quantity

Some water timers are equipped to handle multiple zones in your yard. With a multi-zone water timer, you can tailor different water programs to suit your lawn, your flower beds, and so on.

  • In a small yard, a water timer that covers two to four zones is usually sufficient.

  • In a mid-size yard, a timer that covers four to six zones typically works well.

  • For a large yard, you may wish to look for a timer than can cover up to 15 zones.

Water timer programs

Water timers can accommodate anywhere from one to four programs. A program consists of watering instructions for the zones in your yard that you want to run on the same days. For example, you might want to water your lawn for 30 minutes in the early morning and your flower beds for 15 minutes on Sundays and Wednesdays.

With a second program, you can set it up so that your shrubs in your side yard are watered for 15 minutes on Mondays and Thursdays and the shrubs in your front yard are watered for 30 minutes on Mondays and Thursdays.

These are just examples, of course. But as you can see, to gain the most flexibility in your watering schedule, it’s best to choose a water timer with multiple programs.

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Expert Tip
Most lawns are healthiest when they receive approximately one inch of water per week. Notably, it’s better to set your timer to deliver one to three deeper watering sessions per week than it is to deliver a very small amount each day.

Other helpful water timer features

Rain/moisture sensor

You don’t want to overwater your lawn, so it’s important to take your local rainfall into account when deciding how much water your yard needs. A water timer with a rain or moisture sensor will shut down the watering program if sufficient rainfall is detected.

If you want the very best, look for a water timer that’s equipped with a rain sensor bypass switch. That way, you can override the sensor if necessary.

Battery backup

It’s very helpful to have a water timer with some type of battery backup in case a power outage or other interruption occurs. The battery backup helps maintain the timer’s inner clock (time, date) so it stays on schedule. If you live in an area that frequently experiences blackouts or brownouts, this is an especially important feature to have.

WiFi connectivity

Some water timers are equipped with WiFi connectivity, which makes them even more user-friendly. These smart models can actually access weather information and adjust your watering schedule as appropriate. What’s more, you can control the programming and scheduling of a smart water timer via an app on your smartphone or tablet. You don’t even have to be at home to take care of your lawn – what a benefit!

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Expert Tip
If you can’t water your lawn early in the morning, schedule it between four and six in the afternoon. This allows the grass enough time to dry before nighttime cold sets in, so fungus and other diseases don’t take hold.

Water timer prices

Water timers vary in price based on the type, features, and the number of zones they cover. You could spend anywhere from $10 to $275 on a water timer.

  • For a basic mechanical water timer that covers a single hose or sprinkler, you’ll usually pay between $10 and $20.

  • For a mechanical water timer that covers a single faucet but has a variety of features, you’ll usually pay between $20 and $50.

  • For a digital water timer that comes with a variety of features and covers up to five zones, you’ll usually pay between $50 and $125.

  • For a digital water timer that comes with a variety of features and covers five to 10 zones, you’ll usually pay between $125 and $200.

  • For a digital water timer that comes with a variety of features and covers 10 to 20 zones, you’ll usually pay between $200 and $275.


  • Schedule early-morning waterings if possible. Because a water timer allows you to water your lawn without having to actually turn on the sprinklers, it’s usually best to set it to water between four and ten in the morning, when the air is cool and there isn’t much wind.

  • Watch for runoff. Overwatering your lawn and plants can be just as bad as under-watering them. If you see water runoff on the surface of your grass, adjust your timer to run less often or for shorter periods of time.

  • Consider purchasing a rain sensor. If your water timer doesn’t have an automatic rain sensor, it’s a good idea to purchase one separately. It will turn off your timer if it rains, so you won’t have to worry about your lawn or plants receiving too much water.

  • Monitor your water output. If you’re not sure how much water your lawn is receiving, place clean, empty tuna cans in various spots across your yard. Keep track of how long it takes the cans to collect an inch of water. This will help you figure out the best watering schedule for your timer.
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Some “smart” water timers can wirelessly access local weather centers to determine what the current weather is, so they can adjust your watering schedule appropriately.


Q. Does a water timer work with individual sprinklers or only with a sprinkler system?
A water timer can connect to a garden hose, so it works well with individual sprinklers that you can move around your yard. However, a timer is also compatible with sprinkler systems and can be installed at the same time the system is set up.

Q. What features are most important to make sure the yard is watered properly?
To avoid overwatering your yard, it’s best to choose a model with some type of rain or moisture sensor. This allows the timer to override the schedule if the lawn has already received enough water.

You can keep your yard from getting too little water by choosing a timer with some type of battery backup that maintains the schedule even if there is a power failure with the timer.

Q. Does a water timer require professional installation?
Most water timers are very easy to set up, so they’re an ideal DIY project. However, if you want to have your water timer hardwired rather than connected to an outlet or batteries, you’ll need a professional electrician or irrigation specialist to handle the job.

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