How To Choose a Watering Can [5 Factors]


Unlike the good old days, choosing a watering can today is increasingly challenging because of the so many choices available. However, knowing the basics makes it easier to choose the watering can that works best for your needs.

In general, when choosing a watering can, the five most important factors to consider are 1) material, 2) water capacity, 3) handles, 4) spout, and 5) mouth. There are also other alternatives available such as add-ons that provide easier gardening routines.

Amidst today’s many design choices even modern gardeners find that choosing a watering can be getting more difficult instead of easier. At the end of the day, however, the choice is yours. What you need to know is this: even as the watering design are evolving, the basic elements remain the same.

Choosing a Watering Can: 5 Aspects

Are you in a hurry? Check my review on watering cans!

Today’s watering cans range from small, cheap plastic containers for watering a few indoor plants to large containers that can spray field plots with water as well as fertilizers. Choice considerations include price, durability, purpose, and design.

A watering can is a portable container for watering plants gently, or where plants cannot be watered by hose or irrigation. A basic design includes four parts: (1) the water compartment; (2) carry and tilt handles; (3) spout; and (4) rose as well as some optional parts.

Let’s dive in and discover the 5 key aspects when choosing a watering can for your garden.

1. Material: Plastic, Metal, or Ceramic?

Today, affordable watering cans are available in plastic and metal designs. These come in different sizes and styles for you to choose from. Ceramic watering cans are also great options, however, they are more delicate, heavy, and expensive.

PRO TIP: A bright-colored watering can is easy to find, and you’re less likely to trip over it. Even better, buy a watering can with a lifetime guarantee. What’s a few extra cents spread over a lifetime, right?

Plastic

Personally, I prefer the ubiquitous plastic watering can. They are incredibly heavy-duty despite being really cheap and lightweight. Unless you purposefully drill or solder holes into it, cut through it, or repeatedly bang it around, it shouldn’t break. Buying a high-quality plastic watering can could easily last you decades. 

They are easy to mold into a variety of shapes. I have seen quite a few fun ones shaped into cute animals like elephants, giraffes, and even dinosaurs. So if you have a little one with you, you can happily bond over gardening! I mean, come on, isn’t this one from Amazon totally adorable?

Of course, not all plastic materials out there are safe for watering plants, especially those that bear fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Some may leech off chemicals into the water and any other liquid placed in it. Others may continuously release gasses long after production which are harmful in prolonged exposure. Certain types may also melt easily from heat or crack from the cold.

So whenever you find a good plastic watering can with a design you like, try to look into the specific plastic used for its production. 

Safe plastics for watering cans include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

Plus, there are even high-capacity plastic watering cans that are collapsible for easier storage! Interested? Check out this one from Amazon.

Metal

Way back then, when plastic wasn’t much of a thing. The average gardener would normally use metal watering cans for both their indoor and outdoor gardening needs. People used different metals available to them, tin, copper, iron, brass, and many other metals.

However, once used for the day, people would have to store it in a shed or utility closet since they weren’t really seen as stylish. Plus, just leaving it out in the open to weather through the ever-changing weather would only guarantee its quick degradation. Also, even when kept inside, they would inevitably get worn out through the years.

Nowadays, stainless and galvanized steel are readily available. These are virtually rust-resistant materials. Moreover, applying a coat of paint adds another layer of protection against corrosion. 

Having a paint coating makes metal watering cans much more aesthetically appealing as well. As a result, metal watering cans have steadily been becoming popular among gardeners once again. If you love the rustic style of the old-fashioned metal watering cans but aren’t a fan of rust itself, you can still find really cute products like this one on Amazon.

Keep in mind though, that metal cans can and will get dented or damaged if dropped – even accidentally. Considering that metal is quite a strong material to work with, why does this happen? Well, to make sure that they don’t weigh like a ton of bricks, metal watering cans are usually made with relatively thin sheets of metal. 

On the bright side, because steel is malleable, you can find unique-shaped metal watering cans like this one on Amazon.

Ceramic

If you want magnificently designed watering cans that can double as decor for your home, ceramics are the way to go. These clay-based watering cans are a work of art, just look at this one from Amazon. You can find ones that are plain but brightly colored, others are interestingly shaped and intricately painted.

Both beautiful and useful, they make great gifts for the plant lovers in your life. Ceramic watering cans are especially great for indoor gardeners as they usually come in smaller sizes that can hold more or less half a gallon at most. 

However, they are nothing close to being perfect. There are a few cons to only having a ceramic watering can at your disposal – especially if you are on the clumsier side of the spectrum. Unlike plastic and metal cans that can survive bumps and falls, ceramic cans will break. 

When that happens, you will need to either say goodbye for good or you could try to carefully piece it back together. But hey, go ahead and glue it together to get an even more charming watering can if you know kintsukuroi or kintsugi. This is the Japanese art of putting back broken pottery pieces together with materials like gold.

Lastly, like most other art pieces, ceramic watering cans are much more expensive than the average utilitarian watering can you would normally see in garden supplies stores and online shops.

2. Water Capacity: Light or Heavy Weight?

The water container is the body of the watering can, the part that holds the water until it is poured out. When choosing a watering can for your indoor garden, the weight of a filled watering can should be comfortable enough for use with one hand.

The size of the watering can you choose should depend on your needs. For instance, you want a lighter watering can for easy lifting when you’re watering hanging plants. If you want to minimize making several trips to the faucet, choose a bigger watering can.

Most modern watering cans hold up to 2 litres of water porch gardeners, but many are even smaller for indoor gardeners. Examine the body for any liquid measurements. For instance, 10 L means the can can hold ten liters or more than 2 ½ gallons of liquid.

If you have a lot of delicate plants that need gentle watering, try out a 1/2 gallon can such as or a 1/3 gallon. For midsize to large gardens, 1-gallon to 2 gallons such are recommended.

PRO TIP: Need to make less trips between faucet and garden? Check out a 10-liter watering can such as this one from Amazon.

3. Handles: Carry, Tilt, or Both?

For best watering control, a watering can with one or two handles that allow carrying and tilting is best. For a more comfortable grip, choose wooden, round handles.

The Carry Handle: The carry handle is used to carry the watering can. When choosing a watering can, imagine how much weight the water would be when the can is full. A flat and wide handle will not cut into your palm as much as a thin handle will.

If possible, fill the can with water and pick it up. If it hurts your hand, you don’t want to have to wrap the handle with duct tape to protect your hands.

PRO TIP: For balance, the carry handle is usually above the mouth of a watering can. A fixed handle can be an obstacle when you’re filling the can. Choose a carry handle that can be moved away from the mouth.

The Handle Grip: Compared to a fixed-grip, a rotating grip will allow a free-swinging motion when carrying a heavy watering can.

The Tilting Handle. This handle is used to tilt the watering can and let the water flow out of the spout. Thus, you need two hands, one for each handle. Still, there are many small watering cans that have only one handle.

You can check out a traditional watering can with one handle for carrying and tilting such as. One modern design that incorporates tilting, carrying, and pouring into one handle is this one, also from Amazon.

4. Spout: Short or Long, Thin or Thick?

Like the snout of an elephant, the spout on a watering can is used to control the reach (distance) and flow (strong or gentle) of water from the can, depending on spout length and diameter.

The Spout: The spout is a long “nose” that directs the water to exactly where you want it. This prevents water waste. For instance, you can direct the spout to water the root line around each plant to avoid water draining away from the soil without benefiting your plant.

Your choice of a short or long spout, or even a narrow or larger spout diameter, depends on how you intend to use the watering can, on how many plants you will be watering each time, and even the type of watering you want to do (e.g., gentle or strong, near or far).

The Tilt Degree: A gentle tilt will create a slow and gentle water flow. A steep tilt (raise the back of the can higher) will result in stronger water flow. Either way, when you have several small potted plants indoors, a spout can prevent water from splattering on on a table or windowsill.

The Spout Brace: A longer spout on larger watering cans can include a brace to make the spout stronger and last longer.

The Rose: Essentially, the rose looks like a showerhead and is used to water seedlings, transplants, or tender plants that need a gentle rain of water.

PRO TIP: If you need to replace a broken or defective watering can rose, try and buy a replacement online. If you want to turn a gallon or half-gallon jug into a watering can, try a snap-on rose.

The rose can be detachable (screwed on) or permanent at the end of the spout. It is designed so that water falls like a soft shower to prevent excessive water pressure on delicate plants. You can check out a watering can with a removable rose.

Whenever possible, test before you buy a watering can. One basic test is that it should pour water without dribbling. You’d be surprised how many fail this simple test.

PRO TIP: When the holes of the rose are turned up rather than down, you get a lighter spread-out stream of water or, if you prefer you can get a rotating rose.

5. The Mouth: Narrow or Wide, Covered or Open?

When a watering can is designed with a narrow mouth, the purpose is to prevent spills. On the other hand, a wider mouth is for easier filling up. Choose what best works for you.

The Mouth: Many prefer a plastic watering can with a medium-sized mouth that can be enlarged with a cutter or made smaller with strategic use of duct tape.

The Mouth Cover: An optional cover is a good idea to prevent living organisms from falling into the watering can while it is unused, or while it’s in storage. So, if you’re kind to little critters, cover the mouth of your watering can when it’s not in use.

You don’t want a watering can with a cover that completely seals the mouth, as this can restrict water flow. In fact, when watering your plants, you want a can with an open mouth to allow water to flow through the snout.

PRO TIP: Tap your inner eco-consciousness by choosing a watering that can be made locally (not imported) as well as one that is made of recycled plastic or biodegradable metal or ceramic.

Watering Can Alternatives and Add-Ons

If you have a lot of plants or if you want a gentler way of delivering moisture, go for pump sprays or misters to water your plants in window boxes, hanging baskets, or other containers.

Instead of a watering can, a hose with an automatic sprinkler makes easier watering of a garden if you have water pressure and faucets. Otherwise, a watering can works where your 10-meter hose ends. In addition, upgrading your watering can make gardening so much easier. Here are some options.

Pump Spray: An optional add-on to a watering can is a manual or battery-operated pump to spray a mist of water for foliar feeding of nutrients directly to the leaves of your plants. A manual spray is enough if you have a few plants indoors. If you have a large garden or a field of crops, a battery-powered pump is a more efficient option.

Nozzles and triggers: When you need a handheld watering can with a nozzle and trigger, such as for delivering nutrients directly to leaves or to wash away dust from leaves.

Mister: Sometimes, a watering can alone won’t meet needs such as moisturizing the petals of a prized orchid or precise watering of a favorite succulent. This is when a watering can with a mister can help.

8 Curious Facts About Watering Cans

We know that the dirt floors of the London Royal Academy in 1833 were watered to keep the dust down (in the 1850s, the floors of the National Gallery were similarly sprinkled). How? By using a watering pot, a small glazed clay container with a perforated bottom – that’s the precursor of today’s rose.

Factoid 1: Watering pots had holes in the bottom at first (water outflow was controlled by a thumb on a hole on top). The spout was invented some 50 to 100 years later.

Factoid 2: The name ‘watering can’ first appeared in 1692 in a diary written by Timothy Keeble. Before that, the term first appeared in 1577 in The Gardener’s Labyrinth by Thomas Hill. Before 1580, it was called ‘watering pot’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Factoid 3: The most expensive watering pot sold for $6,588.00 at a Sotheby’s Billingshurst auction on 23 September 2003.

Factoid 4: Many indoor gardeners measure exact amounts of water by using old radiator cans that were originally used to fill car radiators.

Factoid 5: The earliest watering pots were made from terra-cotta, and one from the 16th century sold for $5,647.00.

Factoid 6: Today, many watering cans are small enough to be used by children. However, 40-litre watering cans used to be commonly used by farmers in Asia, who balanced a pair with carry-pole on their shoulders.

PRO TIP: Today, such huge watering cans are impossible to find. However, you can find 5-gallon, backpack-type watering cans with a sprayer for longer, gentler watering.

Factoid 7: Many watering cans are not used for watering plants. Instead, they’re used to illustrate past cultures or histories such as in special collections. Others use unique watering plants to create a whimsical or rustic interior.

Factoid 8:In the late 1500’s, watering pots made of glazed clay were in use to sprinkle water on dirt floors. The first watering cans for plants were made of copper. By the 1850s, watering cans of zinc, brass, and iron were used. In 1885, the first patented watering can in England was made of metal.

FAQs

Do I really need a watering can? No, you can use a chamber pot or a wine glass if you want. At the same time, if you have plants on porches, balconies, or rooftops where you don’t have a hose spigot, watering cans help a lot.

What size is a normal watering can? You can buy a watering can in any available size, from very small (than one liter) to ordinary size (3 to 5 liters), or large (10 liters or more). Some models become so heavy that they can only be carried with both hands

Do I really need a watering can for indoor plants? No, not unless using a drinking glass to water your plants also wets your floor or counter. That’s when you need a watering can.

How do I clean a galvanized metal watering can? Mix 2 gallons of water and a half cup of dish soap. Wet a bristle brush with this mixture. Use the brush to scrub all surfaces, as much as you can, inside and out. Rinse and dry with a soft cloth. Use metal polish on a soft cloth for a great shine.

Is copper watering can good for my plants? Copper watering cans are unusual, but if you have one, keep in mind that copper is an essential micronutrient that almost all plants need.

How do I clean my watering can? Pour a mixture of light bleach and room-temperature water in your watering can, cover all the holes and shake well. Rinse and dry.

Is my rusty watering can bad for my plants? Moderate or a little rust will add iron oxide to the water, which does not harm plants.

Is it safe to water my plants with AC water? No. Water from your air conditioner is highly acidic and is not safe to use for watering your plants.

Takeaways

Congratulations! You’ve just completed a thorough review of watering cans for your plants. Here’s a summary of key points:

Center of gravity or balance: When choosing a watering can, you should check for balance or center of gravity so that you can carry it without spilling water. The term “center of gravity” refers to where weight is evenly distributed so that a watering can does not tip or fall over.

Water capacity and filling: The watering can be designed so that you do not experience any sloshing, spilling, leaking, or spilling while you are using, filling, or carrying, the can. The handle should be hinged to move it sideways when you fill your watering can.

Material: Among the materials available, the most preferred choice for longevity is high-grade molded plastic. For those who prefer more eco-friendly materials, glazed clay or riveted and soldered tin or metal are preferred.

Grips and handles: While choosing a watering can in a store, grip the handles and test for comfort. Flat edges can cut into your palms while rounded, rotating (not fixed) grips provide more comfort. While some watering can have only one handle, others have a carry handle as well as a tipping handle.

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Sources

  • “A Near-Miss in my Search for the Perfect Watering Can” by S. Harris in Garden Rant
  • “Antique watering can made in Aesthetic style in 19th century” by T. and K. Kovel in The Herald
  • “Diary of a mad watering can collector” by M. Brother at Daily Kos
  • “Favourite Object from the Collection” by B. Stitch in Ancient Worlds at Manchester MuseumThese tips will have you watering like an expert” by B. Botts in The Chicago Tribune
  • “Watering floors and gardens in medieval times, and later” by L. Gretton in Old & Interesting
  • “Watering Houseplants Properly” by L. Perry, University of Vermont (UVM)
  • “Watering the Garden” in Arts and Culture
  • “watering can” by Visual Dictionary

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