Are you ready to wave goodbye to your watering wand and welcome a more efficient system into your garden? One of the most effective water-saving and time-saving techniques gardeners can tap into is installing soaker hoses or another type of drip irrigation. Adding soaker hoses to your plot offers a plethora of perks to both plants and gardeners.
Soaker hoses have a semi-porous surface, and they work by slowly weeping moisture along their length, directing water to adjacent plants. They're often made from recycled materials, such as repurposed rubber. They're best-suited for small gardens on level ground that are planted in rows or tightly spaced patches. If you have uneven ground, you'll want to opt for another type of irrigation that can distribute water more evenly on slopes.
Benefits of Drip Irrigation
Save water: Drip irrigation is about 90% efficient, meaning almost all of the water emitted is actually directed to your plants. Sprinklers, on the other hand, are only 50 to 70% efficient - meaning up to half the water is wasted. That's because, when you water with a sprinkler, much of the moisture is lost to evaporation, runoff and wind. With droughts becoming more common and water resources threatened in many areas, it's more important than ever to use water wisely.
Keep moisture off foliage: Many plants will be more susceptible to certain pests and diseases when they have wet foliage, which is the case when you use a sprinkler or even a wand. Nightshades such as tomatoes, for instance, will be more likely to succumb to blight if their leaves are wet, as the moisture helps blight spores thrive and spread.
Outsmart weeds: When you water your garden, the last thing you want to do is give weeds a boost. With a sprinkler, you're also watering any weeds around your crops. But with soaker hoses, you're only watering right along each row of vegetables, and weeds between your rows will suffer (or won't sprout to begin with) if they're deprived of water. Adding a nice layer of organic mulch around plants and between rows makes this strategy even more effective, as it will help to maintain the moisture directed to your crops and further suppress any weeds that have come up between rows.
Save time: Watering with soaker hoses can be as simple as turning on the water in one central location, setting a timer, and turning the water back off when you're done (or you could even fit your system with an automatic timer). No more moving a sprinkler around, dragging a hose from one part of the garden to another, lugging a watering can, or standing with a watering wand.
Better watering: When you water with a sprinkler, the water tends to beat down heavily on the soil surface creating a 'crust'. Then, as the water keeps coming down in large volumes, it's much more likely to run off rather than seep down deeply to the plants' roots where you want it. Drip irrigation sees the water slowly percolate slowly via capillary action down through the soil without running off. Such a system helps your crops thrive and encourages them to develop deep, strong roots.
How to Install Soaker Hoses
To take advantage of the benefits of drip irrigation, you'll have to invest in hoses and a bit of setup equipment at the outset. Garden and irrigation supply stores are great places to shop for such items. Here's what you'll need:
- Soaker hoses that fit the lengths of your rows, hose couplers (elbows or tees) to connect your hoses, and end caps.
- A filter that connects to your outdoor water spigot (tap). This removes impurities that can clog your hoses over time.
- A pressure regulator to control the water flow into your hoses, which are designed to run at low pressure. Most soaker hoses are rated to handle a certain level of pressure, so purchase a regulator that matches the flow you need.
- You may also require short lengths of regular garden hose that you can segment in between sections of soaker hose (if you're bypassing an area that doesn't need water).
- Optional: An automatic timer for your system and garden 'staples' or stakes to hold your hoses in place if needed.
Some suppliers offer complete soaker hose kits with everything you need to get started. Follow the instructions on your filter and pressure regulator and set those up first. Then, couple your hoses together in the arrangement you need and tuck them tightly along your rows of crops, right next to your plants.
Soaker hoses are designed to work either on the soil surface or beneath mulch material, so after you lay your hoses out and connect your system, you may opt to apply an organic mulch over the top of them to help hold in moisture even better. This has the added benefit of keeping the hoses out of direct sunlight, too, which could help them last longer.
The amount of time you'll need to water, and how often, will depend on your soil type and weather conditions. Try starting with a 30-minute watering time and then, taking care not to disturb roots, use a trowel to dig down and see how deep the water has seeped.
Adding Irrigation to Your Garden Plans
Use our Garden Planner to sketch out your plot and crop plans and you can add your soaker hoses right into your plan. Just select 'Irrigation' from the selection bar drop-down menu and you'll be able to select different kinds of drip tape or emitter hoses to add to your plans. Adding them to your digital layout before you shop for and install your hoses will help you accurately measure the lengths of hoses you'll need. Noting where you've placed your hoses can also help you remember later in the season to use another method to water any one-off plantings or patches of crops away from your drip system.
Best of luck installing your soaker hoses! After you switch to the convenience of a drip system – and save a hefty amount of water in your garden – you may never want to go back to your old watering methods. And don't forget: at the end of the growing season, flush out and then completely drain the water from your hoses and store your system out of the elements to help prolong its life.
Written by Shelley Stonebrook