As far as I’m concerned, one of the best watering tools for a vegetable garden, a flower garden, a row of shrubs or large trees is the soaker hose. They are available in virtually every garden center and home center at a very reasonable cost. See the Tool Shed for some examples.
The problem is that none of the labels on these hoses that I have seen tell you how to use a soaker hose correctly. Consequently, most people use them improperly and find them wanting. Learn how to use a soaker hose as it is supposed to be used and you will become a believer.
Soaker hoses are black and kind of rough on the surface because they are often made from recycled car tires. Water seeps or weeps out of millions of pores along the entire length of the hose, drip by drip. It waters the soil slowly preventing run-off. There is little or no evaporation into the air. The water seeps down into the soil in kind of an onion shape covering the area out 8 to 12 inches from the hose depending on the type of soil you have.
The soaker hose becomes a permanent part of your garden. Once you lay it out so it is accessible to all the plants, you leave it there. You then attach a regular hose from your water faucet to the end of the soaker hose, usually set a mechanical timer for automatic turnoff, and you walk away.
Problem number one – a soaker hose only works properly if the water pressure to the hose is about 10 psi (pounds per square inch). Most home systems are around 50 psi. You need a pressure reducing attachment at the beginning of the hose and they are seldom included with the hose (Fiskars now sells a hose with the pressure reducer attached). The better garden centers should be selling pressure reducers.
Problem number two – the label seldom mentions that to maintain an even release of water along the entire length of the hose, no single length of soaker hose should exceed 100 feet. Most home water systems can handle up to 600 feet of soaker hose, but no single piece can exceed hundred feet.
Problem number three – Soaker hoses work best when covered with organic mulch. That means that possibly next spring, when you go out to dig a hole for a new plant you are sure to thump your shovel right down exactly where the soaker hose is running, cutting the hose in half; very frustrating. The solution is to expose the hose each spring so you can avoid doing such a dumb thing even though I personally have done that a dozen times over the years.
Problem number four – It’s tough to know how long you should run your soaker hose to get enough, but not too much, water into the ground. You want to apply one inch of water each week in the spring from you and the rain; two inches a week in the summer. Put an empty tuna fish can under each section of hose and time how long it takes to fill the can which is about one inch deep. That’s how long you run your hose each time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question - Do you lay the soaker hose with the openings toward the ground or with the water going up. I am so confused about this.
Answer - The soaker hose drips around its entire circumference. There is no top or bottom.
Question - In a recent article in the paper you talked about the great benefits of the soaker hose. From that article I assume you leave your hose down all year. All the hoses I have used say to take them up in the winter. What brand do you use and where do you purchase them? Also the ones I use have a washer that has a very tiny hole in it rather than the standard hose washer. Would this type still need a pressure reducer?
Answer - IF you leave them out all year, they need to be covered with mulch to avoid breakdown by ultraviolet light. Bringing them makes them last longer, but it is not required.
All home centers and most garden centers sell soaker hose. The brand is not critical.
If you have a washer with a small hole in your hose, you need no additional pressure reduction.
Question - I want to do exactly as you outline, however cannot find a pressure regulator anywhere.
Answer - One point I did not make in my column was that some, not all, soaker hoses come with a round disk with a small hole in the center sitting in female end of the hose. That is one form of pressure regulator.
In the meantime, if you use a soaker hose with the outdoor faucet turned on just a quarter or half a turn, that will also serve as a way to reduce the pressure to the right level.
Question - The soaker hose I have has a washer with about a 1/8th inch hole in it to reduce the pressure. Each section has said washer.
Would it make sense to get one of the Fiskar pressure reducer and take out the washers?? Would this give better pressure and flow regulation?
Answer - Stay with what you have. Those disks work just as well.