Soaker Hose or Sprinkler Hose?

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Soaker hose (top), sprinkler hose (bottom). Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

There is a certain confusion between a soaker hose, also called porous pipe, and a sprinkler hose, confusion which will undoubtedly persist for a long time, since some manufacturers use the term “soaker hose” for both products!

What I—and most other people, I think—call “soaker hose” is a hose with tiny perforations appearing on all sides and over its entire length. Usually it is black and not at all the same texture as a normal garden hose. Soaker hose is usually installed more or less permanently in flower beds and vegetable gardens, rarely in lawns.

A sprinkler hose is drilled with individual holes equally spaced, and only on one side. Usually it looks like a regular garden hose in color (it’s inevitably green) and texture, but it’s usually flattened. It’s used for periodic watering, especially of lawns, then it is rolled up and put away until the next use. You could actually turn regular garden hose into sprinkler hose by drilling holes into it.

Photo: http://www.smartsprinklercontroller.com

When both are turned on, the difference is obvious. With soaker hose, the water seeps directly into the ground; there are no visible sprays of water. Besides, if it’s covered with mulch (and it often is), you don’t even see it watering.

With a sprinkler hose, though, jets of water spray into the air, moistening nearby plants and lawn. It’s also popular with children who can play in the spray on a hot day. (Kids would probably find soaker hose pretty boring!)

I often write about the use of the soaker hose, a product that I highly recommend, since it gets more water to the soil that most other watering methods and is so easy to use, while I find the perforated hose not nearly as useful, since it wastes a lot of water (when water gets sprayed into the air, a good part is lost simply lost to evaporation), so I thought it would be useful to make this precision.

Don’t Get Soaked with Soaker Hose

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Soaker hose doesn’t spray water: it lets it slowly flow into the ground, massively reducing water loss through evaporation. www.hozelock.com

I’m a big user of soaker hoses.

It’s an easy way of watering without waste, as they apply moisture directly to the root zone of the plant rather than launching droplets into the air where much of the water evaporates.

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A typical soaker hose installation. Source: Lee Valley Tools

A soaker hose is a flexible hose with perforated sides through which water percolates slowly rather than being sprayed, forming droplets that drip slowly into the ground. You place it permanently in a flower bed or garden, running it between plants, especially in the drier areas (near the foundation, at the base of trees with shallow roots, etc.). When your garden needs irrigation, simply turn on the water for 2 to 3 hours and the job is done.

Water flows slowly but directly onto the ground with minimal evaporation. You use much, much less water (up to 70% less), yet the plants get all the moisture they need … and since the plants aren’t sprayed with water, there is less danger of spreading leaf diseases. Plus you can easily hide soaker hose from view by covering it with mulch. In fact, a mulch cover increases its efficiency, as there will be even less evaporation.

A Decline in Quality

The catch? The quality of soaker hoses seems to have declined over time. It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that since soakers hoses started being imported from China, the quality was simply lost.

The soaker hoses that I installed almost 25 years ago and which all lasted at least 15 years (some are still functional and this is year 24!) were more flexible than many physically similar hoses sold nowadays and therefore easier to install …but therein is not the main problem. The problem is that the models that I bought four years ago to replace two old soaker hoses that finally did develop leaks (you can repair leaks with electrical tape, but these two had sprung a few too many!) were all defective from the start, releasing sprays of water here and there when I turned on the tap the first time!

I returned the first two leaky hoses and tried a different brand… with the same result. Yes, there are kits for repairing soaker hose, but you shouldn’t need to repair a brand-new hose! That’s why, after I returned the hoses yet again, I decided to take a chance on a new type.

Flat Hose

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Flat soaker hose. Source: gilmour.com.jpeg

The model I then tested was sold flat and tightly folded, not like other older types, which came loosely coiled in rolls. It was composed of an inner tube covered with a kind of outside sheath sewn along the edge. Although flat at first, this type of tube becomes tubular when filled with water … then flat at the end of each watering session.

Result: the two new flat hoses worked perfectly (there were no leaks as with the other type) and were much more flexible and therefore easier to install. Also, they still work perfectly after 4 years outdoors, including all  winter (no, you don’t need to bring soaker hose indoors in the winter in cold climates: it holds no water and there won’t expand and crack from the cold like garden hose might). And it gets very cold where I live: down to around -30˚ F (-35˚ C) for over two weeks last winter. I am very pleased with the results!

Looking for Quality Soaker Hose

OK, so the flat type worked perfectly for me, while the traditional tubular type failed. But that doesn’t mean that’s always the case.

I have since discovered that there are still top-quality tubular soaker hoses, although they may cost more than low-end models. Sometimes more than twice as much … but at least they work well and seem to last well too.

So, how can you tell if the soaker hose you’re looking at is of top quality?

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Thick soaker hose at the right is of professional quality and will last a decade or more; the low-grade, thin-walled soaker hose at right will probably disappoint! Source: Lee Valley Tools

I’m not sure you can tell physically. The difference between thicker-walled but more flexible quality hose and thin-walled, inflexible junk hose is not necessarily obvious in the store.

Of course, the price could offer a clue … but there are very good soaker hoses that are quite inexpensive, so that’s not always helpful.

Instead, I suggest instead relying on the guarantee: if it has no guarantee or only a short one (2 years, for example), I wouldn’t expect much of it. A 7-year guarantee should be the minimum and, in fact, some have a lifetime guarantee (be still my heart!). One brand says, “Engineered to last a lifetime.” That also sounds promising! The guarantee ought to be somewhere on the label. If you’re buying from a catalog and no guarantee is mentioned, ask.

And if ever you put in soaker hose and it doesn’t live up to your expectations, don’t try to repair it: instead, return it and ask for a refund. If enough defective hoses are returned, the store will eventually change to a more reliable supplier!


Soaker hose: I really can’t garden without it, but I do need the “right stuff.”20180605A www.hozelock.com

Successful Watering on a Slope

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Plants growing on a slope are more difficult to water than ones growing on a more horizontal surface. That’s because the water you apply (or that Mother Nature applies) tends to flow downhill rather than penetrating the soil. And the steeper the slope, the greater the runoff and the drier the conditions! So a poor plant on even a modest slope is constantly suffering from a lack of moisture!

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Cut a watering basin into the slope to catch rain and irrigation water.

One way of compensating for this is to create a watering basin around each plant. Just cut into the slope on its upward side, leaving a depression, and use part of the soil to create a small semicircular berm on the downward side. This basin will help the plant catch water from rain as well as from overhead watering, allowing it to percolate slowly into the soil. Just leave the basin in place permanently (you may need to rebuild the berm occasionally, depending on the type of soil) and this will give the plant a much greater share of rainfall and irrigation.

Another possibility for watering a slope is to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation, running the hose across the slope, that is, in the at right angles to the slope. Soaker hose and drip irrigation apply water more slowly and in smaller doses than other methods, so it is much more likely to sink in and reach the plant’s roots than to flow down the slope, out of reach its reach.

Also, in the future, remember that slope plantings benefit less from rainfall and overhead irrigation than other plantings and will need to be irrigated more frequently.

20150801COf course, the easiest way of successfully planting on a slope over the long term is to only use drought-tolerant plants in such places. They’ll still need some watering for at least the first year, but, as they root in and establish themselves, should soon be able to take care of themselves.