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.
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 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?
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.”