When it comes to irrigating your garden, there are many options. But two of the most common and highly efficient methods are drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses. Both save water and don’t need to be monitored as much as other methods. So which one should you choose?
Soaker hoses are porous garden hoses that slowly distribute water, while drip irrigation involves long tubes with small emitters that deliver water to the plant’s base. The former is easy to set up and affordable but not customizable, while the latter is customizable and more precise but costlier.
Whether you should use a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system depends on your preference, location, and garden size. And to help you determine the better option, we’ll go through both irrigation methods in detail and discuss the pros and cons of each.
What is a Soaker Hose?
A soaker hose is essentially a porous garden hose. As water flows across the hose, it slowly seeps through the walls for a deep watering session. So when you place the hose between plants and switch it on, you can water the whole row in one go.
Soaker hoses are typically made of polyethylene plastic or rubber, but you can find BPA-free ones, too. Apart from gardeners, homeowners who want to install an automatic watering system also prefer soaker hoses.
There are two kinds of soaker hoses.
Flat Soaker Hoses
These hoses are made using nylon-coated mesh and have one-sided holes. They act as sprinklers and give water only to a particular area. As the name suggests, they’re flat, which means you can’t roll them out (they’re fixed in one place). But you can snake them around other plants.
You can also bury them under some mulch easily. Just ensure you don’t bury them very deep. Otherwise, they can break and disrupt the water distribution.
Round Soaker Hose
Typically made of vinyl or rubber, round soaker hoses have numerous small holes around the body to evenly and slowly distribute water. In addition, since they’re more porous and have a round structure, they’re more durable than their flat counterparts.
You can also bury them much deeper, which is why most gardeners prefer these. They’re also more long-lasting and can serve you for years.
What is Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation is a long, flexible plastic tube with small emitter tubes. These tubes transport water right to the plant’s base very slowly.
The main water line is usually connected to a tap or secondary tube to make the system efficient. The tap usually consists of a backflow valve, pressure regulator, and a filter that helps ensure water is distributed without any problems.
Professional gardeners and individuals who grow plants for sale mostly prefer drip irrigation systems since they provide water slowly and can work over long periods.
Drip irrigation systems are also of two kinds.
A drip tape is a flat tube and has been the primary choice of gardeners and farmers for years. It’s not only cheaper but also more effective, particularly when it comes to giving water to row crops. And while it works well with subsurface installations and operations, it typically doesn’t last very long.
Drip tape is available in different spacing and thicknesses, and you can choose according to your needs. For instance, a 15 mil drip tape (on Amazon) can last for even five years or more as long as the filter and regulator are working well.
Drip tapes are similar to soaker hoses but are more consistent and reliable when emitting water. And while soaker hoses irregularly leak water, drip tapes have holes with specific spacing along the length, mainly designed for direct seeding and transferring plants.
A drip line is a round tubing that you can set with emitters to plant evenly-spaced crops. Of course, if you want to customize your space, you can separate the emitters. Usually, a drip line is made with heavy-duty plastic and can last for many seasons.
The Benefits of Soaker Hoses
The many benefits of soaker hoses include the following:
Simple and Easy to Set Up
Regardless of the soaker hose, it’s easier to set up than a drip irrigation system. You just need to attach it to either a garden hose or directly to a faucet and install it in the section you wish to water. All of this will take just a few minutes.
When using a soaker hose, you don’t need to invest in flow regulators, emitters, or filters like you would when using drip irrigation. So to install a soaker hose system, you’ll need less investment initially, making it more affordable.
No Pressure Regulators Needed
You also don’t need pressure regulators for soaker hoses. Instead, you need to close or open the tap to adjust the pressure, making a soaker hose easier and more convenient.
Stable Water Delivery
Another benefit of soaker hoses is that they offer a stable flow of water at the ground level. While they keep the ground moist, the plant leaves stay dry and thus are fungal-free. They also don’t tend to clog that easily,y thanks to their emission features.
No Water Waste
Soaker hoses also maximize water usage. They don’t waste water since they wet the soil steadily and provide water straight to the roots of the plants.
The Downsides of Soaker Hoses
In addition to being brittle and fragile and having a comparatively narrower radius range, soaker hoses have other limitations, too. These include the following:
Difficult-to-Control Water Precision
When it comes to drip irrigation, you can easily direct the water flow to a certain point, but the same isn’t true for a soaker hose. Given the latter’s porous nature, water will leach out from the different holes, so in addition to watering the plants, you’ll also end up watering the surrounding weeds.
Not Very Customizable
Compared to drip irrigation, soaker hoses aren’t very versatile or customizable. For instance, it’s pretty tricky to lay them in a hilly or irregular-shaped garden since they don’t distribute water evenly. Plus, you can’t close off some hose sections and allow others to continue watering like you can with drip irrigation.
Similarly, you can only use them over a flat surface. You can’t really put them underground or on sloped surfaces.
The Benefits of Drip Irrigation
The benefits of drip irrigation include the following:
Drip irrigation is the best option when you want to precisely water the plants, not the weeds surrounding them. Unlike soaker hoses, drip emitters focus on the area you direct them to. It’s even possible to adjust the drip emitters to only water the plant’s root zone.
Easy to Install & Repair
Drip systems include numerous modules, but they’re typically easy to install. Plus, they work with double configurations, which means you can water some parts while stopping the water flow to others.
Unlike soaker hoses, you can replace only the part damaged in your drip irrigation system and restore it to its working condition. And even if some animal chews a hole in the emitter tubes, you’ll only need to replace that specific part.
In the case of soaker hoses, you’ll have to cut the part with the hole and then join the two parts using a splice. This will not only shorten the hose, but the spliced area won’t be porous, so it’ll be pretty much useless.
Customizing emitters in a drip irrigation system according to your garden is easy. So, for instance, if you have a hilly garden, you can use pressure-compensating emitters and ensure that all parts of your garden get equal amounts of water. Similarly, you can adjust emitter tubes to efficiently water irregularly-shaped gardens.
No Water Waste
Since drip systems transfer water directly to the base of the plant, there’s no water wasted because of vaporization. They also give water gradually, so it goes deep into the roots at a comparatively broader radius.
The Downsides of Drip Irrigation
Despite all the benefits a drip irrigation system provides, it doesn’t come without its fair share of drawbacks. These include:
With soaker hoses, you don’t need much since you just need to attach the hose to another garden hose connected to a tap. This means that the initial investment is relatively low. However, in the case of drip irrigation, you need to invest in things like flow regulators, filters, and emitters. Most of these things are pretty expensive.
Installation Takes Time and Effort
Although straightforward, installation is a little tedious and involves extra effort and time since you first need to plan the installation, lay down the tubing and cut the sections.
Next, you need to install the correct flow valve and then position the drippers at the base of the plant. They may also need regular maintenance and inspection to prevent clogging.