What is a soaker hose?

Wondering what is a soaker hose?

A soaker hose is a special type of garden hose designed to let water seep out slowly along its length. When you turn it on, instead of spraying water out of an end like a regular hose, it sweats water all along its surface. This allows plants to get a slow and steady water supply directly to their roots. Soaker hoses are especially useful for watering plants in rows or for long garden beds.

How does a soaker hose work?

A soaker hose works by slowly releasing water along its entire length directly into the soil around plants. The hose is made from a porous material, such as a polymer or weeping rubber, that allows water to seep out slowly and evenly.

When the soaker hose is turned on, water flows through the hose and seeps out through the small pores or holes in the hose wall. The water is absorbed into the soil around the hose and gradually reaches the roots of plants. Because the water is released slowly and directly into the soil, it is more efficient than traditional overhead sprinklers that can waste water through evaporation and runoff.

Soaker hoses can be used above ground or buried underground. Some hoses are rated to be buried in the soil, while others can only be put on top of the soil surface. Most can be mulched over with organic mulch, such as composted yard trimmings, so as to hide the hose itself and potentially decrease any spray in higher-pressure systems. 

Soaker hoses are a great option for gardeners who want to conserve water. They are particularly effective for plants that thrive with consistent moisture levels, such as vegetables, flowers, and newly-planted shrubs.

In the vegetable garden, run parallel lines for straight garden rows. Use T fittings at the end of each row to create a grid. For perennials and bedding plants in an ornamental garden bed, curve the hose in a serpentine pattern between the landscape plants. For shrubs and small trees, run the soaker hose in a circle around the plant at the drip line (outer perimeter of the leaf canopy). 

How do you choose the right soaker hose?

The main factors to consider are the length, diameter, material, water delivery rate, and what fittings will be required to create your ideal configuration. 

When considering length, measure the garden area you’ll be irrigating. The most common length for a soaker hose is 50 feet, but there are also 25-foot and 100-foot hoses available.

Most soaker hoses will also list their diameter on the package. Typically this is the inner diameter (ID), as this measurement corresponds to water flow. Common dimensions are 3/8”, 1/2”, 5/8”, and 3/4”. 

Soaker hoses can be made from a variety of different materials, including polyurethane, vinyl, and even recycled tires. Some hoses made from rubber or recycled materials can rub off a residue onto your hands when you handle them. And there is always the concern of leaching chemicals from the hose material into your irrigation water. I generally look for soaker hoses made of a non-leaching poly material that’s lead and BPA-free.

The amount of water that seeps out of the hose will depend on the material’s porosity. Look for a hose with even and consistent porosity along its length to ensure all plants receive the same amount of water.

Also, check to see what fittings are included with the hose. It is often the case that you’ll need to purchase additional connectors to attach it to the tap or to a solid garden hose to bring it over to your garden bed.

More about diameter, weight, and burst pressure

Soaker hoses come in various lengths, ranging from 10 to 100 feet, with 50 feet generally being the most common length. When selecting the size, consider the amount of hose needed to reach all garden areas. If your garden bed is not near the water spigot, you can use a regular garden hose to connect the soaker hose to your tap.

The diameter of the soaker hose affects the amount of water it delivers and how quickly it does so. Generally, wider hoses with a larger inner diameter deliver more water and do so more quickly, but they may also be heavier and more difficult to move around. That said, a heavy hose weight may indicate that the hose is quite durable, whereas lightweight hoses may need to be handled more carefully.

The burst pressure of the soaker hose is the maximum amount of pressure it can withstand before it ruptures. There is a wide range of water pressures for residential outdoor spigots. Some homes may have a low pressure of under 30 psi, while a moderate pressure of 60 psi is common, and a high pressure of 100+ psi indicates a high water pressure. 

A plumber can measure the water pressure of your outdoor faucets for you. Homes with high-pressure water systems generally use a pressure-reducing valve (pressure regulator) to bring down the water pressure to a level that the hose can withstand.

The flow rate of a soaker hose depends on the length and inner diameter of the hose, the pressure of the water supply, and the rate of the faucet. Using a low-pressure system of 5-25 psi, the flow rate will be low and slow, but the water will be delivered uniformly in a characteristic “weeping” manner. A high-pressure system at more like 50-75 psi will deliver more gallons per minute to your garden, but the hose may spray.

How long should you leave a soaker hose on?

The length of time that a soaker hose should be left on will depend not only on the characteristics of the hose and the water supply system but also on the existing moisture level of the soil, the water needs of the plants, the climate, and the soil type. Because there are so many factors that impact the flow rate and resulting soil moisture, the best way to determine how long to leave a soaker hose on is to do a simple test when you first get the hose.

Start by unpacking your new soaker hose and lay it out as flat as possible in the sun so it can soften up, making it easier to work with. While it lays in the sun, take a shovel over to the garden and dig a few small holes, about 6-8 inches deep. Take a look at the soil in the hole. Is it quite damp, or is it dry and crumbly? Is it granular like beach sand or fine and smooth like clay? Just try to get a feel for what the soil looks and feels like before you irrigate.

Pull back any organic mulch so that the hose is lying on the soil surface. Run your hose out over the garden area and connect it to the water source. Turn on the tap and walk the length of the hose, watching to see that water is seeping evenly out of the entire length of the soaker hose. 

Set your timer for an hour and let the hose run during this time. After an hour, turn the hose off and go dig a few more little test pits with your shovel. Try to find the depth that the water from the hose has reached. In very sandy soil with a higher-pressure system, the entire 6-8 inches of depth may be freshly moistened. But in clay soil with low water pressure and flow rate, only the top inch or two may be wet.

Continue watering until the top 6-8 inches of soil receives water from the soaker hose. Take note of how many minutes/hours were necessary, given your conditions. This will be a good starting point when deciding how long to leave the hose on. 

In general, most established plants do best when the soil is allowed to dry out a little bit between waterings. When the weather is mild, you may only have to run the hose once a week, whereas, in hot and dry weather, your frequency will likely have to be increased to every 2 or 3 days, depending on conditions.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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