Drip Irrigation vs Soaker Hose: Which is Best?

By Brian Mounts | Sep 25, 2021
Soaker Hose vs Drip Irrigation

When it comes to watering plants in your yard, there are numerous options. As environmental consciousness increases, drip irrigation and soaker hoses are gaining popularity. At times, drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses are thought of as the same when they are distinctively different.

What is drip irrigation?
Drip irrigation provides water to plants drop by drop and is delivered through a system of pipes, tubing, and drip emitters.

What is a soaker hose?
A soaker hose has tons of small perforations or pores along its entire length that allow water to seep out everywhere.

Homeowners often ask which of the two is best. Truthfully, this is a tricky question to answer.

Which of the two is best for you is based on your situation. The answer depends on how you want the water delivered to your plants, how much control you want over the amount, and how much money and time you want to invest.

  • Water placement — Drip irrigation releases water only where you place the emitters and works well when plants are spaced further apart (rose bushes, pumpkins, or tomato plants). A soaker hose emits water along the entire length and is suitable where plants are close together or grown in rows (daylilies, hostas, carrots).
  • Water output — A drip irrigation system is easy to fine-tune the water output to individual plants. You can purchase emitters with different flow rates or buy variable rate dripper heads that adjust as necessary. To adjust a soaker hose, you increase or decrease the water pressure, adjusting the flow along the entire hose.
  • Intricacy — Drip irrigation involves numerous pieces that require correct assembly: manifold, pipes, microtubing, emitters, connectors, etc. In contrast, a soaker hose is simply just a hose and simply needs to be connected to the water spigot.
  • Cost — A drip irrigation system has a higher initial investment, including installation, if you hire a professional. A soaker hose is relatively cheap, making it an excellent investment if you’re looking for something inexpensive.
  • Movability — Drip irrigation systems are more permanent and not easy to move or reconfigure, especially if pipes are buried underground. Soaker hoses are extremely easy to pick up and move.
  • Maintenance — With a drip irrigation system, you will need to perform routine maintenance. The system needs flushing in the fall, and dripper heads must be periodically checked to make sure none of them have cracked or plugged.

In my garden I have PVC pipe routing water to the garden from our irrigation control box. From the garden the pipe converts to individual soaker hoses at each of our nine garden beds.

We used to use a drip system but because they are more rigid it was annoying to move and adjust whenever we planted new crops or harvested. The soaker hose made everything more flexible for arrangement and although we use a bit more water per square foot we find that the garden is much easier for us to adjust throughout the changing seasons.

You can see my recommendations for garden friendly soaker hoses and kits here.

I have included this article in my guide to hoses.

Now with that out of the way let’s discuss these two product types in greater depth.

What is Drip Irrigation, what are its main features?

Drip irrigation is a system where you provide water to the plant drop by drop. Usually, there’s a whole network of pipes running over the rows of plants you’ve planted and grown. Now, near the root of each of these plants, you attach a dropper to the pipe, from which the water drops at regular interval.

Keep in mind that the water falls drop by drop exactly where the root is. This ensures that no water is wasted because it falls far away, and the water loss is minimum due to transpiration. Also, it reduces the amount of time your leaves are wet, which ensures that they are at a lesser risk of being attacked by bacteria or fungi. Experts recommend actually keeping your plants drier if you want to prevent them!

Here are the main things you might want to keep when it comes to this specific method:

  • Drip irrigation consists of watering the plants with a dropper, and drop by drop. This is basically the main feature and is what differentiates this method from most of the methods out there.
  • Again, this method actually consists of an entire setup consisting of pipes with water running through them, and drippers. However, it is important to note that the water does not come out directly from the pipes. The water only comes out through the places where the drippers are located.
  • The water is mostly provided directly to the roots of the plants. This ensures that this method is actually really effective even in regions where water is scanty. That’s precisely why this method is also known as the best method for the drier parts. In fact, it is used widely in the drier parts!
  • Again, this method is also great for other parts because it prevents the plants from getting attacked by fungi. As we said earlier, you expose your plant to lesser amount of wetness. So, this is a good idea to keep your plants safe too.
  • Finally, as you might be aware, water is actually a very important resource and we must always strive to conserve it. So, this method is actually a great methods because only a very little amount of water is wasted because of evaporation! Also, there’s almost no run-off, which ensures that the water wastage is perfectly minimal!

What is the Soaker Hose method? Main features?

The Soaker hose method is actually a pretty innovative method, if you ask me. It has its own share of problems, sure, but it’s something that you must accept is innovate. When I first learned about this method, I was genuinely surprised by the simplicity of this method, and yet how less practiced it was! So, I think it’s a great start to actually begin by learning about what this method really is!

So, in this method, you basically use a Soaker Hose, or a hose that has a lot of small pores in it. Naturally, when water passes through it, the water comes out through these pores. With higher water pressures inside the hose, the rate of the water coming out also increases. However, the water comes out along the entire length of the hose. So, you might only want to use it where you need water in a pattern that this hose can satisfy.

  • The first thing about this hose is that the water comes out through the minute pores on the hose. The water comes does not come out through any special other equipment attached to the hose.
  • The water pressure inside the hose also decides the amount of the water that would come out. The greater the amount of pressure, the higher the amount of water. So, you need to be careful- too high pressures can lead to jets of water!
  • The water drops along the entire length of the hose, because the entire hose is composed of the porous material. So, that’s something you need to consider. If you only want to water specific spots, this hose does not really sound like the best choice.
  • Since the water comes out drop by drop, the run-off amount is really low or maybe none at all! Plus, the water loss by evaporation is also really low. So, from the point of water conservation, this method is great too!
  • Experts recommend using this method where you have rows of plants. That would serve the purpose of this hose perfectly, because the entire length of the hose would be put to use in a proper fashion!

Drip Irrigation vs Soaker Hose: Which is Best?

Honestly, it would be unfair to declare one method is the better out of the two. These two methods, however similar in their overall characteristics, are actually pretty different! So, one must ideally judge them based on their individual merits. That’s the only way to find the one that would be the best suited for your situation!

However, let us take a look at the main points that put these two apart. So, the main differences between the Soaker hose and Drip Irrigation might be summed up in the following points:

  • The Drip Irrigation is not exactly a hose, it’s a specific method. The equipment consists of an entire setup, including pipes, drippers and so on. The Soaker hose is a one-equipment setup, which consists only of one hose made of a specific material that is porous in character.
  • Next, the Drip Irrigation method is a little more specific about where you want the drops the fall. As in, you can specifically put the drippers in the right position to water only the roots. The Soaker hose system lacks this precision, the water drips along the entirety of the hose. This actually makes these two models really different and better suited for entirely different situations. However, in terms of control, I would say that the Soaker hose is better.
  • The amount of water you want to use can also be controlled a little more properly when it comes to the Drip Irrigation method. You can actually adjust the drippers to let only a small (or a greater) amount of water drip. The Soaker hose, although adjustable by increase or decreasing the pressure inside it, is a little less adjustable than the drip irrigation method overall, at least in my opinion.
  • The Soaker hose method, however, is a little more easy to shift from one place to another. The Drip Irrigation method is pretty much stationary, and since it takes a lot of effort to set up, you really don’t feel like changing its position either. So, from this standpoint, the Soaker method is the more recommendable of the two.
  • Finally, the soaker hose method is usually a little less expensive since it is only one hose. The Drip Irrigation method requires an entire setup, which is generally a little more expensive. So, if you’re on the lookout for something a little more expensive, you might actually want to go for the Soaker Hose method.

Thus, as I stated earlier, while there are all these differences are there, we still can’t draw up a proper conclusion. It seems, that these two methods are actually better suited for their own individual cases, and it’s actually hard to substitute either of them for the other! So, you might just want to stick to doing your research and go for the one that suits you the best!

Things you might want to consider before you select the right method

Now, you must be wondering how you’d be able to find out which method is the best for you. There is no need to worry, because Turf Mechanic is here to help you with that as well! We understand that it must be hard for you to judge each of these methods, so here are a few pointers to help you get started.

Whenever you want to select the best method for watering your lawn, here are some of the principal things that you must take into consideration:

  • The nature of the Soil: Considering then nature of the soil is really important. It determines the exact amount of water that you might need. A drier soil usually means you need more water for your lawn.
  • The Slope of the Land: The slope of the land is really important as well. A steep slope can make it harder to properly grow even grass on your lawn! You might want to follow our article on how to grow grass on a steep slope if you’re having trouble with doing it.
  • The amount of Rainfall: The amount of rainfall is really important factor. It’s one of the key factors that determine how much extra water you need to provide. Don’t forget that these plants have been around for a while and can survive on only rainfall in most of the places. So, for just maintaining grass, you might not even have to water your lawn if the rainfall condition is suitable!
  • The overall Climate: The overall climate also decides the amount of water you need. For starters, you might want to use more water with higher temperatures and less water with lower ones.
  • The specific Variety: The specific variety of grass/plant you’re planning to have also determines the amount of water you need to use. For instance, some plants need a lot more water than some others, and this is one of the key factors you need to keep in mind.

You might want to check out other related articles on the site, here are a few to get started with: