Traditional irrigation systems like sprinklers waste a lot of water. Using a soaker hose instead will reduce your water consumption and, by extension, save you money and help out the environment. It helps to know how long you should run a soaker hose.
The optimal amount of time to run your soaker hose depends on the soil conditions, climate, and time of year. Start by running your hose for 30 minutes twice a week and keep adjusting until you find the right balance for your garden. Working out how long to leave a soaker hose running is a process of trial and error, with no one-size-fits-all solution.
A soaker hose is an excellent choice for gardeners who want to reduce their water use, but there are some tricks to getting the best out of this irrigation system. Read on to learn more.
What is a Soaker Hose?
A soaker hose looks a lot like your average garden hose, but it is typically made from porous material through which water can pass. Instead of directing water in a spout out of one end, the hose allows water to seep out along its entire length.
A soaker hose is much like a drip irrigation system. Instead of spraying water into the air over plants, both systems deliver water directly to the roots.
The main difference between the two is that a drip irrigation system is made of water-proof plastic tubing pierced by small, strategically placed holes. In contrast, a soaker hose releases water through its entire surface and along its whole length.
► See my full guide to hoses here.
What is the Best Way to Use a Soaker Hose?
A soaker hose is a simple irrigation system that is easy to install and use, but it does require some trial and error to make sure you are getting the best results for your garden.
Get the Installation Right
The secret to success with a soaker hose is to choose the right site for your hose and install it properly.
Soaker hoses are best suited to flat gardens where the hose can lie level on the ground. If your hose is on a steep site, it won’t provide a uniform amount of water along the whole length of the ground. For hilly or terraced gardens, a drip system is the best choice.
A soaker hose should not be buried — under a lawn, for example — because the tightly-packed soil may prevent the water from seeping out of the hose.
However, covering the hose lightly with mulch will help prevent evaporation and retain moisture where it’s needed, around the roots of your plants. This means a soaker hose is best suited to beds and vegetable gardens.
Before installing your hose, draw a rough sketch map of the area you want to irrigate. Plan the layout of your soaker hose in straight and gently-curved lines through the beds you want to water. Remember to connect the hose to the faucet.
It’s best to keep this drawing in a safe place so you’ll have a record of where you have laid the soaker in case of future landscaping projects that may cause damage in the area.
Measure the real distances covered by the hose layout that you have planned to work out what length of hose you will need. Most experts suggest that the maximum length for a soaker hose is 100 feet (around 30 meters).
If you need the hose to pass under a porch or across a path that doesn’t need to be watered, consider interspersing sections of the soaker hose with an ordinary garden hose over these areas.
Water Pressure and Type
Soaker hoses don’t spray water at high pressure, which is why they can’t compensate for hilly terrain. Most gardeners attach the hose to a faucet and open it only slightly to provide a gentle trickle of water.
A soaker hose relies on its porous material to allow the water to seep out. If the water in your area is “hard” — that is, it has a high concentration of dissolved minerals — deposits of calcium may eventually block the pores in the rubber and stop the hose from working.
If the pressure inside the hose is too high, either because your water pressure is too high or because the pores have become blocked, the hose will not water evenly and may split. Make sure the faucet is open just enough so that water “sweats” from the surface of the hose.
A soaker hose is a low-tech installation job, requiring very few components and little specialized equipment. Depending on your garden layout, there are a few common items you may need to purchase.
You will probably need a few connectors that are easily found in hardware stores to connect your hose to the faucet and to create elbow joints for tricky corners.
A timer is an essential piece of equipment to ensure adequate, regular water supply. We’ll cover more about setting your timer to optimize irrigation next.
Pegs will help anchor the hose to the ground and prevent people from tripping over it, which is a potential hazard and will cause damage to the hose. You can use tent pegs or heavy wire bent into a U-shape. Be careful not to puncture or pinch the hose.
If you are attaching your hose directly to a municipal water supply, you may need a pressure regulator to ensure a low, constant water pressure. If the hose is attached to a dedicated faucet, a pressure regulator may not be necessary.
In some areas, a backflow preventer is required by law on permanent irrigation systems. If there is a drop in pressure in the municipal supply, a backflow preventer will stop water flowing the wrong way from your garden into the piped supply. This prevents contamination of the drinking water by bacteria or chemicals in the water from your garden.
You may also need a water filter to ensure that the water passing through your soaker hose is clean and free of minerals that will block the pores and prevent water leaking through the surface.
Get the Water Supply Right
Once you’ve installed your hose, it’s time to do some experimenting to work out how much water your garden really needs and how long you’ll need to let the hose run.
This is when your timer becomes your best friend. It will allow you to run the water for precise lengths of time at regular intervals. Most importantly, a timer won’t forget to turn the faucet on and off!
Experiment with Your Timer
Start by setting your timer so that the water runs for one hour. Immediately after the hour is up, carefully dig into the soil around the hose. This way, you can check how far down the water has soaked.
For most smaller plants, the soil should be wet down to 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimetres) below the surface. Larger shrubs and trees will need a deeper soak.
If the ground is too wet, decrease the running time of your hose. If it’s too dry after watering, set the timer for longer. You will get better root development if you water your plants less frequently but for a longer period. Light, frequent watering encourages shallow, more fragile root growth.
Schedule two or three watering days every week, then carefully monitor how your plants are responding and adjust as needed. Although a regular watering schedule is great for the health of your garden, you will need to tweak it now and then.
Watch the Weather
Like people, plants have different needs at different times of the year. If the weather is hotter and drier, they will need more water to stay green and healthy. During winter, many plants require less water.
In hot months, the best time of day for watering is early morning or evening to avoid too much evaporation. But if you live in a region that experiences freezing winters, it’s best to water in the middle of the day during winter months to avoid the water freezing overnight and damaging the roots.
Make the most of natural rainfall. If heavy rain is predicted, you might choose to save water by turning the faucet off for a day or two. But remember to turn it back on when the rain has passed!
Know Your Soil
A good gardener knows their soil. Soil type has a big impact on the watering needs of a garden. Sandy soil does not retain water and dries out quickly, so plants may need more frequent watering. Soil that is high in clay holds onto water, and plants can become water-logged with too much irrigation.
Adding compost and loam to your beds can help balance out sandy or clay-heavy soil and improve its water retention.
Be Aware of Your Plants’ Needs
Newly planted shrubs and seedlings have smaller root networks and are often more fragile than larger bushes and trees. This means they are not able to source or store as much water for themselves and need regular irrigation until they are established.
Lawns can be especially tricky to establish. To learn more about watering your newly planted lawn, you can read, “When to Stop Watering New Grass Seed.”
The water needs of plants vary hugely. Those with shallow root systems, such as rhododendrons, require more frequent irrigation, and so do many soft-leaved herbs and vegetables. Fruits like melons require plenty of water to grow and develop flavor.
By contrast, succulents and other low-water plants need little or no water — although they too need more care when you first plant them.
What Are the Advantages of Using a Soaker Hose?
There are many advantages to choosing this efficient irrigation system, both for you and the environment.
Reduced Water Use
A soaker hose uses much less water than a sprinkler system because the water goes directly into the soil at the root into the air. This distribution method means all of the water goes to where it is needed, which reduces waste, evaporation, and run-off.
We all know that reducing water consumption is good for the environment, but it also lowers your water bills and improves the health of your wallet!
Improved Plant Health
Experienced gardeners know that over-watering plants is as bad as under-watering them. Most plants do not like having “wet feet” or being left in waterlogged soil.
Many plants also suffer when their leaves and stems are kept wet for long periods, and they can become prone to diseases and parasites.
Soaker hoses avoid both of these problems by delivering just the right amount of water directly to the roots. The soil is kept at a consistent moisture level, so your plants won’t lurch from drought to flood every few days. And keeping the leaves and stems dry reduces the fungi and bacteria that cause disease.
Soaker hoses also help suppress weed growth by delivering water directly to your plants’ roots. This means there is less excess water between rows of plants, which can discourage weeds from sprouting.
Many soaker hoses are made from recycled rubber, often from old vehicle tires. Hundreds of millions of vehicle tires are disposed of every year in the United States alone.
In landfills and stockpiles, tires take up a lot of space and pose a health and environmental hazard. By choosing products made from recycled tires, you can help reduce stockpiles and minimize the environmental impact of the tire manufacturing industry.
Unlike pop-up sprinklers, a soaker hose is made of very few components and has no moving parts. The hose is very flexible and usually doesn’t require many connectors or elbow pieces to bend it between and around your plants and beds.
The advantage of this simple construction is that a soaker hose is easy to install, and has few elements that might break and require replacement. Once you have installed the system and got your watering schedule right, you can pretty much forget about it and enjoy your flourishing garden.
Which Plants Are a Good Fit for a Soaker Hose?
Soaker hoses are a good fit for vegetable gardens, where plants are laid out in regularly-spaced rows. These beds make hose installation easy, and you can ensure that your hose is placed and spaced to provide even irrigation for all your plants.
Soaker hoses are also an excellent choice for flower beds and borders. Remember that the hose leaks water along its entire length, so using it where plants are growing close together will ensure the best use of your water.
A densely-planted bed containing rose bushes and annuals like pansies is the perfect spot for this irrigation solution.
What Are the Disadvantages of Using a Soaker Hose?
There are few disadvantages to this efficient irrigation method, but some gardeners raise health concerns, and a soaker hose is not the best choice for all gardens.
High Set-Up Cost
Although a soaker hose is simple to install and requires few components, it does require some initial labor and financial investment. Setting up any permanent irrigation system certainly requires more time, planning, and expense than dragging a hosepipe around your flower beds.
Depending on your water supply, weather, and other factors, a soaker hose can also be an expensive system to maintain. Water filters are costly and require regular replacement.
Also, hoses that are exposed to freezing winters or blazing sun may deteriorate and need to be replaced after a few years.
Because a soaker hose weeps water from its entire surface, you cannot direct the water to particular plants or run the hose across surfaces that shouldn’t get wet.
The requirements for a flat garden and the limitation to 100 feet of hose may also be disadvantages for those wanting to irrigate a hilly or very large site.
What Plants Do Not Like a Soaker Hose?
Soaker hoses are not a good fit for large trees that are spaced far apart, as water will be wasted in the lengths of hose between the trees. They are also not the best choice for lawns, where irrigation systems need to be buried out of sight.
Because soaker hoses need to lay on a flat surface, they are also not suitable for container gardens or pots on your patio. Potted gardens require irrigation to run from ground level to several inches above the ground. A soaker hose that is forced to change levels will not provide even watering.
Water-efficient systems like soaker hoses can help you to optimize your irrigation time and improve the health of your plants, while also saving you money and helping to conserve a precious natural resource.
But installing an effective irrigation system takes some planning and investment to get it right. Make sure that a soaker hose is the best choice for you. Then, put in the effort to install it correctly in your garden.
You should probably run your soaker hose somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour twice a week, based on your circumstances. Your irrigation system will keep your garden healthy while you concentrate on enjoying it.