Building a thriving vegetable garden means balancing a whole range of factors that can make or break the quality of your produce – and irrigating effectively is often one of the biggest challenges that backyard gardeners face. A soaker hose is often the method of choice for vegetable and herb gardens, particularly when making the first step from manual watering to a more hands-off, water-efficient irrigation solution.
Of course, the most popular option isn’t always the best solution – but when it comes to soaker hoses, there’s a good reason they’re at the top of the list. A soaker hose can deliver many benefits for plant health and the quality of your produce, while also being inexpensive to purchase and easy to install in an afternoon.
Soaker hoses are particularly well-suited to edible gardens, as the even spacing and linear layout is perfect for row-planted vegetables. Compared to manual watering, a soaker hose will vastly improve water efficiency, as well as reducing the amount of time and effort it takes to keep plants in peak productive condition.
Setting up a few soaker hoses is an easy way to take your veggie garden to the next level, while avoiding some common pitfalls that can really undermine all your hard work.
So how does this method help to create a happy and healthy vegetable garden?
How Does A Soaker Hose Work?
Like other methods of drip irrigation, a soaker hose delivers water directly to the soil at ground level, where it can be easily absorbed by plant roots. A soaker hose is run along the ground near plant roots, on the surface or below mulch where access to the soil is best.
While it may appear just like a regular garden hose, a soaker hose is covered in tiny holes along its length which gradually seep water into the soil. This slow and steady process means the water is delivered at the same rate as the soil can absorb it, reducing water waste from run-off or evaporation.
Like a typical hose, a soaker hose is typically made from rubber and polyethylene, with recycled or BPA-free variations available for more eco-conscious gardeners.
What Are The Pros And Cons of Soaker Hoses?
There are many backyard gardeners who have great success when using a soaker hose irrigation method. However, there are some pros and cons to weigh up when deciding if a soaker hose is the right solution for you:
Pros Of Soaker Hose
- Waters steadily and evenly – doesn’t flood the soil and spreads water across the entire root zone, ensuring it’s absorbed effectively and encouraging healthy root development
- Gentle water delivery – prevents damage to fragile leaves and stems that can be caused by a more powerful hose stream
- Easy to install without complex components – connected and adjusted directly at your garden tap or rainwater tank, without the needs for pumps or underground installation, and can easily be moved around as your garden evolves
- Prevents water waste – maximises water efficiency in the garden, key to a sustainable and eco-friendly edible garden
- Avoids leaving water on leaves and stems – helps to prevent fungal diseases and pests attracted to excess moisture which can ultimately damage your produce
- Low upfront cost – perfect for backyard gardeners, soaker hoses are easy to find and affordable to purchase, allowing you to get started quickly and experiment
- Low-maintenance and hands-off – runs well on a timer once the right pressure and watering length is established, and can even run at night to minimise evaporation
Cons Of Soaker Hose
While a soaker hose is a great entry-level irrigation solution, seasoned gardeners may find it worthwhile to look into more flexible options which allow for greater customisation. Here are some of the limitations of soaker hoses:
- Standardised water delivery through entire length – water flow can’t be varied depending on individual plant needs and spacing can’t be customised, suiting garden beds which are planted in rows
- Only controlled via garden tap – without a pressure adjustor, you’ll need to experiment with how much to turn the tap on in order to find the ideal water pressure and how long to leave it running for
- Requires fairly even ground – because a soaker hose doesn’t utilise a pump or pressure regulator, it may have trouble distributing water evenly throughout a sloped yard or multi-level garden beds (at least without a pressure compensator installed)
- Not suitable for underground installation – while a soaker hose can be covered with mulch to protect it from the elements and further reduce evaporation, they can’t be buried underground unless specified by the manufacturer
- Limited lifespan – as a soaker hose is exposed to the elements, the typical lifespan is a year or two and any accidental damage when digging or mulching means the entire hose needs to be replaced
How Do Soaker Hoses Compare To Other Types Of Hoses?
Drip pipes or drip lines offer more flexibility in water flow and spacing than a soaker hose, allowing you to place emitters exactly where you want them – but also require more time and money to set up, as well as a pressure modification device. The good news is that drip systems have a longer lifespan and individual components are more easily replaced in case of wear and tear without a complete overhaul.
While most people are familiar with lawn sprinklers, there are a few variations that can be used in the vegetable garden and can be very effective depending on the needs of each plant variety. A sprinkler hose has larger holes or outlets in comparison to a soaker hose, boosting the flow rate and coverage. Sprinklers offer a rapid flow of water for densely planted garden beds and may suit more ‘freestyle’ edible gardens which aren’t planted in rows.
How Do Soaker Hoses Help Vegetables To Grow?
Using a soaker hose set-up for your vegetable garden is a fantastic way to support plant health as well as boosting the quality of veggies and herbs. There are a few key things that a drip irrigation system – such as a slow soaker hose – can do to encourage your garden to thrive.
First of all, the gentle and consistent method of water delivery is fantastic when nurturing young seedlings, particularly those that require more frequent watering through the first weeks of their life. A soaker hose system makes this process easy and less labour-intensive, as well as protecting fragile plants to ensure your starters survive.
Establishing a consistent watering routine is crucial to the health of your garden – but this can be a real challenge when you’re relying on a good old-fashioned manual watering. Not only is the amount of water each region gets inconsistent, it’s far too easy to forget to water entirely or put it off for another day, breaking the routine and leaving your plants stressed and under-producing. Lack of moisture stress makes plants happier and therefore more productive – key when you’re looking to get a great harvest from your veggie garden.
Utilising a drip irrigation method like a soaker hose will also help protect your plants from fungal diseases and pests by keeping water away from the leaves. When you’re looking forward to harvesting those vegetables and herbs, having them spoiled by mildew or insects can be a very frustrating experience! Investing in effective irrigation is a fantastic way of deterring these problems.
One more benefit of watering via a soaker hose is that the reduction in water run-off helps to prevent vital nutrients being carried away from the plant’s roots, ensuring you get the most out of the fertiliser and soil treatments applied to your vegetable garden. When the nutrients in your fresh produce are fed by the condition of the soil, this is a key approach to ensuring you’re getting the best out of your edible garden.
Should Soaker Hoses Be Used For All Types Of Plants?
Soaker hoses are great for vegetable crops planted in rows, but larger trees or shrubs will likely need a more complex method of watering to cover a wider root region without the risk of root bunching. At a minimum, these larger plants need to be watered from multiple sides rather than by a single soaker hose. For young trees and shrubs, a tree ring soaker hose can be used to encourage healthy root growth.
Why Are Soaker Hoses Better Than Other Types Of Hoses?
Compared to a typical backyard hose, a soaker hose delivers water gently and evenly along the length of the hose, rather than a highly pressurised stream in one direction. The porous design of soaker hoses means they offer the same kind of gradual, gentle irrigation to other drip irrigation methods, but require far less up-front investment and maintenance than complex drip lines and emitters.
Sam Christie is the owner and operator of Christies landscapes, founded in 2013 Sam and his team of landscapers and designers have many years experience in the landscape construction industry. Over the years they have developed and refined a broad range of skills, qualifications and techniques to deliver outstanding projects throughout the Canberra region.