Drip Irrigation vs Soaker Hose


Are you having difficulty keeping up with daily gardening watering chores, and your plants are suffering?

Installing drip irrigation or a soaker hose will automatically keep the soil moist and keep your landscaping looking vibrant.

But, many homeowners may not understand the differences between drip irrigation vs. soaker hose systems.

Keep reading to quickly learn the pros and cons of each watering system so you can select the ideal method to enhance your landscaping while reducing your gardening workload!

What Is A Soaker Hose?

soaker hoses on raised beds

A soaker hose is tubing much like a standard garden hose but has tiny holes throughout the entire length that allow water to weep out, or it is of a porous material that allows water to discharge.

Most brands of soaker hoses are from rubber or polyethylene plastic, but there are BPA-free polyurethane soaker hoses for those looking to use one for vegetable gardening.

Sprinkler systems or manual watering drench the soil for a short period of time. The water then quickly dissipates through overspray, evaporation, or by absorbing further into the ground past plant roots.

Soaker hoses typically come in a flat or round shape in lengths of 25, 50, or 100-feet.

Gilmour Flat Weeper Soaker Hose

Gilmour 870251-1001 870251-1004 Hose, 25 Feet, Black

Unique Features

  • 25 Feet
  • Flat Shapre

Swan Products Element Sprinkler Soaker Hose

Swan Products GIDS-2496287 Element Sprinkler Soaker Rubber Hose, 50 Ft. -2496287, 50'

Unique Features

  • 50 Feet
  • Round Shape

How Does A Soaker Hose Work

A soaker hose allows water to slowly and continually soak into the soil at the base of plants, so the roots can readily absorb it. 

To operate a soaker hose, you attach it to a spigot under low water pressure. You screw in a hose-end cap, which prevents water from flowing out the end of the hosing. The water fills the length of the hose and forces the water out of the pores.

The design of the soaker hose keeps the flow of water steady and off plant foliage, which helps reduce issues with mold or fungal diseases, so your plants remain healthy.

To install a soaker hose, you lay the length out along the plants in your landscaping. Since the low-flow water will soak across the ground in either direction by a couple of feet, you can center it between rows of plants if necessary.

Once you have it set in the position you desire, you turn on the water and let the hose do its job. You can either buy enough hose to leave it in place all during the growing season or move the hose around to water other planter beds on a regular schedule.

You can further improve moisture control of the soil by adding a few inches of mulch over the hose. Covering the hose also protects it from deterioration by the UV rays of the sun.

Soaker Hose Pros

  • Affordable for most budgets
  • Very easy to install and operate
  • Saves time and water over using sprinklers or standard hoses
  • Easy to move or reposition
  • Ideal for vegetable or flower gardens
  • Perfect for flat surfaces
  • Eliminates the need to water manually
  • Delivers water directly to the ground/root system
  • Rarely clogs up
  • Requires few parts

The last pro is that most soaker hoses are from 100-percent recycled materials, which is great for the environment.

Soaker Hose Cons

  • Not effective on sloping ground
  • Rubber material will disintegrate after several seasons and need replacement
  • Can’t use in lengths longer than 100 feet without losing proper water pressure
  • Can’t stop the flow in a specific section for precision watering
  • The hose can’t be buried
  • Cheap hoses may kink up

When To Use A Soaker Hose At Home

Homeowners looking to use a soaker hose at home need to consider their overall landscaping design.

Is your yard relatively flat? Are your water spigots in a convenient location for a hookup? Do you have small or vast expanses of plants to water?

I find that soaker hoses are perfect for use in level vegetable garden plots and easy to snake through dense planter beds that are relatively flat.

While this type of hose can reach up to 100-feet, I find that a full-length hose only works best on very level terrain. 

If you have even slight slopes within your landscaping plants, a 50-foot or less length of soaker hose will work much better since the water pressure can remain strong enough to overcome slight inclines.

Connecting several soaker hoses to one spigot may become unwieldy, so keep this in mind when planning out your watering system. 

PRO TIP: Never fully turn on your water spigot when using a soaker hose since they need much less than the standard residential water pressure to work best. I suggest installing a pressure gauge on the faucet before attaching your hose so you can set the pressure to the hose manufacturer’s recommended rate. Failing to regulate the pressure can cause hose blow-out or uneven water dispersion.

What Is Drip Irrigation?

drip irrigation tubing watering soil

Drip irrigation uses thin, flexible plastic tubing with small holes or emitters which slowly drip or mist water onto the soil.

The whole system includes in-line filters, a pressure regulator, a backflow-preventer, and a timer in tandem with the tubing and emitters. 

The tubing is polyethylene plastic and comes as either a drip tape or a drip line.

Drip tape tubing is thinner and appears flat. Drip tape is suitable for subsurface installations, but it tends only to last a year or two before it needs replacement.

A drip line is heavier-gauge round tubing that frequently comes with preset emitters at regular intervals. You can purchase solid lengths of tubing to allow for custom spacing of the water emitters. 

The thicker tubing means that drip lines will last for at least several years before needing replacement.

How Does Drip Irrigation Work

Drip irrigation works exactly as it sounds. It drips water at a slow rate directly onto the soil at the base of plants, which reduces the chance of water loss through evaporation or runoff.

Once you set the main water line in place, you use fittings to attach smaller lines and emitters that branch off to reach the plants you wish to water.

Drip irrigation allows you to control where the water emits from, so you can streamline the watering process, which saves on water usage even further. 

The system also keeps plant foliage dry to deter mold or fungal growth.

Pressure within the tubing stays more constant since drip irrigation tubing is not porous. The ability to add in air vents on slopes keeps suction from pulling dirt or debris into the tube, causing clogs.

Drip Irrigation Pros

  • Fairly inexpensive for a complete system
  • Installation and operation is not difficult
  • Easy to repair a damaged section without replacing entire system
  • Saves time and water over using sprinklers or standard hoses
  • Allows precise control of water flow to only the plants that need it
  • Ideal for vegetable or flower gardens
  • Perfect for flat or sloping surfaces
  • Can be set up for use in containers or raised beds
  • Delivers water directly to the ground/root system
  • Excellent for large gardens or expansive planter beds or hedges
  • Emitters are available according to soil type for better moisture balance

Another pro is that drip systems set on a timer can run during the overnight hours, which is ideal for hot or dry regions of the country.

Drip Irrigation Cons

  • Tubing and accessories cost more to purchase than soaker hoses
  • May need professional installation assistance if garden is large
  • Emitters and tubing tend to clog up over time and need regular maintenance to keep lines clear
  • Difficult to move or reposition

When To Use Drip Irrigation At Home

Homeowners can use drip irrigation for plants growing anywhere, from crop gardens to surface or raised planter beds to potted plants, hanging baskets, and trellises.

The way the system operates allows sufficient pressure inside the tubing to reach much further than soaker hoses and also works on sloping terrain.

The low-profile thin tubing is easy to hide for a more aesthetically-pleasing way to water your plants.

While you can create loose curves in the tubing, drip irrigation works better using straight lines with perpendicular offshoots along the length.

You should also never bury drip irrigation components, although you can purchase specific subsurface systems if you find it necessary.

In Summary

When you are ready to upgrade your garden watering system, I hope the information in this drip irrigation vs. soaker hose guide helps you choose the perfect solution for your specific plant, landscape, climate, and budgetary needs.

For most gardeners, the joy of eliminating tiresome watering duties is enough of a benefit, but what these systems do for the health and beauty of your landscaping plants will be the icing on the cake!

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