Drip Irrigation vs. Soaker Hose – What’s the Difference

Gardening is a healthy, enjoyable and both mentally and physically rewarding activity. But while planting your own vegetables and flowers provides a much-needed break from the robotic work and life schedules, it is important to make sure that you do it right.

One of the most important decisions you will have to make at some point is whether to use drip irrigation or soaker hose.

Both are highly efficient methods of watering the garden as they save a lot of water and do not require as much monitoring as many other irrigation methods.

And while the decision on whether to use a drip irrigation system or soaker hose will boil down to your preferences, garden size and location, it is important to understand what each is all about and its pros and cons.

Drip Irrigation

sprinkler

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The drip irrigation system is often the preferred choice for professional installers or gardeners that want to grow plants for commercial purposes.

It will consist of a long tube from which small emitter tubes are connected and it is these small tubes that deliver water to the base of the plant.

The main water line on a drip irrigation system is in most cases connected to a tap with pressure regulator, backflow valve, and filter to make the system more efficient.

Both drip irrigation and soaker hose are much better than sprinkler irrigation when it comes to targeting the plants more accurately and not the weeds around them. Also, since both do not involve watering plants from above, the leaves remain dry to prevent mildew.

Drip irrigation offers more precision as it is possible to space the drip emitters precisely over the plants’ root zone. And it also makes it possible to customize the irrigation system to conform to the size and shape of your garden.

Because drip irrigation systems will water slowly over a long period of time, water will penetrate over a broad radius and deeper into the root zone.

However, even the simplest drip irrigation system will still consist of several components, and this means it will be expensive as there is a lot to buy. Also, the presence of the many component or parts also means that installation takes a little more time and effort.

Pros

#1. More Precise. When you want to water the plants precisely and not everything else around them, the drip irrigation system is your best pick. Unlike the soaker hose, where water seeps out throughout the entire length, the drip emitters will only focus it where you direct them. It is possible to pace the drip emitters to drip over the plants’ root zone precisely.

#2. Easier to Repair. Even if you get the best drip irrigation system, damages are almost inevitable at some point and as the components age. But, unlike the soaker hose, it is possible to replace the individual part that is damaged to restore the drip irrigation system to perfect working condition. And in case an animal was to chew a hole in one of the emitter tubes, you only need to replace it with another one. But for a soaker hose, you need to cut it and join the two sections with a splice. This shortens the hose and the spliced area will not be doing any watering as it will not be porous.

#3. Highly Customizable. A drip irrigation system will allow you to customize the emitters to suit your garden. For example, if your garden is hilly you can use pressure-compensating emitters to ensure all the parts of the garden receive an equal amount of moisture. Also, you can install the emitter tubes in a pattern that conforms to irregularly shaped gardens or to suit the soil type.

Cons

#1. Relatively Expensive. When using a soaker hose for irrigation, there is nothing much you need to buy as the system will only require attaching the hose to a garden hose that is attached to a faucet and so it requires little initial investment. But for a drip irrigation system, you will need to buy lots of things from the hose and emitters to filter and flow regulators. Most of these items can be quite pricey and hence making this a more expensive irrigation system.

#2. More Tedious to Install. It takes more work and effort to install a drip irrigation system. The extra time and effort stem from the fact that you will first need to plan out how to install the system, lay the tubing, cut the sections, insert correct flow valve and then place the drippers at the plant’s base.

Soaker Hose

sprinkler liines

Image source: soakerhose.com

The soaker hose is a favorite with many gardeners and it is very popular with homeowners that want to install an automatic watering system.

Soaker hoses have been around for many years and they are typically made from recycled rubber and polyethylene. And their most distinctive feature is the fact that they are porous all along the length to allow water to seep out slowly for a deep soaking.

But, there are two types of soaker hoses which are the flat hose that has holes on one side and can act as a sprinkler when lying up and the round hose made from a porous material that allows water to leach from their entire length.

A soaker hose irrigation system is relatively simpler to set up when compared to the drip irrigation. All you need to do is attach the soaker hose to a garden hose or directly to the faucet and it will be ready to start watering.

The fact that there is nothing much you need to buy besides the soaker hose also makes them relatively more affordable.

However, unlike the drip irrigation, the soaker hose is less precise. While it still waters near the ground, the porous nature of the hose’s entire length means that it is hard to pinpoint where you want the water to go.

A soaker hose is also less customizable unless you are willing to cut it into smaller section and then joining them. But doing this shortens the length and also has an immense effect on ate pressure.

Pros

#1. Simple to Set-Up. Whether you prefer to use the flat or round hose type it will still be easier to set up than the drip irrigation system. All you need to do is attach it to the garden hose or even directly to the faucet and lay it in the section you want to water. This should only take a few minutes.

#2. Relatively Affordable. You do not need to buy things like emitters, filters and flow regulators, when using a soaker hose as you would when installing a drip irrigation system. And this means that the soaker hose system requires relatively less initial investment and hence making it a more affordable method of irrigation.

#3. Pressure Regulators not Necessary. Soaker hose irrigation systems do not require pressure regulators. When you want to adjust the pressure you only need to open or close the water from the tap. This can make a soaker hose quite convenient and easier to use.

Cons

#1. Less Precise. With drip emitters, it is easy to focus the water to a specific point but the same is not true when using the soaker hose. A soaker hose will leach water from several holes due to its porous nature, and so you are likely to end up not only watering the plants but also the weeds around them and also wasting some water.

#2. Not Versatile. Soaker hoses are not as versatile in their configuration or as customizable as the drip irrigation system. First, it is hard to lay them to suit an irregularly shaped garden or hilly ones as they will not distribute water evenly. Secondly, it is also not possible to close off sections of the soaker hose while still allowing others to continue watering like you would in a drip irrigation system.

Conclusion

The soaker hose and drip irrigation are both some of the best and most efficient ways of watering the garden. Both are useful for saving water and targeting the plants’ root zone. However, they will also differ when it comes to cost, watering range, flexibility, and durability.

Your preferences, the size and shape of your garden and also your budget should guide you when it comes to picking one between the two.

However, soaker hoses are often the best choice of the two for those that have small gardens that are on level ground.

Also, soaker hoses are the best when you want something easy to install that comes at a relatively more affordable start-up cost and also for raised beds.

Drip irrigation, on the other hand, is the best choice when you want to water larger gardens that are configured in long and relatively straight rows. Also, their versatility means that they will be great for sloped grounds.

Lastly, if cost is your main consideration it is important to note that a drip irrigation system will have a higher start-up cost but most will serve you for many years longer than soaker hoses.

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