Polyurethane soaker hose in perennial bed

Being Aquarius 2: The Soaker Hose Project

Watering is necessary in this garden. Most of my perennial beds are near or right under big maples that suck up a lot of water. I’ve whined about them many times on the blog. In 2011, I wrote an entire post about watering (“Being Aquarius”). From June to September, I have to supply water, because I can’t count on any significant rain in those months. Predictions are for even drier, warmer summers.

My usual way to water has been with sprinklers — either an oscillating fan of water or a stationary circular spray. Each one is deployed for a two hour session in each area at least every two weeks. In especially hot periods, I increase the frequency to weekly. This routine has to take into account the local watering restrictions in force from May through September. I actually keep track of watering sessions in writing.

oscillating garden sprinkler fan shaped spray watering
Spray from oscillating sprinkler. Refreshing but wasteful. (Image from Pixabay)

The water dispensed through my sprinklers is potable municipal water. It’s piped miles from a reservoir, treated, and metered. It’s quite expensive — and so it should be, since it’s intended for human consumption. Even worse, a significant amount of it is lost to evaporation, especially on windy days.

There has to be a better way.

If I had another option, such as watering with stored winter rainwater from a cistern or giant tank, I would use that, but installing such features on my patch of paradise isn’t practical (or legal, come to that). There’s also “grey water,” but utilizing that involves plumbing-type installations I’m not keen on. So my water source for much of the gardening season is the giant storage facility known as the Sooke Lake Reservoir.

Many gardeners here have installed some form of drip or spot irrigation, with a network of plastic water lines, flow regulators, emitters, and mini-sprinklers. Over the winter, I actually thought about setting up one of these, but the idea of assembling all those bits and pieces doesn’t appeal to me. Neither does the prospect of puncturing, crushing, or cracking a water line while digging a hole for a new plant or digging up an existing one to move or divide it. Digging is sort of unavoidable in gardens, so it seems dumb to install a bunch of stuff that could be damaged thereby.

Enter the soaker hose. Again.

Old black rubber soaker hose coiled up
One of my old soaker hoses, not yet tested since returning from exile in the shed. This one might leak more than it should; note the tape on the right side.

Soaker hoses are made to ooze water from tiny holes along their entire length. The water drips onto the soil and soaks into it, becoming available to the roots of the plants in the bed. Altogether, this seems to be my best option for responsible, efficient watering.

Water oozing through holes in polyurethane soaker hose close up
The soaker hose gently weeps…

Confession time: I used soaker hoses years ago, but grew disenchanted with them and stashed them in the shed. Why did I abandon them and resort to sprinklers? Trust, or rather, lack of trust. Maybe because I didn’t see water spouting into the air, I didn’t believe the soakers were delivering enough of it to the plants. Soakers are subtle. They don’t produce fountains. They don’t leave the puddles or dripping foliage that follow a sprinkler watering. I could see that the soil near the soakers became visibly wet, but I couldn’t be sure the water was penetrating far enough or spreading widely enough to meet the needs of all the plants. So I started supplementing the soakers with water from cans or even sprinklers, which eventually made me wonder why I was bothering with the soakers at all. To the shed with them!

pink watering can
A seriously cute supplementary watering tool.

After doing a bit of research on soakers, I’m ready to try them again. Last week, I hauled them out, flushed them out, and laid out two of them in a couple of perennial beds. I also bought two new soakers, fairly expensive ones made of polyurethane, said to be superior in many ways to the old ones, which are made from used tires, and thus not recommended for use near plants intended to be eaten.

Black rubber soaker hose
Old black soaker hose among newly sprouted hardy geraniums.

Ideally, I would have prepped the beds and laid out the soaker hoses back in February, before plants sprouted. Even light, manageable hoses can’t be squiggled among tender new shoots without inflicting some damage. (Not to mention the feet of the gardener tromping around.) But we got a blast of winter in February, including snow. Spring was postponed, along with the Soaker Hose Project.

March swept in with sun and warmth. While I was getting organized, making lists, and going shopping for soaker hoses and magic dust (organic fertilizer), plants leapt out of the ground. At least one iris was snapped off and some tulip shoots roughed up while I was wrestling the hoses into place. Advice says soakers should be no farther than 18 inches apart on sandy soil. Mine are about two feet apart. (Hey — perfection is elusive.)

Once the soakers were in position I connected each one to the supply hose and turned the tap a modest one-sixth turn. A satisfying dribble of water appeared along the length of each hose. Right now, supplementary water isn’t needed. The real test will come in late May or early June. At that point, I’ll turn on the tap for a couple of hours and observe what happens. With luck, the hoses will weep and the gardener will rejoice.

primula white with yellow centres
By the time the soaker hoses are in use, these primulas will be finished blooming, but they look great right now.

34 comments

    1. The polyurethane kind (the light brown one in my photos) are supposed to be better than the black ones made of recycled tires, especially in food gardens. The used rubber is said to contain toxins that might be taken up by plants. Amazon sells them, I believe.

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  1. Good luck Audrey. I applaud your willingness to try soaker hoses. In the desert southwest, I see a lot of irrigation set up to simulate soaker hoses. I too hate to see water sprayed in hot dry weather, thinking that much of it evaporates without hitting plant leaf or root.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m hoping that the way I’ve laid the hoses out will ensure good coverage with minimal evaporation. Another factor is that overhead watering can cause some plants to flop or even break when their leaves get really wet.

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  2. Back a few years, I was still physically able to work in the garden and I enjoyed my flowers a lot. This house has a well. After we bought it, I had the pump replaced and that’s what I always used for watering. Maybe you could dig a well (that’s probably pretty costly, of course.) Are wells legal or possible up where you live?

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    1. I doubt if that ‘s permitted in this municipality, which is semi-urban suburbia, if you know what I mean. People in rural areas around here do have wells. I also see great big tanks that presumably fill with water from house roofs during the winter. I’ve even thought about where I’d put such a thing, but there isn’t much scope on a 50 x 120 foot lot with a house, garage, etc. I do have a number of rain barrels, but since it hardly rains here in the summer months, they don’t help after May or early June. But gardening is a pretty flexible proposition. I can try different plants and different methods to get things to grow.

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      1. This is off the point of watering gardens, but you might be interested to know that I reviewed Islands of the Gulf, Part 1. It’s up on Amazon and Goodreads.

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        1. Actually, I’ll be glad to see some rain. March was really dry, and even though I’m chuffed about my soaker hoses, I’d rather not have to use them for a couple of months. 🙂 And it’s always nice to have actual rainwater in the rain barrels.

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  3. If you ever come up to Tofino Audrey I will give you the soaker hose I have. I tried to grow some vegetables in a cold frame and used a soaker hose for watering.
    I failed miserably. I’d starve if I relied upon my self to grow a half decent garden!

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    1. Well, the only edible plants I grow here are tomatoes (in pots) and a few herbs. Most of my garden is shrubs, perennials, and self-sown annuals like California poppies. And actually, I will be in your area in July, with a pal from Toronto. So keep that hose handy. 🙂

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  4. We have 5 small water butts and a tank; this involves lots of trudging around with watering cans; yesterday I had to water most of my tubs. Last hot summer the rainwater was soon gone and lucky we have a downstairs bathroom ( no ensuite shower room alas ) – I dunked the watering cans in the bathwater and carried them out the front door! But still have to occasionally use tap water – as it’s on a meter, try to avoid doing that. ps I’m loving being in Egypt in your novel.

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    1. Wow, Janet, that would be a lot of work, lugging watering cans of bathwater. I’ve thought about it but not done it. Hence the soakers, which are at least efficient. And I’m thrilled you’re enjoying She Who Comes Forth!

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