Don’t Just Water — Soak!

How to make watering easier and more efficient.

Soaker hoses ensure that water percolates to the root zone of your plants. This Flat Soaker Hose is especially good for smaller beds because it forms curves easily.

Whenever I plant a new flower garden for one of my clients, I give the “watering talk,” in which I underscore the importance of watering during the first year. I note that standing at the garden’s edge with a hose and a sprayer (one hand on the hip), is not watering. Sure, it might feel good, but it’s not watering.

Watering is a slow process, best done by the drop. By using soaker hose or drip irrigation, you ensure that water percolates to the root zone. I recommend adding a soaker hose to any new garden, putting it in place before the mulch goes down. Another good addition: a timer. That way, you don’t have to remember to shut the hose off. I like soakers better than drip systems because they’re more temporary. It’s easy to move or reconfigure as the garden evolves and plants are added or moved. Although you can leave the soaker in place through the winter, I take the whole thing up in fall because it’s easier to do garden clean-up.

Even existing garden beds benefit from a soaker hose because it makes it easy to water efficiently and thoroughly. No need to set up a sprinkler and adjust its coverage. No wasted water due to runoff. Just hook up the hose and let it soak. No excuses, no problem!

My most recent project was a 50 x 50-foot flower garden that’s on a 45-degree slope. Because of the 45-degree site, the garden looks magnificent, especially when viewed from the porch. At the top of the slope, the surrounding woodland forms a nice backdrop. However, the clients found it difficult to water the bed because of the size and the incline. Plus, the upper section of the garden is often dry while the lower section remains on the wet side. We solved the problem with four 50-foot soaker hoses. Near the top of the slope, I set up a four-way valve with a length of soaker hose connected to each opening. From there, I ran the hoses across the slope — not up and down, which would affect the flow of water. By having four zones, the clients can water the drier sections as needed. I used Earth Staples to anchor the soaker hose and then covered the whole thing with bark mulch.

These soaker hose gardens always thrive because watering is easy and effective. Did I say that it’s easy? Now, if I could just get my clients to remember to feed their plants.

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9 Responses to Don’t Just Water — Soak!

  1. Rosalie says:

    This year I installed several soaker hoses to take care of all my plants just like you describe with a timer. I am a lazy gardener and sometimes would forget to water my babies when they were thristy. So this keeps my plants healthy and happy. My problem is that at some points the hose weeps lots and others it weeps little starving the plants of water. How closely should you plan to lay the soaker hoses to have ample coverage? If you don't see wetness on the surface of the ground is it making the bed wet underneath? I have some African Impatients that are directly beside the hose and they are forever thristy.

  2. Meg says:

    Hi David,
    I have the same questions as Rosalie plus some. I attach my soaker hoses from the main spigot each time I use them (I know this is probably not the best way but we have water pressure concerns in this old house.) How long do I need to leave it on? I guess since I can't see wet soil, it just feels like it isn't working very well.

  3. The best way to monitor your soaker hose's performance is to stick your finger into the soil. The rate at which water travels through the soil depends on the soil composition. For instance, if you have sandy soil, water is more likely to go down — you won't see much spread. With loam, you're more likely to get some horizontal spread.

    Soaker hoses will not work properly on a slope — unless you cut across the slope, keeping the hose relatively level. Gravity!

    If your water pressure is inconsistent, you might try a pressure regulator, which ensure a consistent flow into the hose.

    Thanks for your comments, and good luck!

    -David, Gardener's Supply

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have had trouble getting a timer to work when I run a soaker hose (timer never shuts off the flow). I always just assumed that the flow of water is so slow out of the spigot when a soaker is hooked up that the timer won't work. Any ideas?

  5. I've had good luck with simple timers. I actually use the one we sell. The only time I've had one fail is when I've left it outside all winter.

    Here's the one we sell:,38-251,default,cp.html

    -David, Gardener's Supply

  6. Thanks, this is a great topic. I strongly suggest (insist, actually) that all my clients invest in some sort of watering system when we plant new trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, groundcovers. System is the operational word here. That could be as simple as a sprinkler attached to a timer. Usually that is not the best solution though as David describes. Soaker hoses are the next best thing. They are easier to install than drip irrigation pvc pipe and they work as well. A very important aspect of using the soaker hose system, if you don't want to take it up each fall, is to bury the hose under an inch or two of soil using landscape staples to keep it in place.
    Regarding timers, I have found the same problem with many manual timers, there is not enough water flow to make them work properly, so I have turned to electronic timers. The newest ones are quite easy to program, and not expensive.
    Once you tweak your soaker hose watering system to work just right, you'll be all set for the season!

  7. TerriJ says:

    I have been using soaker hoses and appreciate the additional info here…but still do not see the answer about how long to let the soaker hose run…I've been using a manual timer but just guess about the time for it to run…the timer for me so far has been to not forget the soaker is on rather than having it on for an appropriate length of time! HELP!

  8. Hi TerriJ,

    Sorry to be unclear on that point. I don't use the timer to set up regular, automatic intervals for watering. I use the timer so I don't forget to turn the soaker off.

    I use the soaker only when rainfall is insufficient. I stick my finger in the soil. If it's dry down there, I water usually for 30-60 minutes.

    I've set up lots of soaker hose this year and, of course, rainfall has been well above normal. Oh well.

    -David, Gardener's Supply

  9. Nice post! I also use soaker hose and its so cool. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing.


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