How To Install Soaker Hose For Inexpensive Drip Irrigation

How-To's, Irrigation · Written by Roger

22 Comments

In the previous article on watering to the core, we looked at the importance of maintaining moisture at the center of a plant’s root ball.

The soaker hose provided one method to efficiently water plants by concentrating water over the root system.  This is essentially what drip irrigation does.

Drip irrigation is typically installed on the surface or slightly below.  The water is delivered by pipe and/or tubing and then dispersed through various types of emitters.  Often, drip irrigation zones are part of automatic systems with programmable controllers.

The basic, store-bought soaker hose we talked about in the last article can be installed as a simple and inexpensive drip-system.

The following pictures will help you visualize the process.  Click on any of them to get a larger version.

measuring soaker hose

Picture 3

Arborvitae 'Emerald Green'

Picture 1

Arborvitae 'Emerald Green'

Picture 2

Picture 1 shows a group of “Emerald Green” Arborvitae that were recently installed.  The sandy soil and nearby maple tree has made it difficult to keep these new plants moist.  A basic soaker hose will do a great job of watering very efficiently.  Here’s how it’s done.

In picture 2 the mulch has been pulled back a comfortable distance of 2′ or so from the plants using a steel garden rake.  The soaker hose will be installed on top of the bare soil directly over the root balls.

This particular soaker hose is 50′ long with a threaded coupling at each end (1 male, 1 female).  This allows you to connect them for longer lengths if needed, but stay below 100′ for good operation.

For the 3 arborvitae the 50′ length is plenty.  In picture 3 the hose is measured and divided into 3 equal lengths…one section per plant.  Tape is used to mark the 2 points on the hose length to distinguish the 3 sections.  Now you have visual indicators for how much hose you can dedicate to each plant.

soaker hose

Picture 4

soaker hose

Picture 5

soaker hose

Picture 6

Start with the plant furthest from the water faucet.  Take the end of the soaker hose with the “male” threaded end and stake it to the ground just under the plant using a sod staple.  (This male end should have a cap on it.)  You’re really pushing the sod staple into the top of the root ball.

Now, as seen in picture 4, begin to circle the first plant with the soaker hose.  Be conscious of the tape marking the first of the 3 sections.  Remember, you want to dedicate a section per plant.  2 to 3 turns around each plant seemed to work well.  Stay relatively close to the plant to ensure you’re right over the root  ball.

Picture 5 shows the sod staples holding down the hose.  Use your judgement with where you position them.  Wherever the hose  is loose and won’t stay in position, that’s where you need a staple.

If you’ve divided the hose evenly between the 3 plants, the last one will have a few turns around it before you come to the end with the female coupling (picture 6).  Double check to make sure you have enough staples securing the soaker hose down.

soaker hose

Picture 7

Go ahead and connect a garden hose to the coupling so you can turn the water on and test the soaker hose.  Many come with a disc-like washer with a small (1/8″) hole in the center.  This is designed to reduce the house water pressure so the soaker hose operates correctly.

I find these disc washer pressure reducers (that’s a mouthful) annoying and prefer to remove them.  You could purchase a pressure regulator that attaches to the faucet, but if you just turn the faucet on a quarter to one-half turn, that works fine too.

You want the water to “sweat” from the hose’s pores something like in picture 7.  Adjust the faucet until you see it “sweating” adequately.

soaker hoseWith the soaker hose secured to the ground and tested, you can now replace the mulch around the plants.

The mulch hides the hose and insulates the ground so it stays moist longer.  If you need to test and see how the hose is performing, it’s easy to expose.

How much and how long to water?

The answer to this question is always “it depends”.  There are numerous variables such as soil type, size of plant, time of year, etc. that will determine the watering amount and schedule.  And, of course, the schedule will change with time.

These arborvitae were initially watered every other day for one hour each time.  Arborvitae, by their nature, prefer moist conditions.  The sandy soil and root competition from the maple tree also influenced a “generous” watering schedule to start.

After 10 days or so we changed the schedule to once every 3rd day.  That’s where we’re at now and I’ll continue with that until this heat spell breaks.

Testing the soil moisture below ground is and always will be the best indicator for a plant’s water needs.  I use a moisture meter all the time because it’s critical for me to know what’s going on down there.

Most people don’t have a moisture meter, so try pushing a metal rod or long screwdriver into the ground near the plant.  When you pull the rod out look to see if the metal is moist or there’s moist soil on it – that’s a good sign.  If the rod is wet and muddy, the soil is probably too wet. If the rod comes out dry, increase the watering amount and/or schedule.  At the very least, pull the mulch back near the plant and check the soil beneath.  See if it looks and feels moist.

Watering and irrigation is a huge topic and I’ll continue to present aspects that should be considered for healthy plants.

What experiences have you had with keeping plants properly watered?  Have you lost plants from over-watering?

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    22 Responses to “How To Install Soaker Hose For Inexpensive Drip Irrigation”

    1. Eng Jamal Says:

      Dear Madam,Sir,

      Could you please send me Design manual guide for porous pipe ( subsarface irrigation and how can we control flows and pressure in the porous pipe and please send me pressure loss chart for this pipe

      Regards
      Eng Jamal

    2. Roger Says:

      Hello Jamal,
      Your question is for technical data. I don’t have information like that and would have to research it myself. I suggest you visit the website of the irrigation supply company I use. http://www.aquariussupply.com/irrigation.asp They have resources from many manufacturers in the industry.
      I hope this helps.
      Thank you,
      Roger

    3. frank Says:

      Great article. Remember, filtration is vital to a good drip system. Drip can solve many water shortage issues and many companies are pushing drip, especially subsurface drip with great success. Subsurface drip tape is used extensively for tomato, cotton and alfalfa production.

    4. Martha Says:

      This soaker hose design is fine for strong big arborvitae. I want to place a soaker hose along a newly planted row of roses (for eventual climbing) and clematis. Particularly the clematis have very delicate stems at the beginning. One accidental flip of a soaker hose would rip the new growth right off the lattice. Circling each plant isn’t practical. Any suggestions?

    5. Roger Says:

      Martha,
      Instead of encircling each plant, run the soaker hose straight. Go on one side of the stem along the row of plants and then return down the other side.

      When working near delicate stems (young clematis) move carefully and have a handful of the sod staples. This way can keep securing the hose down as you go.

      After you’re done setting up the soaker hose, let it run for awhile (time the duration) and check the soil moisture. The key here is to determine how long to run the water to soak the soil sufficiently. Once you know the time factor you can just repeat that each time you water.

    6. Tom McManus Says:

      Roger — Great articles. I have a perennial garden in Pittsburgh. I fight a big maple tree for water, so I am thinking about putting in an irrigation system. This could be a soaker hose or building in zoned sprinklers. The area is not large 16 x 40 and part of it closest to the maple is on a slope. Would an evening or morning mist or sprinkle better or worse then a drip hose?

      Thanks,
      Tom

    7. Roger Says:

      Tom,
      Competing with a maple for moisture and nutrients is a never ending battle. Aerial watering by mist/spray heads or rotary heads would have to happen frequently to keep up with the garden plants’ demands and their competition w/ the maple. The slope is another issue in terms of water run-off.

      The soaker hose or drip-zone is probably the more efficient way to go. Another point to mention is that frequent aerial watering with above-ground sprinkler heads will also wet the foliage each time. This can create an environment for disease and other plant problems.

    8. Tom McManus Says:

      Thanks !! Good thoughts. Will want to add in some flower box drip hoses too. ;-)

    9. Joan Marie Says:

      Thank you! Just bought a house with my very first yard. I felt very ignorant about the soaking procedure. Since I have 9 trees/shrubs being delivered next week — your article has provided me with EXACTLY the information I needed! It is appreciated.

    10. Roger Says:

      Thanks, Joan. Glad the info. helped.
      Let me know if you have any questions as you get involved with your new home’s landscape.
      Oh!…and good luck with everything.

    11. Emi Says:

      Hi Roger,
      Thank you for the great article. I want to set up a soaker hose for my rose garden, which consist of a raised bed with about 10 roses and a row against a fence with 8 roses.

      A total length of hose I need is about 160′. I heard issues with even distribution of water with a soaker hose. Is it better for me to install 1 long hose or 2 hoses (1 for the raised bed and 1 for a fence line by using splicers)?

    12. Roger Says:

      Emi,
      You’re probably better off “splitting” that 160′ as you mentioned. It’s very likely you’ll get less water coming out towards the end of a 160′ run – 80 foot runs should be more uniform in volume.

      I would still be attentive to the “actual” moisture levels in the soil by the plants – at least at first once the system is set up. There will still be specific details you’ll want to be aware of so you can adjust timing, frequency and maybe even adjust in other ways due to variations in soil, exposure, etc. And you will not be sure of the uniformity of water volume (even with 80′ runs) until you run the system and check. You can usually watch the water “sweating” out of the soaker hose at various points along the run to see if it’s coming out uniformly.

    13. ethyle riawetz Says:

      I have set up a 4 hose system using soaker/sprinkler hoses.my question is I would like to raise them from the ground slightly but can’t find anything that will work any suggestions

    14. Roger Says:

      Ethyle,
      Why do you want to elevate the soaker hose? Is it so you can check to see that the water is coming out?

      What if you put short stakes in the ground (at intervals) and used twist-ties to tie the soaker hose at the height you want? Also, this will keep the soaker hose from moving around in the garden. You can buy a continuous spool of twist-tie at good garden stores. It’s vinyl coated and you can cut it to any length. I’ll bet Home Depot has it in their garden dept. And Home Depot carries wooden stakes at various lengths (12″, 24″, etc.) in their construction dept. I use them on jobsites for various purposes. The 12″ ones would work perfectly for this. They also sell short pieces of steel re-bar. Those would work for stakes too.

    15. Dave S Says:

      I’ve had soaker hoses, over dirt & under weed fabric. Mulch on top. If I connect the soaker directly to sprinkler zone, will I still need the aerial sprinklers? Back flow valve? Pressure reducer? The plastic discs, in the soaker don’t live long.
      I’m leaning toward no aerials, with back flow valve & fixed pressure regulator

    16. Roger Says:

      Dave,
      Interesting idea. First, you can eliminate the need for aerial sprinklers if your drip system will cover all those plants you wish to be irrigated. We have challenges with drip systems when we later add seasonal plantings like annuals, and the drip system is not near those plants to irrigate them.

      Secondly, rather than use soaker hose I would just install legitimate drip line like Netafim that’s designed for the application you’re intending.

      If you visit an irrigation supply company in your area they should supply the materials and guidance you’ll need.

      The drip zones on my projects are just separate zones on a complete property system that typically has rotary head zones and spray head zones.

    17. emily Says:

      I have just purchased 17 6′ emerald cedars that line the back of my property. The are planted quite closely together. When i try to weave the soaker hose between them the soaker hose forms kinks and then the water does not flow properly where the kink is formed. Do you think it is sufficient for me to just place the hose at the base of the cedars in a line at the front? Or, does the hose need to encircle them? thanks

    18. Rosanna Says:

      I have a private hedge that was installed this year (April 2015) and I need to know if I should have the soaker hose running on both sides of the hedge and then place the mulch on top.
      Thanks

    19. Roger Says:

      Emily,
      Are you not able to zig-zag, aka figure-8 your way through the row? That is, don’t try and circle each plant, just zig-zag through them like a slalom skier would. :-)

      Otherwise, just run straight up the one side and then return down the other side.

      Experiment with the duration of time you run the soaker hose. For example, run it for 1 hr and then stick a metal rod down into the soil adjacent to the root ball — pull the rod out and see how moist it is from the soil. You want the rod to show just moist soil; not wet.

    20. Roger Says:

      Rosanna,
      Yes, run the soaker hose up each side of the hedge. And use the “U-shaped” wire staples to keep the hose secured to the ground. You can take wire coat hangers and cut them to make 2 “U-shaped” staples out of each hanger.

      Then add your mulch layer on top.

    21. Prashant Says:

      Roger,

      Thanks for the information. I have a question about the pressure. I plan on planting 62 arborvitae greens in a U shape next to my backyard fence. Can I connect let’s say 8-100 ft soaker pipes with a 2 way valve between each 100 ft. Woiuld the end of the pipe get water?

      How would you suggest to set that up?

    22. Roger Says:

      Prashant,
      If I understand correctly you’ll have 4 of 2-way valves — each 2-way valve will handle 200′, i.e. 100′ on each side of the valve. Correct?

      Water pressure is a factor. But even with good water pressure I would not go beyond 100′ runs (lengths). I’ve realized that at 100′ the rate of water exiting out at “the end” of the 100′ run is typically less than it is closer to “the source”. The only way to gauge the performance is to test. Set up the different scenarios you’re considering and pressurize each — one at a time. Observe the amount of water coming out a various points along the lengths of soaker hose.

      Even if the amount of water is slightly less at the far end of the 100′ run, which again is typical, you would simply allow enough time during each watering session to adequately water the Arbs at the far end. Not to worry, Arborvitae will accept the extra water at the “source end”.

      Also, if possible, I would operate one 2-way valve at a time, i.e. 200′ of soaker hose. Operating more than 200′ at a time will likely give inadequate water. Again, testing is your best bet.

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