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Garden Edition

Water-saving products for the garden: soaker hoses

by Linda Coyner

At a recent regional Water Symposium in south Florida, I realized that information on the various kinds of water-saving products for the garden is sadly lacking. As a result, this column over the next few months will share the latest research on products such as soaker hoses and in upcoming months, hydrogels, gator bags and tree collars, hose nozzles, and rain barrels.

Soaker hoses offer the perfect delivery of water to plants: slowly, steady release at the soil line. This ensures that water is not wasted. The slow release allows the soil around plant roots to gradually absorb the water. And the proximity of the hose to soil means that very little if any is lost to evaporation.

The soaker hose is actually the grandfather of the drip irrigation system. It's a long tube made of perforated or porous plastic or rubbersometimes recycled rubberwith hose fittings at one or both ends. When you attach a soaker to a regular hose and turn on the water supply, water seeps in sweat-like beads from the hose along its entire length.

A soaker hose is different from a sprinkler hose. The sprinkler type mists and sprays water, which isn't as effective a water delivery as the sweat-beads of a soaker hose.

In the past, soaker hoses were recommended for plants in level beds of running rows, the way you might plant a vegetable garden. Soaker hoses, in fact, can be used that way in a wide, mixed ornamental bed. An easier way is to snake the hose back and forth around the plants, trees and shrubs. Since there's no straight line in my beds, I find snaking a hose works best. In the case of thirstier plants, I encircle a plant twice.

Hoses come in various sizes and lengths: 1/4" 1/2" and 5/8" diameters; 25, 50, 75, and 100 foot lengths. I've bought two brands in the process of converting my watering system to be water-frugal, Fiskars (at Costco) and Better Homes & Gardens (Wal-Mart).

Here are some questions I wrestled with when I first started working with soaker hoses:

How close should I run the hoses for even watering?
It depends on the soil type. In Florida's sandy soil, place the hose about 16 inches apart. On loam, 1.5 to 2 feet is recommended; on clay soil, 2 to 3 feet.

Where does the hose go vis a vis the mulch and soil?
The best place for the hose is under mulch or as deep as 6 inches in the soil. Mulch and soil won't interfere with water delivery, and doing so has other advantages. Besides hiding the black hose, it also protects the hose from UV rays, thereby prolonging the life of the hose. Burying it also aids moisture retention and helps prevent the growth of weeds. Be careful to lay the hose flat and as close to level as possible for even watering. A change in elevation (whether it is actual terrain or simply a lump of mulch) of 10 inches will be a problem.

How many minutes do I run the soaker hose?
One way is to check water penetration with a trowel or soil sampling tube after a certain period of time. Then you'll know how long it takes, assuming you use approximately the same setting at the faucet. Fiskars is more scientific: in 200 minutes, a 5/8-inch soaker hose applies approximately 1 inch of water per 50 foot length at a faucet flow rate of 1/2-gallon per minute. For 3/4- inch of water, 150 min.; for 1/2-inch of water, 100 min.; for 1/4-inch of water, 50 min.

Once you've figured out your delivery rate, use a time at the faucet to turn off the water. Lacking that, set a timer inside so you'll know when to turn the water off.

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©2002 Linda Coyner for SeniorWomenWeb

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