Drip Irrigation vs. Soaker Hoses

When watering goes from fun time with your plants to hated garden chore, it’s time for a watering system. One big install in the spring, and an even faster take-down project come winter, is all you need for a custom watering system in your garden.

Watering systems are efficient: they place water where it’s needed, slowing evaporation and saving you money on the water bill. Plus the time you’d spend hauling hoses and watering cans can now be spent peacefully admiring your happy garden.




Let’s be honest, chores that are easier and less time-consuming are more likely to get done. Even the most ardent gardeners can neglect their patches for a day or two, and summer heat quickly stresses annuals, perennials and veggies.

Installing a system takes a bit of work in late spring, then you’ve got one more to-do before winter sets in. Once installed however, you no longer have to lug out the sprinkler, tug at the hose or make countless trips to the tap to refill a watering can.

Take one trip to the spigot, then you’re free to survey your flowers and veggies unencumbered by watering paraphernalia of any kind.


Watering from above, whether by hand or sprinkler, typically means the leaves will get wet. Wet leaves are a favorite breeding ground for garden diseases. Systems that place water right at the roots lower the risk for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.

If summer is excessively damp, trim and thin your plants to provide more airflow. Too much foliage, plus overhead watering equals time and money spent on some (or many) anti-fungal remedies.

irrigation lines

WATER CONSERVATION (and healthier plants)

Summer sun bakes garden soil into a nearly impenetrable terrain. Water that showers from above hits packed, dry earth and splashes soil onto your plants (which can spread disease, particularly true for tomatoes) before running off into another part of the garden.

Place water where the plant needs it and lower the risk of a splashed rash on your ‘maters.

DROUGHT RESISTANCE (and healthier plants)

Deeply rooted plants are less likely to suffer from stress during a drought. If you water from above, the water won’t penetrate deeply. This forces plants to grow roots at the surface and become more susceptible to drought-induced stress.

Watering with a soaker or drip system allows the soil to absorb water slowly and, therefore, more deeply. Watering deeply encourages plants to send their roots down where it’s cooler and safer from drought stress.


Spring is the best time to lay out your system. Most perennials haven’t yet leafed out and vegetables are just going into the ground. You still have room to move around and make adjustments in the bare garden. 


In reality, you can install a watering system whenever plants are growing—so basically any time except winter. But try to install a system while your plants are still small so there is more space to work.


drip irrigation


Drip irrigation systems take a little more time to set up. You’ve got to lay out the tubing, cut the sections, insert the correct flow valve and place the drippers at the base of the plants.

The process, though more involved, makes the system highly customizable and water usage is particularly efficient. Water drips slowly and deeply right where you want it. If you need to span larger areas and want to use less water, consider a drip system.

What you'll need for installation:
  • Drip tubing and accessories
  • Optional two-way Y attachment with valves
  • Garden hose

soaker hose


There are two types of soaker hoses. One is flat, with holes on one side, so that lying up it makes a sprinkler and lying down seeps water directly into the soil.

The second type is a round hose made of porous material. Water leeches from its entire length, so it’s a one-trick pony.

Soaker hoses of both varieties are pretty simple to set up. Attach the soaker hose to your garden hose or directly to the faucet, lay it along the ground or encircle newly planted trees or shrubs and let it do its thing. The downside to hoses: You can’t pinpoint where the water will go so runoff wastes some resources.

What you'll need for installation:
  • Soaker hose
  • Optional two-way Y attachment with valves
  • Garden hose (optional)

The two-way hose Y is a nifty way to get two spigots from one. Hook it up and you won’t have to unscrew your hoses every time.


If you water from above, don’t water during the hottest parts of the day. Cold water on a hot plant can send tender flowers and vegetables into shock. Also, water droplets act like magnifying glasses on the leaves and the sun can leave burn marks.


Water in the morning or evening for the most efficient use of water. A high-noon sprinkling is more likely to evaporate than quench your veg’s thirst.

Did you know?

Drip systems work well for patio planters or container gardens. Lay the tubing around the perimeter of your space and place the drippers on the soil in the planters.