Careful stewardship of your water resources is a good policy whether you live in the semi-arid High Plains or along the rivers of eastern Kansas, but balancing conservation with effectiveness can be challenging in the garden. All those rows and beds! What is the most efficient way to water them without eroding your carefully improved soil or wasting a drop of one of your most valuable resources?
In an effort to solve this problem, some of you may be investigating soaker hoses. Experts usually agree that these hoses can cut down on the amount of water wasted in the garden. The question is, are they worth your money or not? The answer will vary from garden to garden. Weigh some of these pros and cons:
- Water conservation. A good soaker hose reduces water waste by delivering the moisture right to the roots of your fruits and vegetables. Combine the hose with a thick layer of mulch around the plants, and very little water will evaporate from your garden.
- Soil conservation. A soaker hose in good condition disturbs the soil very little, and therefore will not wash away soil, seeds, or seedlings.
- Time conservation. Turning on a soaker hose is much quicker and easier than watering by hand. While the hose drips away, you can bring in the harvest.
- Short lifespan. Soaker hoses tend to deteriorate quickly. As they age, their pores fill up with sediment and lose their ability to seep water. Furthermore, soaker hoses are very fragile. Crimping or stepping on a hose almost guarantees a leak, and this problem will only worsen with age. Always be careful when working around a soaker hose; it is very easy to slice one in half with a hoe.
- Limited coverage. The primary advantage of soaker hoses—water conservation—can also be a disadvantage if your plants are not growing in conventional rows. Remember, soaker hoses can only deliver water to the ground directly beneath them. Your garden layout is a key consideration in the soaker hose question.
- Low output. Kansas summers can be hot and dry, causing water to evaporate rapidly from both leaves and soil. During some parts of the summer, soaker hoses may not be able to deliver enough water fast enough to satisfy the needs of thirsty plants. Furthermore, a soaker hose will encourage a plant to grow roots near the surface of the soil. Once the top layer of soil dries up, the plant will wilt quickly because it does not have a deep root system to probe for more moisture.
In the end, you are the only one who can determine whether or not the benefits of soaker hoses will outweigh the shortcomings. If you are in a drought, on a tight budget, or have planted your fruits and vegetables in patches rather than rows, you may need to look for a better way to water your garden. On the other hand, if you only plant in rows and are willing to make repairs as necessary, you may find that soaker hoses are the best tool to help steward your water resources when conditions are favorable. Perhaps you will find that a combination of watering methods is the solution to your gardening challenges.
Weigh the pros and cons carefully, and do what makes the most sense for your unique circumstances.