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Sprinkler vs soaker hose – what’s the difference? And which one do you need when it comes to irrigating your backyard?
Choosing the best option for the lawn, beds and borders, and a veggie garden means you need to know how both a sprinkler and a soaker hose work and, therefore, whether you need one or the other – or perhaps both – for watering plants and keeping the entire yard growing well.
To help make caring for your yard easier we’ve put together a complete guide to the similarities and the differences in the head to head of sprinkler vs soaker hose, so you can invest wisely in one or both.
The pros and cons of a sprinkler vs soaker hose
Discover how they work and what they’re designed to do best. This is the skinny on sprinkler vs soaker hose from garden professionals.
What is a sprinkler?
A sprinkler attaches to a garden hose which is, in turn, attached to a faucet, or it is attached to underground pipes in an irrigation system. The water emerges from small holes in the sprinkler head.
Garden sprinklers with a spray head produce a constant stream of water in a fixed area.
A rotor sprinkler irrigates by moving in circles or part circles. It covers a wider area than a spray head does. The distance a sprinkler covers varies according to the model, so you can select to suit your yard’s dimensions.
‘A sprinkler is ideal for watering large areas of your garden, like the lawn or a flower bed,’ explains Melody Estes, a landscape design gardening supervisor from Maine and a consultant at The Project Girl (opens in new tab). ‘They’re good for watering long grass and flowers that need a lot of water to stay healthy. They can also help when it comes to watering plants while you're away from home for a few days or more.’
A sprinkler can also work well for particular planting. ‘Sprinkler hoses are perfect for sensitive and delicate plants that require a fine mist spray,’ says Edward Cantle, Gardena (opens in new tab) expert.
There are potential downsides to using a sprinkler. You may end up with water where it isn’t needed, for example on driveways and garden paths, and they can also make the atmosphere very humid.
‘The water will evaporate from the asphalt and raise the relative humidity in the air,’ explains Robin Antill, director at Leisure Buildings (opens in new tab). ‘Sprinkler systems may make the air in the yard extremely hot and dense in naturally humid locations because of the additional humidity they create.’
What is a soaker hose?
A soaker hose looks like a typical garden hose. However, there is a major difference. A soaker hose has pores along its length. These allow the slow escape of water from the hose.
A soaker hose is placed along the ground at the base of plants in a flowerbed or garden border so the water can easily reach the roots and doesn’t fall onto other parts of the plant from where it can evaporate.
When it comes to the best time to water plants, the good news is you can turn on a soaker hose and leave it for a period of time too, so it’s a low-effort way to irrigate plants, and it only requires low water pressure. ‘Not only are they cost effective, they’re water conserving too, saving up to 70 per cent water when compared to standard irrigation methods,’ says Edward Cantle.
As they come in a range of lengths, you can select a soaker hose to fit the area of the yard you are irrigating. You can also join them to suit your garden’s needs.
‘Soaker hoses are good for smaller areas, like a small vegetable garden,’ says Melody. ‘They have many small holes along the length of the hose, which allows them to distribute water very slowly over time. Soaker hoses are also great at keeping the soil around the roots moist without getting everything else too wet (which might lead to mold).’
Is a sprinkler or a soaker hose better for my garden?
Whether a sprinkler or a soaker hose is better for your garden may not actually be an either/or question. ‘Both are good and it depends on the type of area/garden and what you’re trying to do,’ explains Sarah Dixon, UK and international marketing manager at Hozelock (opens in new tab).
To pick the best option, think about the contents of your yard. ‘The key difference is the amount of water and where it is delivered to,’ says Sarah. ‘A sprinkler hose is better suited for foliage, grass and larger areas, whereas a soaker hose is ideal for the foots of flower beds and vegetable gardens for more targeted watering.’
Is a soaker hose better than a sprinkler?
A soaker hose is better than a sprinkler in specific circumstances. ‘In most situations, I recommend soaker hoses as they wet the whole root network, rather than just the foliage and top inch of soil,’ says expert gardener Emma Loker from DIY Garden (opens in new tab). ‘As the water penetrates deep into the earth, it encourages root growth.’
They are also effective for garden water saving. ‘Soaker hoses usually create less water waste in the form of runoff since they apply water more directly to the soil,’ says Darik Chandler from Rachio (opens in new tab). ‘Water is kept close to the plants, making evaporative water loss less of an issue.’
But if you need to water a large area in one go, a sprinkler will be preferable and can be fuss-free to use. ‘Sprinkler systems are automated and reliable, making it easy to water your plants without a lot of manual effort,’ says Darik.
Bear in mind that they can also be teamed with tech such as self-watering systems for better control over water use. ‘They can work with smart sprinkler controllers like the Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller to monitor weather patterns in your yard and deliver the right amount of water automatically,’ says Darik. ‘The water savings potential of combining a sprinkler system with a smart sprinkler controller can be a great solution.’
Can a soaker hose be connected to a sprinkler system?
Wondering if a soaker hose can be connected to a sprinkler system? It’s possible, but not advisable. ‘The two can be connected but the sprinkler hose will starve the soaker hose due to the greater output of water,’ says Sarah Dixon.
Can you use a soaker hose for your lawn?
A soaker hose isn’t the right choice for use on a lawn. ‘A soaker hose is unsuitable for lawn care as the coverage is too small,’ says Sarah Dixon.
Bear in mind that while a soaker hose can be long – we’re talking up to 100 feet long – they’ll water only a narrow strip. This won’t be the shape of any lawn, but of course it is ideal for rows of veggies, a bed of flowers or a line of trees.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes and gardens and loves investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper.
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