- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

It isn't that homeowners stopped having irrigation systems installed. They didn't. But a lot of people this summer discovered another efficient, less expensive way to water their gardens.

The appeal is obvious. It's an easy do-it-yourself project that is environmentally attractive. We're talking about soaker hoses, made from recycled automobile tires and used to create drip irrigation systems.

Soaker hoses are widely available for about $10 for a 50-foot hose. The water drips from tiny holes along the length of the hose, and the opening at the end is capped off.

The hoses generally are easy to snake into a garden bed to create an irrigation system. If you stretch them out on the lawn in the sun for 15 minutes or so before you begin, the rubber softens to make them easier to position.

Once installed, they can be hidden under a layer of mulch and then attached to a timer or not, as you please.

Because this has been a relatively cool, damp summer, an irrigation system with sprinkler heads on a timer and they are almost always on a timer would have been overkill. You don't want to drown your plants, create a muddy mess or waste water, all of which happen when you overwater a garden. What you want is a beautiful garden.

With a soaker hose or two, you turn on the faucet, and the hose weeps water slowly into the soil. This eliminates the evaporation, erosion and puddling problems caused by sprinklers and irrigation systems with sprinkler heads. It saves water, not to mention money.

The easiest place to install a soaker-hose irrigation system is in a garden bed close to the house and thus close to an outdoor faucet. It is simply a matter of snaking the hose around the plants and covering it with mulch. The very best time to do that is when the garden is new and the plants still are relatively small, but you can do it any time.

To secure the hose firmly, you can use "sod pins," widely available products that look like 6-inch hairpins and sell for about $2.50 for a package of 10. This is optional.

Sod pins have been manufactured for years to hold new sod to the ground on a hill or elsewhere to keep it from sliding or being disturbed before the grass roots take hold.

Now the sod pins have found new life as soaker-hose pins, holding the hose to the ground to keep it from being moved.

If you need to irrigate a garden bed that is across a lawn, away from the house, you need to connect a regular hose to the faucet, bury it under the lawn and connect a soaker hose to the other end to snake through the garden. In this case, sod pins become a little more important, to hold the hose down under the sod.

Of course, there are caveats.

A drip irrigation system made of recycled hoses would not be practical for watering a lawn, particularly a great rolling lawn such as the fairways of a golf course. For one thing, it would be too much of an undertaking to dig up all the sod to install the hoses. For another, there is a limit to how many of the hoses you can string together effectively, depending on your water pressure.

Though the manufacturers say the hoses contain a water-restricting device to control pressure, it is possible the pressure will be greater close to the faucet and then decline, say, 200 feet away if you string together four sections of 50-foot hose.

One way around this might be to use a two-way hose connector that you screw onto an outdoor faucet to create, in effect, two faucets for two soaker hoses for two garden beds instead of one long hose. The two-way hose connector costs about $2.

The soaker hoses don't seem to mind being buried outside all winter, and they come with a seven-year warranty. I imagine they will rot away eventually, as would an automobile tire, but they are relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.

They have another possible use that might be around the corner. That would involve an accessory or attachment not yet on the market to my knowledge that you would attach to the beginning of a soaker hose and into which you would insert fertilizer tablets. With that, you could fertilize the plants in your garden beds while watering them.

You could use the same system to fertilize your trees, forming a soaker hose into a circle along the tree's drip line and, instead of burying the hose in mulch, moving it from tree to tree.

Beyond that, you might be able to insert not fertilizer, but a pesticide into the attachment and run the soaker house around the foundation of your house to deter undesirable insects.

These last ideas are pure speculation, maybe wishful thinking, but soaker hoses are here to stay.

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