Sprinkle, Soak, Drip…Or What?
Living Green

Sprinkle, Soak, Drip…Or What?

If you’ve ever asked what is the best way to irrigate a garden, join my club. Having gardened for several years in an area that is known for getting little to no rain from June to August with high temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for as long, I have tried several garden irrigation methods.

While they all have their advantages, sometimes the disadvantages turn gardening into a near-nightmare. Watering by hand comes to mind here, especially when the size of your garden goes beyond 32 square feet, and especially when you’re talking about growing vegetables in the heat and drought of the Southern United States summer. To make hand irrigation its most effective in that case, you would spend one to three hours – depending on the size of your garden – soaking the entire garden area with a hose once or twice a week.

Most of us are way too busy to even think about doing such a thing, or at least have better things to do with our time.

That leaves three hands-off irrigation methods to choose from: sprinklers, soaker hoses and drip irrigation.


Many gardening experts advocate against the use of sprinklers, claiming that to get the foliage of the plants wet is to cause disease. As the absolute best way to irrigate a vegetable garden is to let nature do it with rain, I’m not sure this claim – pardon the pun – holds water.

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Especially if you do the sprinkling right. Set up a sprinkler – or set of sprinklers – so that not only the garden beds, but the soil surrounding the beds, will get moistened. Let the sprinklers go for three to four hours once a week in the early morning.

This method is powerful because it imitates rain. With soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems, the soil surrounding the plants – without regular rain – dries up. And when this soil dries up, it begins to wick water away from your garden plants, just as a dry sponge wicks water out of a wet sponge. So thoroughly wetting your entire yard once a week provides a deep watering that prevents competition for water consumption among the various foliage located there.

Soaker hoses

Sprinkle, Soak, Drip…Or What?

If you live in a semi- to dry area as I do, you may want to conserve water, making the soaker hose and drip irrigation methods a bit more eco-friendly than a three-hour sprinkling, albeit only once a week.

Soaker hoses use less water than sprinklers and more than drip irrigation lines. They are much less expensive than a drip irrigation system, but the run-of-the-mill black hoses sold at home improvement and hardware stores have two problems:

  1. They are difficult to configure the way you want them, and
  2. If left exposed to the sun and freezing weather they may only last a couple of years.
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If you want to use soaker hoses to irrigate your garden but avoid these two problems, there are a few brands out there that are a bit more expensive but better made to handle the elements – and more flexible.

Drip irrigation

If you want to use as little water as possible, a drip irrigation system is your answer. It delivers water directly to the roots of each individual plant, at the rate of something like one gallon per drip hole per hour. If you do container gardening, you will still use a lot of water, but less so than when watering the containers by hand.

You can purchase some drip irrigation parts from home improvement stores; we bought our system from DripWorks.com because they carry everything and also provide great customer service in the event the assembly directions confuse you (it’s really not as hard as it first looks!).