Silence of the soaker hoses

Bacterial iron, a bacterium in well water, can plug up or severely restrict the flow of water through your soaker hose.

Soaker hoses have become very popular as a way to water for many gardeners. They can be an excellent means to conserve water because very little is lost to evaporation. There are the hoses that have small holes that slowly ooze into the soil and there are soaker hoses that exude water along the entire length of hose because the water soaks slowly through its skin.

Often, the hoses are snuggled into the mulch after they have been placed in serpentine shapes around plants. The idea is that once the soaker hose is filled with water, the gardener can leave it hidden away to supply moisture to thirsty plants.

But what most gardeners are not aware of is the soaker can quit doing its job even though the water is turned on. If the water comes from a well, many wells have something called “bacterial iron.” This is a bacterium in well water that derives its energy to live and multiply from oxidizing naturally-occurring dissolved iron in the water.

You will be aware of bacterial iron when you take the top off the toilet tank and there is a rust-colored slimy film clinging to the inside of the tank. It is why you have unwanted orange underwear and tee shirts. And it’s one of the reasons you purchased that water softener.

If the plumbing was done correctly in your house, the inside water goes through your water softener. The water to the outside does not. If it did, it decreases the life of the water softener. So outside, water can have much more bacterial iron.

Bacterial iron can plug up or severely restrict the flow of water through the soakers. Over a period of time, the hose becomes filled with a rusty-brown, gelatinous slime that does not move and blocks water leaving. Check your soaker hoses to see that the soil is moistened to the correct depth after watering. The hose might feel cool and damp, but little or nothing is escaping.

But whatever your water source, always check your soaker hoses periodically to see that they are leaking, weeping or oozing adequately to keep plants moist and healthy. Calcium deposits, small grains of sand and other debris can also plug up the works. Wilting stresses plants and may be fatal. And know when to say goodbye to nonfunctioning soaker hoses. Be there with water when the weather is not.

Related resources on water use or drought:

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