Soaker or Drip System?


House Mother, Cheerleader
As some of you know, I'm building a model railroad on a narrow terrace in my back yard. I'm on the So. California coast where temps are mild year-round. We'll have ground cover and miniature plants, and a few "scale" trees that we will keep small (pruned and purposely root-bound). There will also be some rocks for visual interest, and gravel to represent roads.

I want to avoid hand-watering with a hose, to minimize disruption of the tracks, ballast, buildings, and "paving." (Also, I lean toward laziness.)

We're considering using a soaker hose vs. a more permanent drip system, but we don't know enough about the pros and cons to feel strongly either way.

Any suggestions??
I'd use a drip system. You don't want a soaker hose visible in the scenicked portions of your layout. Drip systems can be buried (quite shallow) underground. They'll be out of site, and cover exactly what you need covered. They even have little sprinkler heads to spray areas like moss that need more moisture over a large area.

They're quite cheap, and I've found them to be pretty durable. Buy a packaged kit or two at your local home improvement center and you're all set to go.
I didn't know the difference in the systems, but I believe around here most folks use a buried system. I guess first and foremost is the lawn mowers don't tangeled up in them, and the sun doesn't get a chance to deteoriate them so they last longer. The second point is there is a better distribution of water in the soil. As I said I don't know much about it since I don't water my crab grass and weeds, they're quite hardy. I agree with Bob, bury it and forget about it except to turn it on once in awhile.
Cheers Willis

I, too, would recommend using the drip system. While soaker hoses can also be "hidden" under rocks, "trees", etc., they should not be buried. Nor are they the most efficient water use for your application. A soaker hose typically spreads water approximately a foot wide (and 6 inches deep) along its entire length. Using the drip system, the main distribution line can be buried (shallow is all that is necessary) and feeder tubes inserted where ever needed. Individual 'drip' heads can be installed for each plant that needs watering without wasting water on "roads" or rocks. And drip system components have progressed to the point that you can get not only the standard drip heads (where the water slowly accumulates, then "drips" off), but spray heads that act as miniature irrigation systems.

If you do decide on the drip system, there are two components you MUST add (both will be described in the drip system guide that is either included in the package you buy or available at the store where you get your components). The first is a pressure regulator. Too much water pressure and you can blow the fittings apart. It's not expensive; the last one I bought at Wal-Mart was under $5.00. The second item is a filter. The grade or style you need will be determined by the mineral content of your water. Your water utility can tell you exactly what the mineral content is. An easy way to tell is by the taste -- if the water tastes good, it has a light content. If it tastes flat, it has a very low content. If it tastes funny, or chemical, or metallic, it has a high content. Filters aren't terrible expensive either, running from around $10.00 to over $40.00 but will greatly extend the life of your system.

And you may even want to consider putting the system on a timer so you don't even have to remember to turn it on and off.

Good luck with which ever way you go --


PS: When you install the components, install the filter first (connected directly to the water outlet) then the regulator. The filter will work more efficiently on the higher pressure water and the regulator will last longer with filtered water.
Thanks, fellas! Kevin, thanks so much for your thorough and detailed information! It's off to Home Depot once it stops raining today. :D
Oh, you betcha we do! It only rains like it has this year about every 20 years or so. We forget that we live in what's essentially a desert! We're constantly reminded to keep water conservation in mind when we landscape. That's another good reason to pop for the drip system!

By the way, I found this great site. Everything you ever wanted to know about drip irrigation!
LR, I've used both.

Soakers (yes, they can be buried if you get the type that CAN be buried) are better where there more "area" than "spots" that need water, like a ground cover that spreads (grass, etc). I also use a soaker along the foundation to prevent it from drying out and shifting. How much/fast/etc it spreads from the hose is dependent on soil type.

Drippers are better for individual plants. Drippers can be controlled a bit tighter, moved easier and can be adjusted separately by changing the head. Soakers are one-size fits all and like to get ensnared in root sytems (the small roots love the water....). After a few years, moving a buried soaker is not an option....
Thanks, Ken! The drip system does seem like our best bet, for the reasons you describe. Since my layout is so small, even the "areas" are more like "spots." This will be a learning experience, considering all the water delivery options available with a drip system. This is going to be fun!
> Since my layout is so small, even the "areas" are more like "spots."

You can also do areas with a drip system, and do them quite well. They now have little sprinkler heads, in full circle, half circle and quarter circles. I seem to recall they'd easily do 3 or 4 feet of area. You can also place them next to each other for more coverage. I was very happy with my system.
Sore Thumbs

I spent the last three days laying out a drip system for my garden railway. Boy, are my thumbs sore!!! Anyone who's worked with this stuff knows how hard it is to shove those little connecting barbs and drip emitters into the 1/4" tubing. It's almost finished, though. All I have to do now is tweak, straighten, and bury the tubing, and get a couple of parts to hook the system to the hose outlet.

Thanks again Kevin, for your tips. I have the pressure regulator and backflow preventer, but I still need a filter and have some thread incompatibilities to resolve.

The picture shows the center section of the layout. The tile on the ground is the "foundation" for "Gramma's House," and the little Azalea on the left of that will be set into the ground, pot and all, to keep it from getting too big. The red things you see are little pieces of barrier / safety tape I used to mark the spots where the drip emitters needed to go.

I have't installed any sprinklers yet (it looks like the drippers may do the job), although that's still an option. We did include a length of tubing that has holes every 12 inches for a ring of mondo grass plugs that will encircle one part of the layout.
Hello Lady Railfan what are all those plants that are like little bushes? will they get any bigger? we have a Azalea at the back of the house it is very pretty with flowers you should let it grow
The flat green plants in that picture are Irish Moss. I hope they'll spread to form a solid mat to look like a lawn, and not grow much taller.

The azalea is a miniature --- that's a 4-inch pot. I'll sink the pot into the ground with gravel beneath it for drainage, so I can use Bonsai-like tecnhiques to keep it rootbound and in scale with the buildings. I got it for Christmas, so I think it was forced to bloom early this year.
I know I'm a bit late adding my 2 cents, But, I live in the High desert of Nevada, and I use a drip system, not only on the railroad, but for irrigation of all plants/trees on the 5 acres. The system will not waste water, it only puts it where you want it.

I use the flag drippers, less clogging like the button drippers.
Don't be stingy with the size of the dripper I use 2 gal. drippers on all plants on the RR.
Thanks for your advice, Tiny. I used buttons to begin with, but there are already a couple of them that have apparently clogged. Flags are on the shopping list for my next trip to Home Depot.

All in all, I'm very happy with the system. I'm still twiddling with the tubing to get it to lay flat and stay buried. It tends to pop up, even with wire "staples" holding it down. I need a really hot day to soften it a bit so I can twist it into submission. :)
Keeping the feeder lines buried

ON a hot day uncoil the lines you want to use next, and leave them in the hot sun.. it will straighten out real nice and be easy to deal with.. even the small 1/4 inch line will work better if warmed up in flat line...

Some times the lay of the land is too sharp to keep some of the line buried, then dig down over the hose and drop a rock on it, then half cover the rock.. it will look like the rock grew there.. I use several rocks if I feel like it..