Garden hoses are like the tires on your car or the water heater in your house: You rely on them but hardly ever think about them. And when they do finally wear out, you’re resentful.
Not only are they costly to replace, but they’re just so unsexy. Who wants to spend money on a hose when you could get a couple of flats of the newest Plant Select flowers instead?
But anyone who has bought a hose recently knows that they’ve evolved beyond simple green tubes. Just as gardening tools have become high tech, so have hoses. You can buy PVC-reinforced hoses with UV coatings. You can get flat hoses or curly ones that look like old-fashioned telephone cords. You can find red hoses, striped hoses and green hoses in shades ranging from frog to spruce.
Today’s hoses have become interesting — and complicated — enough that not only are they worth learning about, they might even inspire enough envy to make you want to replace your boring old hoses. Here’s what you need to know when you’re shopping for a hose.
Hoses are usually made from vinyl, rubber or polyurethane. Vinyl is lighter than rubber, which is a plus if you need to lug your hose a long way or aren’t very strong, but it’s less durable. Vinyl is also less expensive than rubber. Polyurethane combines the best qualities of vinyl and rubber — it’s durable and lightweight — but is often the priciest type of hose.
If you use your hose only to squirt water or sprinkle your lawn, vinyl may be all you need. But if you turn on your water spigot full or even medium force and use a sprayer (the kind that stops the water flow), the water pressure could cause a lightweight vinyl hose to burst, says Chris Woodburn, hard goods manager at Echter’s Garden Center in Arvada.
“Some of the better-quality hoses are still the tried-and-true black rubber like my grandfather used,” Woodburn says.
Aurora parks and recreation workers also believe the most durable hoses are made of dense rubber, according to spokeswoman Kathy Cable.
But grandpa’s rubber hose has a drawback: It can break down in sunlight. If you don’t store your hose in the shade, consider rubber treated with an ultraviolet-resistant material — in essence, a sunscreen for your hose. And don’t worry about the color — a black or gray hose isn’t any more sun-resistant than a green or red hose, Woodburn says.
Rubber hoses also can be reinforced with PVC, which makes them lighter but still durable, Woodburn says. Some hoses also have wire mesh inside them, like a tire, to make them stronger. You can also find eco-friendly hoses made of recycled rubber.
Get the kinks out
City of Boulder horticulturist Julie Palmer says the No. 1 thing she looks for in a hose is that it doesn’t kink. “My experience has been that hoses keep kinking in the same spot, and then that spot becomes weak and breaks.”
No-kink hoses are generally reinforced with wire, Woodburn says. Armadillo’s nonkink garden hoses, which are manufactured in Broomfield, go one step further, lining a galvanized steel shell with PVC. Or there are coiled hoses, which, depending on their size, either look like telephone cords or green rubber Slinkys. Gardening experts recommend these short, lightweight, polyurethane hoses for a small area, like a patio.
If you own a hose that kinks and then leaks, don’t despair. Hoses that spout a hole can be easily repaired. Cut out the damaged part of the hose and link the two remaining pieces together with a connector or clamp found in hose-repair kits in garden or hardware stores.
Brass or plastic?
Another thing to consider is the couplings that connect your hose to the faucet.
Couplings are usually brass or plastic. Brass is more durable, but it can be harder to turn and tighten onto a spigot than a plastic coupling. Palmer says another plus to plastic couplings is that they can be more easily replaced when they start to leak after a couple of years. “I just saw off the end of the hose, widen it out with the end of a Phillips-head screwdriver, pop in the plastic coupling and screw it closed,” she says.
Longer hoses can cost less per foot than shorter hoses, but resist the temptation to buy more hose than you need. Water pressure diminishes as the length of the hose increases. Rather than a 100-foot hose, you might want to buy two 50-foot hoses and link them together for the times you need to reach the farthest corner of your yard. Another minus to longer hoses: They’re heavier to pull.
To keep from having to constantly screw hoses together, Palmer uses a brass quick-release coupling that goes on the end of the hose and slides easily into a matching brass coupling on another hose. Quick-release couplings are available at most hardware stores, she said.
Hoses come in five widths — 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4 and 1 inch. The most common are 5/8-inch and 3/4-inch. The general rule of thumb is the wider the hose, the more durable.
Durability is also determined by the number of layers of rubber or vinyl, also known as ply. A two- to three-ply hose is considered light-duty, a four-ply hose is medium-duty, five-ply is heavy duty and six-ply is strong enough to use on a farm.
“If you’re just running a sprinkler with your hose, you could get away with the lightest weight,” Woodburn says. “If you’re using a sprayer, you’ll need medium- duty, and if you use the hose three to four hours a day and move it around all the time, you need heavy duty.”
In the long run, just like with your car tires or water heater, “hoses are one of those things where you really get what you pay for,” Woodburn says. “A good-quality hose could last you at least 15 or 20 years.”
Know your hose
Beware of the lead
If you’re a fan of drinking from the hose, be careful: Most hoses contain lead to make them malleable, says Chris Woodburn of Echter’s Garden Center. Quench your thirst with lead-free hoses labeled “drinkable” or designed specifically for boating or recreational use.
Treat it right
Extend the life of your hose with proper winter care. Disconnect the hose from the spigot, drain it and store it inside. Don’t use your hose for winter watering unless the temperature is at least 55 degrees, says Julie Palmer with the city of Boulder.
It takes all kinds
Along with coiled hoses, there are several options to standard hoses.
Soaker hoses have hundreds of pinprick holes that allow you to deeply water a flower bed or vegetable garden. They can even be buried under mulch and still be effective.
Sprinkler hoses have holes on the top that allow the water to jet upward and cover long swaths of lawn.
Flat hoses, which become round when they’re fully extended and filled with water, usually aren’t as durable as traditional hoses, but they’re lightweight and easy to roll up and store.