All About Garden Hoses
by Carolyn Elgar, Master Rosarian, Orange County Rose Society
This is a 2020 AOM winner
How hard can it be to buy a garden hose? Most people think this until they actually go to the store to buy one. Especially at the big box home and garden stores, there are piles of all kinds of hoses made of different materials and in different sizes. When you see all these choices, you will wish you knew more about it.
This article will give you a lot of information about the different hoses available, and it is focused on hoses for the garden, not for cleaning the driveway or washing a boat. And that’s the first step: targeting what you want to do with the hose. Are you watering patio plants? Do you want to water a few plants in your small garden? Or do you have over 150 roses that you want to be able to hand water, because as all rosarians know, no matter what your watering system is, you will have to hand water sometimes. The answer to these questions will guide your choices. Let’s look at some general information about hoses and then at the different kinds available for the homeowner.
Hoses come in many lengths, ranging from ten feet to 100 feet. The most commonly purchased size is 50 feet. If you are watering a small patio or garden, you may not need a 50 feet hose, and a 20 feet hose may suit your needs. The best way to approach this is to measure the length that you will need to reach the farthest part of your garden and then add ten feet to account for going around corners. Those with a large assortment of roses all over their property may decide they need a hose that’s 100 feet long. However, that length is hard to manage, and hoses that long tend to be builders’ or construction hoses. One suggestion is to connect two 50 feet hoses when you want to reach those far spaces and use one of them the rest of the time. (I will tell you that I have never seen anyone who needs 100 feet actually remove the second of the 50 feet hoses - perhaps that’s too much of a hassle for these gardeners.) The longer the hose, the heavier it is to drag through your garden beds.
Hoses are made of materials that are supposed to be used outside, implying the need for some kind of durability. They may be made of vinyl/PVC, polyurethane, rubber, or metal. Hoses come in different diameters, usually 1/2, 3/8, or 5/8 in size. The larger the diameter, the faster the water will flow through your hose. A hose that is 5/8 inches in diameter generally allows 17 gallons per minute (gpm) in water flow, while one that is 1/2 inches delivers around nine gallons a minute. Related to this is the pounds per square inch (psi) of a hose; this is a measure of how much water pressure is in the hose when it is full of water. The burst psi is an important consideration; that indicates how much water pressure will burst the hose. ABOVE: A home water pressure meter can give you an idea of what kind of water pressure you have.
It’s good to know the water pressure measurement of the water used in your home; most residential homes have pressures of 40 to 80 psi. The recommendation is that the psi of a highly rated, durable hose should be at least four times your home’s water pressure. Why? Using a spray nozzle to control flow can raise the pressure in the hose. Additionally, the longer the hose, the more pressure you need to produce a strong flow, which is important if you want to water a lot of plants.
The material a hose is made of may contain several layers of reinforcement or plys. The number of plys can increase durability and make the hose less liable to kink, but more important is the durability of the material the plys are made of. Plys made of rubber will be stronger than those made with vinyl. A hose with two to three plys is considered light duty, one with four is medium duty, and heavy duty hoses have five or more. Hoses can be reinforced with nylon, tire cord, or mesh; this makes them more resistant to kinking or splitting.
Generally speaking, rubber is the strongest and most durable material, while vinyl is the least durable. Rubber is less likely to kink and resists cracking or sun deterioration. However, rubber is heavy and awkward to manage. Vinyl hoses are less expensive and easier to handle, but they are prone to kinking and degrading quickly in the sun. In addition they may contain chemicals that can be toxic when they deteriorate. Polyurethane hoses are lighter than rubber, have no toxic chemicals, and are more flexible than vinyl, but they tend to have a low psi rate (150), and they are expensive.
You may see some reference to the “coil memory” of a hose. This means that the hose will revert to the way it was initially coiled instead of staying straight. Similarly, “kink memory” will cause a hose to rekink in the same areas over and over. To test a hose’s kink potential, bend the hose in half and see if it kinks or bends. Rubber hoses have the least coil or kink memory, and vinyl ones have the most. As you will read later in this article, some hoses need coil memory to function as they should.
Another important part of a hose’s construction are the connectors at its ends. The most durable connectors are metal: brass, plated aluminum, or stainless steel. Stamped brass connectors are made by stamping a piece of a brass metal sheet into shape.
Cast brass connectors are manufactured from a block of brass and are more durable. They are often octangular in shape to allow for using a wrench to tighten or loosen them. Plastic connectors are the least durable, but are good for people who have a hard time manipulating a heavy metal connector. One of the weakest spots is between the connector and the rest of the hose. For that reason, some hoses have a plastic or rubber collar that extends four to six inches from the connector which helps prevent kinking, splitting, or fraying in this vulnerable spot. ABOVE: The connector above is made of stamped brass which is inferior in quality to the cast bronze one at the right. Notice the wrench friendly octagonal shape.
Standard hose types
Let’s take a look at the hoses you are likely to find in stores or online when you are shopping.
Most lightweight, light duty hoses are made of vinyl and may come in short lengths for the small space. They are inexpensive, easy to handle, and do well in mild climates without high temperatures or freezing cold. But they are not durable, not very flexible, may kink, and tend to have high coil memory. These hoses are widely available everywhere and are appropriate if you have a small garden, and you know you will have to replace the hose sooner than you’d like to.
Some plastic hoses are marketed as heavy duty, are 5/8 in diameter, and come in longer lengths. They have more plys and are reinforced. But they are described as being made of “recycled materials,” and they don’t tell you what those materials are. If they contain vinyl, they may have some of the same issues as the smaller ones, such as kinking and stiffness. In addition, it is best for the gardener to know what their hose is made of. ABOVE: This hose is made of recyled materials but we don’t know what they are and how much of it is vinyl.
One type of hose that appears in many places is one that is made of a PVC polymer and is touted for its flexibility and light weight. It has aluminum fittings, and is antikink. It has a low psi (150), but the biggest concern with this material are the phthalates that make it so flexible; after time, these toxic chemicals degrade into the water passing through the hose and then soak into the soil. Black mold can grow in this hose after several months of use and affect the water quality. ABOVE: This Flexilla hose is made of a PVC polymer and is labeled as very flexible, but the phthalates that have been discovered in its material may produce black mold. Notice the protective collar at the connector.
Hoses made from polyurethane have no toxic chemicals, are lightweight, flexible, and durable. This is the only hose you can drink from; make sure the label says this. (Are people still drinking from hoses?) Polyurethane hoses have a certain amount of spring that comes into play when a kink starts to occur, and the hose jumps out of the kink. They also demonstrate some coil memory. They are available in many sizes and diameters and are a good alternative to rubber hoses, but they tend to be expensive and have a lower psi. ABOVE: Polyurathane hoses have a lot of good qualities such as light weight, flexiblity, and durability, but they are expensive and not easy to find.
Rubber hoses are popular with commercial builders and gardeners because of their durability, flexibility, lack of coil memory, and psi ratings. The most available lengths in this material are 50 or 100 feet. Most have psi scores of 350 and higher. They have metal connectors, usually made of cast brass. Rubber resists sun damage and punctures. But the hoses are heavy and difficult to move through the garden beds. A rubber hose will outlast a vinyl one. A hybrid rubber/plastic hose is lighter, but most labels don’t tell you how much vinyl and how much rubber are in them. This may affect hose flexibility. ABOVE: With good durability, a 5/8 diameter, a high psi, and a good water flow, it’s hard to beat a rubber hose. But they are heavy and awkward to handle, especially for seniors.
Hoses that are unusual are expandable, flat, and coiled hoses. These hoses appeal to those who have storage difficulties because they are smaller and easier to handle. Expandable hoses expand to three times their length when filled with water. They have an inner tube and an outer protective cover. They are light, flexible, and easy to handle. However, they are notoriously lacking in durability as the inner tube may not have enough layers to maintain strength when expanding and the outer, fabric layer may snag on something in the garden and tear. Sun and weather can damage these hoses. The psi rating is low, and water pressure is one of the tricky things about using them. For the hose to have any pressure, it has to be completely filled. A nozzle is a necessity because the blocked water flow is what is keeps the hose open and expanded. Finally, these hoses are expensive when you consider the lack of durability. ABOVE: Expandable hoses are light and easy to store, but they are notorious for leaks, fraying, and snags.
There is another type of hose that is also constructed of two tubes, one to carry the water, and the other to protect the hose. Unlike the expandable hoses, the outer layer is rigid, reinforced with three layers of polypropylene, and maintains its shape. It does not need to be filled in order to use it. It is very light and flexible; these are its biggest selling points. Unfortunately, it is expensive, and reviews indicate that durability is a real issue, with inconsistent quality and weakness between the connector and the hose. ABOVE: This hose is like an expandable hose with one tube inside the other, but the outer layer is rigid, making it easier to use. But according to written reviews by users, it tends to break or leak between the connector and the hose.
Flat hoses, like expandable ones, gain their full diameter when they are filled with water. As a result, you have to unroll the entire hose before turning on the water. They are lightweight, flexible, and easy to drain. But durability is again an issue. These hoses are usually vinyl and can snag around corners or other obstacles. Although they are flat, they are hard to store without some kind of reel to wind them around. Even when filled, the psi rating is around 150.
When they first debuted, coiled hoses were popular with their whimsical bright colors and springy coils. Most are made of polyurethane, which helps them keep the memory they need to stay in their original shape. The hoses become longer when pulled out, but they are really not intended for distances of more than 20 feet in the garden. Their small diameter of no more than 1/2 inch and their lower psi rating means the water flow will decrease when pulled out much longer than that. Their strong coil memory makes it easy for them to get caught on things. They are good for small gardens or patio planters. They do best with a water nozzle attached to increase water flow. ABOVE: Coiled hoses are very light and flexible but are best for small areas due to their limited water flow. They should be stored carefully so that the coils don’t tangle.
Finally, there are metal hoses, the ultimate in durability. They are flexible, lightweight, kink proof, and cannot be punctured or chewed. They are made of with 201 or 304 stainless steel; the 304 versions are higher quality and more expensive. The metal exterior is snag proof and sun resistant. The biggest complaint about metal hoses is the lack of water pressure and strong flow. Their diameters run around 1/2 in size and their psi rating is low. While they do not kink, they will tangle, making their storage a challenge. Despite their metal exterior, quality is inconsistent, with many users complaining of leaks. ABOVE: A metal hose is the most durable, but its diameter is small and it has a low psi rating, limiting water flow.
If you decide to buy a hose made of anything but rubber or metal, unless it is a hard to find product such as a polyurethane hose, it is best to buy it locally rather than online. Vinyl and hybrid hoses should be physically examined for weight, kinking, and flexibility, especially when it is not clear what materials they contain. Feel the hose’s weight and test its flexibility; bend it to see if it kinks.
A garden hose is something we all take for granted, but with some care, it will last longer in your garden. Don’t leave the hose full of water and closed off with a nozzle for an extended period of time as the constant pressure of the water could weaken the hose material. Hot sun will heat the water left in any hose, and you could burn your plants. Even if it is weather resistant, don’t leave your hose outside or uncovered; a little protection from the elements goes a long way. Monitor hoses for leaks and cracks so you won’t be surprised the next time you water.
Find a convenient way to store your hose so that it doesn’t kink or tangle or get chewed by a dog or other animal. Hose reels can be wall ornaments, independent metal stands, or in a box that covers and protects the hose. If you have a lot of roses, buy a hose that is long enough, durable, and has a good water flow. Be sure to roll it up when you are finished. Your plants will thank you for a hose supplied drink on those hot days, and there is no better way to enjoy your garden than to spend time watering it.