Hoses are one of those garden tools that you pretty much take for granted—until there’s a drought (like last summer) and the stores run out of them, or the only one you have bursts when the fuel truck drives over it. I’ve learned that a good hose not only lasts years and years but can be a best friend. On the other hand, a bad hose can ruin your day, ruin your weekend and ruin your garden. This is no place to be kinky.
Garden hoses are measured by their length and inside diameter, or ID. The most common hose size is a 5/8-inch ID, but you can find ½-inch, ¾-inch and 1-inch IDs. Lengths start at 25 feet, then go to 50, 75 and 100 feet. Keep in mind, though, that the larger the ID and the longer the hose, the heavier it is and the harder to pull around the yard, and even more so when it’s filled with water.
While it might be a bit more expensive to buy two 50-foot-long hoses, you’ll find that those two are much more versatile and easier to work with than a single 100-foot-long hose. Also consider that you’ll get less water output from a 100-foot length of hose than a 50-foot length, especially if you need only a 40-foot run. The longer the hose, the more resistance from friction, and the less output.
One other little tidbit: A ½-inch ID hose will carry about as much water as a 5/8-inch hose but will weigh about a pound less for every 50 feet of hose.
There was once a time when all hoses were made from rubber. They were heavy, easy to damage and expensive. Our modern hoses are composites, made of several materials that usually include three to eight layers, or plies, of combinations of foam, plastic, vinyl, cord and rubber. Light-duty hoses are usually just vinyl, with some reinforcing radial cord, and can be two to three ply. Medium-duty hoses have more layers, more cord and may have proprietary layers of foam and other materials, up to six plies. A heavy-duty hose can have up to eight plies—but don’t assume that because it has all these additional layers it’s an inherently better hose.
You’ll also see burst strength and pressure ratings. You should look for hoses that have a burst strength of 350 psi or better, but you’ll find commercial and professional grade hoses rated all the way up to 500 psi. It’s not likely that your well pump, water system or municipal water supply will go much above 80 psi, so why is this important? Well, there are two circumstances when this comes into play.
The first is when you forget to drain your hose, leave the water valve open and the hose sits in the baking sun. The water gets hot, often very hot, and as it does, it wants to expand. That adds pressure on the inside of the hose—so the 350 psi rating gives you assurance that your hose won’t explode.
But there also is a circumstance where your hose may be full of water, with the valve at the house turned off and the valve at the end turned off. You forgot to put your hose away on Tuesday morning, and the garbage truck comes down the driveway and right over the hose. Your light-duty, two-ply hose will explode. Your medium- or heavy-duty hose, rated at 375 psi, won’t.
You also can find hoses labeled with cold ratings. As the outdoor temperatures get colder in the fall or early in the spring, a hose can be very difficult to work with, as it can get stiff and unmanageable. Look for a cold weather rating on the hose package, and if that’s an issue for you, look for a hose that will remain soft and pliable down to 40 degrees.
Hoses have duty ratings that begin with “light” then move up to “medium,” “heavy” and “commercial” or “professional.” Generally, the lower the duty rating, the lighter and less expensive the hose—but this is a great lesson in being penny wise and pound foolish. Light-duty hoses don’t easily coil, will break if run over by a car, and kink at every possible opportunity. Also, be shy of hoses that have proprietary couplings that don’t look “normal” or familiar. Look for simple brass or steel male and female couplings, and not plastic.
And what about the guarantee that comes with the hose? It’s great to have a hose with a lifetime guarantee, but did you ever wonder whose lifetime it’s guaranteed for? Yours or the hose? And when there is an issue with that hose, what do you do with it? Take it back to where you bought it, and the salesperson will tell you it must go back to the manufacturer—and the manufacturer may tell you that you have to provide the original sales receipt.
The bottom line has two points. The first is that if you buy from a reputable retailer, and there’s something wrong with the hose within a few weeks or even a couple of months of your purchase, they should and most likely will replace it. But when you get into several years of use, and your hose bursts or gets a kink in it that restricts the flow, then what?
This is why it’s so much easier to buy the best hose you can afford the first time and then, hopefully, it will be the last time. I’ve still got hoses that I bought 20 years ago. I take care of them, I fix them when I do something stupid like driving a tractor over a coupling, and my hoses last.
And, speaking of repairs … you should always have a repair kit ready. This kit should consist of a male end, a female end, and a joiner or coupler. The ends should be brass or metal, and the clamping type, where the ends have sleeves that slip into the hose and collars that have metal screws that tighten them up around the sleeve like a vice. Crimping-type hose repair parts never seem to last for long before they pop out or get crushed.
So, which hose do I recommend?
After months of informal research and years of use, the Gilmour or Flexogen brands get my green thumb. They are both manufactured by Gilmour, and they seem to be the best quality and longest-lasting in years of use. Next would be NeverKink, which is made by the Apex Hose Company, which also brands Teknor and Apex.
Swan gets my lowest grades, as I’ve had these hoses break down, and more than one retailer has told me of numerous complains about this brand. Swan also markets under brands such as Miracle Gro and Scotts hoses. You may see advertising for the Flexilla brand, but this hose has a proprietary coupling, and you need to use their repair kits to fix them. And stay clear of hoses advertised on TV!
As for costs for hoses, they are all over the place, often for the identical hose. For example, I shopped for the Neverkink heavy-duty hose, 5/8-inch ID, 50 feet long. Prices ranged from a low of $28.99 to a high of $44.99. A Neverkink Pro, ¾-inch ID and 50 feet long, came in at a low of $33.21 at a big-box store. If you’re buying just a single 50-foot length of hose, price shopping like I did may not make sense. However, if you’re buying a half dozen hoses, shopping around can save you $50 to $100.
One last suggestion for those who may be out here only on weekends: Ever head back home wondering if you really shut down the water at the hose bib, or if the water is still on and the hose pressurized? One way to avoid this problem is to add a digital water timer to your hose bib. When you get out here at the end of the week, turn the timer on and set it to turn the water off on the evening you expect to leave. This way, no surprises when you get back the following week.