Hose-End Watering Systems

This section discusses devices that are attached to the end of a garden hose to water the garden. It includes soaker hoses and bubblers, but does not include fan-spray nozzles or other nozzles that are normally held in the hand to water. These devices are discussed under Hand Watering.

We don’t normally think of hose-end systems as “systems.” However, they consist of several tools and the techniques for using them together, which does make them a system. Thinking of them as a system helps us to consider them as an integrated whole, as a set of interlocking devices that help up to water our yards.

Hose Bibbs

The hose bibbs (faucets with hose threads) themselves are an important part of the system.

To avoid dragging hoses too far, put hose bibbs within 50 feet of any part of the garden you want to water. It’s simpler and easier to dig a trench and lay some pipe one time than it is to drag hoses hundreds of times over the years.

To save time and trouble, have a small storage area near each bibb for sprinklers and nozzles that will be used there. Use a plastic storage box or mount a mailbox for storage.

Also at each hose bibb, place a hose storage device with a hose attached. Crank-operated reels are quick and easy to operate, or use tubs in which hoses are coiled. To protect the hose from the sun, locate the storage in the shade, or use a container that hides it.


Buy the best hose you can afford. As with all tools, the extra money you spend once can save hours of frustration repairing kinked, leaking, and stiff hoses.

Set up a system that avoids kinking hoses. Hoses kink from being folded. The hose material “remembers” the kink and has a tendency to kink at that spot again in the future. Because the diameter of the hose is constricted at the kink, it slows the flow of water, even when the kink is lying straight. Avoid kinks by caring for your hose properly.

Hose reels are probably the most important tool in avoiding kinks. The hose can be unrolled from the reel without kinks, and reeled up again without twisting.

If you coil your hose flat on the ground, don’t coil it in a neat circle, or it will have a tendency to kink as the loops are uncoiled. Instead, lay it in figure-8 folds. As you coil it, don’t twist your wrist, but pull it straight into the coil. It will naturally fall into figure-8 folds, with twists to the left alternating with twists to the right.

Hoses degrade if left in the sun. Store them in a shady place, and put them away after use, rather than leaving them lying in the sun.

Garden hoses aren’t made to hold pressure for a long time. If you use hose-end shut-offs, only use the shut-off for a short time, and release the pressure as soon as you are finished with the hose.

Disconnect hoses from hose bibbs in freezing weather, and drain them.

Problem hoses can often be repaired. Buy inexpensive repair kits at garden supply centers.

Sprinklers and Bubblers

Hose-end sprinklers come in many forms, and distribute water using different methods. In general, sprinkler heads with moving parts distribute water more evenly than those without moving parts, but it can vary dramatically from sprinkler to sprinkler. It’s important to get to know the distribution pattern of your sprinkler. Lay out an array of cans, as described in The Can Test, to discover the pattern of precipitation and measure its rate. In most cases, uneven distribution can be compensated for by overlapping the sprinkler patterns so that the water from one setting overlaps where the sprinkler was on the last setting.

Sprinklers that have no moving parts have either a pattern of holes like a watering can nozzle, or a single hole with a cavity below it that swirls the water out. Without moving parts, they are pretty much trouble-free. However, they put out water very fast, often faster than it can soak into the ground, and so can cause run-off. They also have small patterns, so need to be moved often. Use them for quick waterings of problem areas.

Rotating and reciprocating sprinklers either spin or wave gracefully back and forth, distributing water from patterns of holes. They frequently have adjustments and can be adjusted to throw more even patterns. Their patterns are larger and the precipitation rate slower than heads without moving parts. They work well for small or medium-sized gardens.

Impact-head sprinklers throw water from a single rotating nozzle. The arc of rotation can be adjusted from very narrow to a full circle to water different shapes. In addition, the stream of water can be adjusted by turning a screw that breaks up the stream at the nozzle. This type of sprinkler is usually best for the largest areas. Impact-head sprinklers have low precipitation rates, so usually do not cause run-off or puddling.

Bubblers are attachments that allow a full flow of water from the end of the hose, but slow down the speed of the water so it doesn’t cause erosion problems. Use them for filling basins around trees or to fill furrows in the vegetable garden.


Although the type of timers used for permanent sprinkler systems and drip irrigation systems don’t make sense for hose-end systems, shut-off timers are very useful. This type of timer attaches to the hose bibb and shuts off the water after a certain time. Some measure time, working like kitchen timers that ring a bell. Others measure the volume of water that has passed through, shutting off the water after a certain volume. Both types work well, and are very useful for people who have trouble remembering to turn off the water.

Use the timer with a Y coupling so you can have easy access to the hose bibb without setting the timer if you don’t want to use it. When you want it, attach the hose to the branch with the timer. Some shut-off timers have an “always on” setting that lets the water run without the timer functioning, so a Y coupling isn’t necessary.