Garden hoses come in 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, and 5/8 inch diameters. They can also be purchased in 3/4 inch and 1 inch diameters, but these sizes are only useful in estate-sized gardens. The 5/8 inch size is the most useful for ordinary garden use, especially with sprinklers.
Hoses are made of artificial rubber or polyvinyl chloride (usually called vinyl) or a combination of the two. Better hoses are built up in layers, with an inner tube, a layer of spiral-wound nylon cord like a radial automobile tire or a layer of nylon mesh (or both), and an outer layer. Reinforcing protects the hose from kinks and adds strength. In general, hoses with more rubber are more expensive and will last longer and stay more flexible in cold weather.
Hoses are rated by the amount of water pressure they can contain, with economy hoses being rated at around 200 pounds per square inch (psi), and the best commercial-grade hoses up to 500 psi.
The fittings may be of cast brass, extruded steel, or plastic. Cast brass fittings are the most durable. Cast fittings often have a hexagonal exterior, which not only makes it easier to use a wrench if you need to loosen a stuck hose (but never to tighten it), but makes a better grip for hands as you are tightening it.
At one time, plastic fittings broke easily, but some newer ones are very tough.
Extruded steel fittings bend if dropped, stepped on, or run over with a car. Once bent, they don’t screw in tightly, and often leak, even if carefully straightened.
Hose threads work differently from pipe threads. Pipe threads are tapered, and tighten as you screw them in farther. Hose threads are the same diameter all along their length. They are designed to press the end of the male fitting against the shoulder of the female fitting, which is covered with a washer. If the thread is not bent or worn, it will force the male end tightly against the washer and make a leakproof seal.
Five basic hose sizes are sold: 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch diameters. The 3/8 and 1/2 inch sizes are used for watering container plants; the 5/8 inch size is most popular for lawns and gardens; and the 3/4 and 1 inch hoses are used for very large yards, commercial greenhouses, nurseries, or small farms.
The smaller the diameter, the less water the hose will deliver in a given period. You might not think there was much difference between a 1/2 inch hose and a 5/8 inch hose, but consider this: In 10 seconds, at 50 psi, a 1/2 inch hose delivers 1 1/3 gallons of water; a 5/8 inch hose delivers 2 2/3 gallons; and a 3/4 inch hose delivers 3 1/3 gallons. Clearly, when you need a large amount of water delivered, larger hoses will save you time.
Rubber hoses generally are considered to be best. Although they are slightly heavier than other types, they offer years of service and dependability. They also resist cold weather, sun damage, and abrasion.
Good rubber hoses stay flexible in very cold weather (from 0 degrees to –35 degrees depending on their rating) and withstand hot water up to 160 degrees.
Nylon and Vinyl Hoses
Nylon and vinyl hoses have become increasingly popular recently, due to improvements in construction quality. Good nylon and vinyl hoses (generally, both materials are used in combination) are flexible even down to 0 degrees and will withstand up to 500 psi. Not only are they lighter than the rubber hoses but they are also generally cheaper, sometimes by more than 50 percent. However, the cheaper models of this type tend to kink more easily than a rubber hose. Once kinked, they do not readily round out again, which reduces the water flow at that point. Vinyl hoses also are more subject to the deteriorating effects of ultraviolet sun rays.
Two-Ply Vinyl Hose
If you want a long-lasting hose, do not buy this non-reinforced type. Retailers often sell two-ply vinyl hoses at very low prices as advertising. If these hoses are subjected to pressure for any length of time, they are likely to break. They also kink easily and are difficult to roll up.
In caring for a hose, one of the first rules is never to let it kink. Any kink becomes a weak point, and the hose will tend to kink there repeatedly. Not only will this restrict water flow but it will finally make the hose crack in that spot.
Don’t shut off the line while there is pressure in it. If you have a nozzle that allows you to shut off the water flow while the spigot is turned on, use it only when you must—and then never for long periods of time.
When you hang a hose, put it on a proper support or reel. Do not put it on a nail, or it will sag and kink. Keep the hose out of the sun. Eventually, the sun’s ultraviolet rays will damage any hose, particularly those made of nylon and vinyl.
At the end of the season, drain the hose and hang it properly in a dry area.
Hose Reels and Hangers
Hanging up a hose properly will greatly extend its life. “Proper” hanging means keeping it kink-free, off the ground, and out of the sun when not in use. The best way to accomplish all this is to use a hose reel or hanger. A hose that’s left to lie out on the lawn, sidewalk, or driveway invites injury—someone might trip over it—and driving your car over either end of the hose will damage the coupling.
There is a cheap, convenient solution, in the form of a simple hose hanger that screws to the basement or garage wall. But before making an actual purchase, check the length and size of the hose you plan to hang on it. Some hangers will handle 250 feet of 1/2 inch hose or 150 feet of 5/8 inch hose. The heavy-duty models will hold 300 feet of 1/2 inch hose and 200 feet of 5/8 inch hose. If you have several hoses, buy two or three hangers rather than trying to overload a single one.
A swivel-mounted hose reel that attaches to the wall makes it convenient to unreel a hose. This hose reel is usually mounted next to the hose bib (spigot). The reel has a handle on it for turning; when not in use, the reel swings flat against the wall. Most of these types will handle 100 feet of 5/8-inch hose.
The hose reel-and-cart combination works best for moving the hose around the lawn or garden. One convenient model is pushed upright on its wheels; then, when it’s time to reel the hose out or in, the cart is tilted over onto its handle for more stability.
Occasionally a hose gets worn and develops a leak or a coupling gets bent and becomes unusable. You don’t have to throw the hose away, however—you can repair it for a fraction of what it would cost to buy a new one. You can find hose-repair kits for mending a cut section of the hose or for replacing couplings (both male and female).
If the hose has a pinhole leak, make a temporary repair with a wooden toothpick and some plastic electrical tape. Push the tip of the toothpick into the hole, just through the thickness of the hose wall. Then break off the toothpick flush with the outer skin. When the wood gets wet through normal use, it will swell, firmly plugging the hole. Now wrap the hose with electrical tape about 2 inches beyond each side of the hole. Stretch the tape tightly over the hole but not on either end; this allows the tape to expand if the hose is bent near the puncture point.
For larger holes or cuts, as well as for more permanent repairs, use a hose repair kit. These kits include repair parts made of solid brass or plastic (brass is best if your hose is a good one).
There are two basic types of repair kits: a permanent brass clincher and a reusable brass or high-impact plastic insert. The size of the brass clinchers must suit the diameter of your hose; the reusable inserts fit most hoses between 1/2 and 3/4 inches. However, check the specifications on the repair package (both types of kits come with detailed instructions and illustrations).