Hoses

The good old garden hose — it saves time and steps. You can just drag it out to the right spot, turn it on, let it go, and come back later. Coil it up when it's not in use. Keep it for years. Simple, right?

Well, not always. Cheap hoses and older ones have an annoying flaw: They kink and tangle. If you aren't watching, you can waste water and sometimes harm plants as the hose lashes around. Then you have the problem of hoses that crack, burst, and leak after being left out in the sun or run over by the car, or that just break down after what seems like not very much use. Read on for some important considerations when buying a garden hose.

Materials and construction

The best, most long-lived hose is one that's composed of layers. The inner layer needs to be flexible, a nice smooth rubber or synthetic tube. To protect it and give it toughness, it's covered or coated with at least one outer layer of nylon fabric or mesh. The outer skin beyond that, the part you touch and see, needs to be of a material that doesn't break down after prolonged exposure to sun and weather. It also needs to resist punctures and scratches. Usually, the outer layer is vinyl, or a vinyl-rubber blend, and it's often green or black. Multi-layered hoses may seem a bit fatter or heavier than the inexpensive alternatives, but as usual, you get what you pay for.

The standard, vinyl-coated, layered hose comes in different forms: namely three-ply, four-ply, and five-ply. As with anything, heavier duty versions, like the five-ply, are more expensive. Heavier duty hoses don't kink as often, can take higher water pressures, and last longer. For occasional watering jobs, the lower ply will work fine; for more frequent use and longer life, go with the higher ply.

Other types of hoses include

1 The soaker or leaky hose: This hose "sweats" water slowly out along its entire length via tiny holes.

1 The flat hose: Made of cotton canvas, the flat hose is lightweight and compact.

1 The patio hose: The end of the patio hose is designed to attach to a sink faucet.

One more thing to look for when hose-shopping: The fittings at the ends should also be of good quality. Their job is to attach seamlessly to a faucet (or sprinkler, if at the other end) without leaking or spraying. How do you judge quality? If they're cast brass rather than cheap metal, they're built to last. A stamped, galvanized steel fitting never seems to hold up over time.

Sizes

The most common hose size is % of an inch in diameter, which works very well with typical municipal water pressure (30 to 50 pounds per square inch). You may have cause to go down to >2 inch or up to 1 inch — the skinnier one delivers water more slowly; the fatter one, more quickly.

Length depends on how far you have to reach the hose. For flexibility, you may want to buy your hose in 25-foot segments rather than longer lengths and just join them together as needed for different areas of the garden. Also, shorter lengths are lighter and thus easier to lug around.

Storage and placement accessories

Coils and hose caddies are nice accessories to have. You see, a hose comes coiled and stores well coiled in its original direction and loop size — in other words, a hose has coil memory. Letting the hose return to this state when not in use is better for the hose's longevity.

A hose guide is a simple but worthwhile gadget. A stake anchors the guide in the ground or in pre-drilled holes in your patio or pathway, and it holds the hose in place, even along curves or around corners. In this way, the hose can't stray onto a path or across your garden plants.

Repairing a hose

Hoses seem to undergo more abuse than just about any other type of gardening tool, and chances are that sooner or later you're going to find yourself owning a hose with some end or thread damage. When this happens, determine whether repairing the hose end is worth the trouble. If the hose wasn't cheap and the damage is minor, by all means, give it a try. The following figure shows you how to fix a hose end.

For hoses that develop leaks, patch kits are available wherever hoses are sold. Always patch only when the hose is completely dry.

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