Is Your Garden Getting Hosed?
No matter what kind of high-tech sprinkler system you have, a garden hose and associated accessories are going to be necessities. But, as with almost any purchase, you will face a bewildering array of options. My goal in this article is to guide you to the choices that will best meet your needs.
The first order of business is the hose itself. Garden hoses come in three diameters: 1/2-inch, 5/8-inch and 3/4-inch. Which of these is best for you depends upon the distance over which you wish to use it, the pressure of the water at your spigot, or source, and the amount of water you wish to deliver at the end. For example, if you have a long distance run from your spigot to the watering destination, you should consider the 3/4-inch hose first. The reason for this is that water flowing through a hose encounters friction. The amount of friction in a small diameter hose is greater, when compared to the amount of water flowing through it, than that of a larger diameter hose. I've seen situations where the run of hose was so long that hardly any water came out of the end, even when the spigot was fully open. This happens because the amount of friction in such a long hose is great enough to overcome the water pressure, bringing flow to a stop. By the way, this is also true for irrigation piping, which is why the main lines in irrigation systems should always be much larger than the pipes that have the actual sprinkler heads attached to them.
Your next item to consider is the length of hose you will need. This will also influence your choice of hose diameter due to the friction issue I mentioned already. Regular garden hoses come in standard lengths of 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-feet long, but you can also find odd lengths, like 15 feet for 1/2-inch hoses and 80 feet for larger sizes. You'll also see that hoses can be contractor or professional grade, with nearly indestructible hose ends, they can be lightweight with hose ends that will deform if merely stepped on, or they can be somewhere in between. Some manufacturers claim that their hoses never kink, but in my experience, I have never met a hose that didn't kink eventually. But if someone wants to sell you a hose that is guaranteed not to kink, and they will replace it free if it does, by all means consider buying it!
One other item is that you will see hoses rated as for hot water, for drinking water, and for landscape or gardening use. I remember, when I was much younger, that when you went to get a garden hose, there was just one kind, a garden hose! That was when all hoses were made of natural rubber. But now, since hoses are made of a variety of soft plastics, vinyl and synthetic rubbers, there may be chemicals that will leach off the hose wall and get into the water. If you think you'll want to drink water from your hose from time to time, you should consider the kind that is rated for drinking water.
The Reel Truth
Once you have picked out your hose, you will want a place to store it neatly. Once again, the options are several, depending upon your taste, budget, and needs. For many people, a hose reel will be what they want, but even narrowing the choice down to a reel still leaves a lot of options. Reels can be mounted on a wagon or cart-like device or they can be mounted on a wall or fence either parallel or perpendicular to the mounting surface. Like hoses, you can find reels that are built like tanks or you can get one that is meant for occasional use only, priced accordingly. I've found that hose reels are generally optimized to coil 5/8-inch diameter hoses. They work fine for 1/2-inch hoses as well, but the 3/4-inch hose can be a bit much for them, especially if your hose is a long one. That being said, if you plan to use your reel and hose frequently, I recommend that you pop for the heavy duty reel. This is because the cheaper ones will not last very long before something cracks or breaks on them, and if it does, you will find that you stand a poor chance of finding replacement parts for it. In my experience, the Rapid Reel line of hose reels is the best choice for the active gardener/hoser. A fence-mounted Rapid Reel model, mounted perpendicularly, is shown in the thumbnail picture above. They come with a length of 5/8-inch hose to connect to your water source.
If you feel that the expense for the heavy duty reel is a bit overboard for your needs, I suggest selection of a well-build plastic reel assembly. This is because reels kept outdoors are going to be exposed to the elements, and cheap metal reels will rust and become useless in a lot less time than a sturdy plastic reel unit will.
A Fitting End
Finally, you will need an accessory to put on the end of your hose. The array of choices here is mind-boggling, but if your main task is the watering of your garden or containerized plants, you want something that will water gently without knocking your plants about. The perfect choice for this is a nozzle that is like a shower head, called a water breaker. This is the kind that is used by nurseries around the country. A company called Dramm has produced these for years, and they were the first professional watering accessory I ever purchased. They come in large and small, and in heavy duty or light duty. The water breaker itself will screw right onto your hose end, but you will also want to be able to control the flow of water at the hose end. For this you need a hand-operated squeeze valve for utmost watering convenience. Both the Dramm heavy-duty water breaker and a brass hand-squeeze valve are shown in the photo at left.
Next, if you have hanging baskets to water, or plants that you want to reach without walking into your planted beds, you'll also need a watering wand. Dramm offers both the valves and the wands in several types as well. At big box stores, you will see a large variety of pistol-grip type watering accessories, some with fancy dialable spray options, quick-connect fittings and ways to adjust how much water comes out. You may choose one of these according to taste, but I prefer to keep it simple and just pick a nice soft showerhead water breaker with a squeeze-grip valve for my watering.Image credit: LariAnn Garner