Growing Concerns 492: Garden hose directions, mums

Late Fall!

Why You Might Not Want to Drink From the Garden Hose 


Dear Janet,

Last fall, my wife purchased several lengths of garden hose. this spring she unwrapped the hose... and read the directions... Janet, nobody reads directions on hoses except my wife!

To her surprise, on the inside of the cardboard cover it said: "Do not drink from this hose." She thought that was strange, because we all drink from hoses at various times.

Are you aware of any research on this topic?


Dear P.S.,

There are two warnings on hoses. Let's look at the one regarding toxic ingredients first.

California law requires that an item which contains certain chemicals bear a cautionary label. The law recognizes that the amount of a listed chemical in the item might be below dangerous levels, but still requires the label unless the manufacturer can prove the product safe. Testing to obtain that proof is expensive so producers frequently opt to print the required caution.

I spoke to John Brannan, a vice president of Colorite-Swan. That Ohio company makes about half the hoses sold in the U.S. According to Brannan, hoses are made the same as they always have been, despite the change the warning label might imply. It's brass, a long-time component of hose fittings, that's on California's list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive system harm. Since Colorite-Swan sells hoses all over the U.S. and prefers to make stocking simpler for its distributors, one package is printed for each model of brass-equipped hose. It carries the required caution, so every hose will be legal if it ends up in California.

If there had been tests done to compare the health of people alike in all ways except that some drank regularly from hoses, and the results indicated no harm, we might all rest easy. That's not the case so we have to either stop drinking from hoses or hope the amount of brass that passes from the hose to us is below toxic levels. I've chosen the latter, for now -- I'll continue to drink from hoses, accepting the long-term risk to stave off the more immediate threat of dehydration outdoor work sometimes poses.

The second caution on hose labels is in a category I title, "Manufacturer cover your butt since consumer common sense may be lacking yet lawyers are abundant." It warns that a hose interior is moist, frequently warm and thus is a good breeding ground for microorganisms that shouldn't be ingested. True, but since it might be equally true of plumbing that runs through warm house walls, are we ever completely safe? At least the hose, unlike most plumbing, is often used and thus flushed for an hour or so before the working gardener becomes thirsty.

Perhaps the most important point made by the label is that pesticides and fertilizers can be drawn backward into a hose from a hose-end sprayer and remain there in residual form. Never drink from hoses used to spray chemicals. If you use a hose-end sprayer you should lock away the hose after use, along with the sprayer.


Dear Janet,

I bought some mum plants this summer and put them in the flower garden. I really don't know how to care for them. I would like to know what to do in the fall after the weather changes and then in spring.


Dear R.M.,

If the mums are in a sunny, well-drained bed, they have a good chance of becoming perennial there. They may even become a nuisance one day, as the clumps become wider and wider over years.

Since some mums are marginally hardy here and there's no simple way to know which is which, hedge your bets and leave the stems uncut through winter. The shade from those stems gives the live crowns at ground level some protection from drying out in late winter and early spring freeze-thaw cycles. In April, cut the stems down to ground level. You'll see new growth coming from the base, if the mum survived.

To keep mums from crowding themselves, which leads to reduced flowering and weaker stems, divide them in spring every two or three years. That means digging the clump, keeping the most vigorous looking quarter for replanting, then composting the rest.


Short reports

A good, beginning book about flower gardening...

... that's what you say your new home-owning children need, P.M. If they are brand new to gardening, go for the "Michigan Gardener's Guide" by Tim Boland, Laura Coit and Marty Hair, or "Annuals for Michigan" by Nancy Szerlag and Alison Beck, or "Gardening for Dummies" by Michael MacCaskey.

For someone with a bit more experience, buy the "American Horticultural Society Gardening Manual" published by DK Books.


Green thumbs up

to neighborhood hardware stores with staff willing and able to take on the gardener's quest for tools and equipment. For 30 years I've relied on you for everything from the best oil for tool handles to how an espaliered tree can be anchored to a cinder block wall. You're the best!


Green thumbs down

to the "season of the turtle" when gardeners pull their heads in and stop moving while they wait for warmth and greenery to return. Don't succumb! Go out! Spread leaves in a bed, do a bit of pruning, or bring tools inside for sharpening. The more you move, the more you see how wonderful the garden can be even in winter.


Originally published 11/30/02