Houseplants forum: Moisture meters

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Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
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Sep 25, 2016 9:25 AM CST
Since so many people have trouble deciding on when to water their plants, is having a moisture meter one answer? I see many at Amazon. Some do not even need batteries, are inexpensive, and highly rated overall. I do well and do not lose many plants because I screwed up the watering. But, I know one fault is when I am lazy, or in a hurry and do not stick my finger into each pot before deciding on water. Often the soil will look dry when it is wet and vice versa. I have lost plants because of that. Of course if I am in a hurry I'd probably not use the meter either. Any one here have experience using moisture meters? Gene
Name: Steve Claggett
Portland Orygun (Zone 8a)
Beekeeper Cat Lover
Sep 25, 2016 11:20 AM CST
Gene, I've used those meters for years. Handy for large pots that may be dry around the root ball but still wet at sides and bottom. I go by feel, or the weight of the plant more than anything. With a new container I use the meter for awhile until I get a good feel for what it weighs wet and dry.
Spectamur agendo
Name: Will Creed
Professional interior landscaper
Sep 25, 2016 4:10 PM CST
Moisture meters are deceptively scientific and accurate to the point that they will cause you to deny your own common sense. I used them for many years until I learned how they really work and why I was having watering problems.

The meters do not measure water, they measure conductivity of electricity between two types of metal in the tip of the probe. Because water is a good conductor, the assumption is that the wetter the soil, the greater the conductivity. While that is generally true, other factors such as mineral salts, hard water and soil compaction also affect conductivity. Thus, the metters work in some circumstances but not others and it is very difficult to distinguish between them.

Meters also tend to break down after constant use and can become expensive.

To determine soil moisture deep in larger pots, use a simply soil probe such as Soil Sleuth. It is simple, plastic and lasts forever. It is also more reliable.

As for laziness, I don't have an answer! Hilarious!
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
Name: Laurie Basler
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids
Sep 25, 2016 4:22 PM CST
I have one. I used it a lot years ago, to train my own senses, for how the soil and plant looked and for weight; as I my hands have worked hard for so long they seem a little insensitive to feel the soil. I do use a dowel if in question more now, but long ago, a meter greatly improved my success rate. It is also kinder on a manicure.

I pulled it out recently to use on things like I have received from you, that want to be drier than I am thus far familiar with. I don't really need it, but it does serve as a back up for me when I feel unsure.

I have seen some strong opinions against them here. Not sure why. They are great when you are in a hurry, Gene. They give a reading fast. I keep a cloth glove on one hand to wipe between plants.
[Last edited by lauriebasler - Sep 25, 2016 6:09 PM (+)]
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Sep 25, 2016 5:57 PM CST
We were down this road recently on the "Ask a Question" forum.

The thread "Moisture gauge" in Ask a Question forum

You need to calibrate your meter against some other kind of measurement (like your finger or a dowel or a chopstick, or best of all visual inspection with your own eyes upon repotting), but that's sort of a given. If you aren't doing that, why bother really. The mechanism by which the meter functions (conductivity) makes it quite reliable as an additional way to assess the moisture content of a given pot.

It's a mistake to fault the meter (or the mechanism by which it works) based on faulty assumptions regarding its use.

WillC said:Meters also tend to break down after constant use and can become expensive.

Certainly not mine, which was the cheapest I could find when I bought it. The analog meters work just fine. I tip my hat to you.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Sep 26, 2016 9:34 AM (+)]
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Name: Laurie Basler
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids
Sep 25, 2016 6:11 PM CST
@WillC, looking into soil sleuths. Never heard of them. Thank you.
Name: Deborah Pryor
Orangeburg, SC Zone 8a (Zone 8a)
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Sep 29, 2016 4:12 PM CST
lauriebasler said:@WillC, looking into soil sleuths. Never heard of them. Thank you.

Yes, thanks for mentioning it. I looked it up and it sounds really interesting. I think I want to order one soon. All of my houseplants will be coming back inside soon. It should come in handy over the winter.

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