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by JimmyGreen on September 15, 2006 07:12 AM
Need a little help. I have a moisture probe that you stick into the soil to get moisture readings. It has been over a week since I have watered my tropical indoor plants. The reader still says that the soil is wet. The meter goes from 1 to 10 and it flys all the way to the 10 spot (wet),as soon as I plunge it into the soil. It has been humid lately, as it has rained the last couple of days. The humidity level in the house has been between 45 and 60 percent for the last week. Is it possible for the soil to stay that moist for more than a week?
by Patty S on September 15, 2006 07:35 AM
Yup, it is.... but have you checked the batteries in your probe? What types of tropicals do you have? (Got pictures?) [flower]

By the way, welcome to the forum, Jimmy!  - You'll find that we're a bunch of friendly people who are eager to help each other with house plant & gardening issues (& most of us are looking for help with ours, too... Maybe you have some ideas & gardening experiences that you'd care to share with us.) We're like 1 big family here, & we look forward to getting to know you! [grin]

If you have the time, please stop by the New Member forum & introduce yourself... or just jump in on a topic & join our gardening "family"!
Hope to see you again soon... & often!  -

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by JimmyGreen on September 15, 2006 11:29 AM
Thanks for the welcome Patty. I don't think the probe uses batteries. There is no compartment to take out batteries or install them as the back does not open. I believe it works in some other way. Testing it though as shown to me that it is very accurate. I also have some aloe plants that are in very dry sandy soil and it reads them accurate. I am not very good with the difference between the scientific and common names but I will give it a shot. I have a 4 foot Arbicola Capella, a 5 foot Dracaena Massangeana Cane, and two braided plants that are some type of hybrid mixture of Ficus and Philodendron. One is about 3 feet and the other 6 feet. I do not have pictures at this time.
by JimmyGreen on September 15, 2006 11:32 AM
Ah, one thing I forgot. If the meter is showing wet does that mean I should stay away from watering? At one time I was watering twice a week because I thought once was not enough. I know the most common mistake is to overwater so I am trying not to do that. I believe when I thought once was not enough it was less humid around here. Now maybe once a week is too much with the humidity level being higher lately.
by Patty S on September 15, 2006 05:10 PM
As far as I know, your Arboricola Capella likes to be watered frequently during most of the year, & not much at all over the winter months. (I have no idea how house plants know what season it is, but they do!) [nutz] I'll assume that it's in a "light" (Peat-based) potting soil with good drainage.

Your braided plants & the Dracaena also require a light plant media with gravel/rocks at the bottom, to ensure good drainage. They won't be happy if they're over-watered or if their feet stay wet. These three want to get pretty dry between drinks, & if they have too much water, their leaves will discolor or start dropping.

Watering twice a week is probably fine for the Arboricola (spring & summer ONLY), but if your meter is reading any moisture at all for the other 3, watering at all might be over-doing it! I'd wait, & let the soil get almost totally dry.
I know the most common mistake is to overwater
Remember that!  -
You don't sound like a guy who COULD under-water, even if you wanted to... so only water when you can't stand NOT to! [Big Grin]

Humidity is an important factor when it comes to plants water requirements, because they absorb moisture through their leaves as well as through their roots. When the humidity is high, they seem to use the moisture from the air & ignore what they're standing in (which isn't a good thing, because if their roots are saturated, the whole plant may as well be under water! The roots could start to decay... then, they're in trouble).

"Enough" water should almost be the second concern for these plants... and again, good drainage is a MUST!

Hearing about your plants has made me REALLY want to see them! (Hint, hint!) [grin]

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by JimmyGreen on September 16, 2006 05:24 AM
Thanks Patty, I will see what I can do about pictures in the future but I am not making any promises right now. [Smile] It sounds as if you are saying that I could actually go weeks without watering these plants, except for the capella. I must have lots to learn about taking care of these plants. [teacher]

I actually noticed today that my plants don't look as well as they have for the last couple of weeks. I am wondering if doing the wrong thing is something that doesn't show up for a while. Here is the scenario. I was watering once a week for a long time. The plants did not look as well as I thought they should. I would get a few leaves turning brown on the edges of the cane. A few leaves falling off the capella, and a few leaves turning yellow and holes appearing on the braids. I thought maybe there was not enough humidity.

The thing I love about these sites with advice for taking care of your plants is that the problems that show up, whether it is brown leaves, yellow leaves, or falling leaves, is they all say it could be too much water, not enough water, too much humidity, not enough humidity, too much light, not enough light. WELL GEE, thanks a million!!!! [nutz] If it could be too much water or not enough water than how in the world am I suppose to know how to fix the problem? [thinker]

Anyway, then I started watering twice a week in the hope that it was not enough water. I was assuming that watering too much was referring to people who water everyday. All of a sudden my plants started to look better, actually very good until today. It has been humid around here lately so the humidity level in the house has been good for them, about 50 to 55 percent humidity. However, today I forgot to open the blinds before I left and they sat in very low light all day. I don't think that would be enough to all of a sudden make them look a little wilty.

The moisture level is still high in the soil even though I have not watered for 9 days now. I had two leaves fall off my capella, one leaf turn yellow on one of my braids, a couple of holes appear on the braid as well, and some brown edges appear on two leaves of my cane.

I don't know what to think anymore! [dunno]

P.S. I only have gravel on the bottom of my aloe planters. I did not place gravel on the bottom of the pots with my tropicals. I put soil all the way to the bottom. They do have drainage holes though and I do not let them sit in the water. They are taken out of the saucers and placed outside when watered so the water runs through for a few hours before they go back to the saucer.
by Patty S on September 16, 2006 07:36 PM
Jimmy, The symptoms you've mentioned ALL seem to me, to be from over-watering. Which, no... doesn't mean "watering every day", but rather, keeping certain plants wetter than they can handle & not giving them a chance to "rest" between drinks! (If your humidity is high, they ARE getting SOME water!)

It sounds as though you're going to HAVE TO get those plants out of the soil that's keeping those roots too wet, or I'm afraid that you could wind up with root rot! Get some rocks in the bottoms of those pots (at least 2 inches) & get them in a light soil that doesn't hold water well. (If you can make a mud ball out of the soil, you'll know that it's too dense to drain properly, for those types of plants.)

I really don't know what to tell you about the symptoms of over-under watering not showing up for a while... it's probably different with each plant type, & you really have to analyze each of them, individually. Let me do some hunting & see what I can come up with for you, & hopefully, some of the people around here who actually have more experience with the particular plants you have, will pop in & tell us what works for them.

Meanwhile, go next door here, & read what I wrote about my Dracaena. (Be sure to read the archive link there, too. It was VERY helpful to me, in understanding that plant!)

By the way....
The thing I love about these sites with advice for taking care of your plants...
I know exactly what you mean, But... I would like to think that THIS is NOT just "one of these sites"! [critic]

I think I've seen pretty much all of the OTHER ones, & personally, I wouldn't waste my time even trying to get a straight answer from them! There are MANY people here who will take the time to share what they know, & are eager to help others out with their plant problems!

Some folks aren't as articulate as others, so they might not communicate in enough detail to "clearly" ask (or answer) a question... & that's when it might be necessary to pick their brains for more specifics.

We need to remember that not everyone has strong communication skills, but they still want to show what they grow & share what they know... & posts might come out as a one-sentence statement sometimes, such as, "Sounds to me like you're over-watering!" (Isn't that better than no one saying ANYTHING at all?) [dunno] Just keep asking questions, & if that same person doesn't come back & say more, then someone else is bound to come along who can and will explain things better!

The people here on the Garden Forum aren't perfect, but they ARE the best bunch going! Stick around, my friend, & you'll see!  -

We DO want you be a successful gardener, & to be able to enjoy your healthy plants!

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by JimmyGreen on September 17, 2006 02:28 AM
Thanks Patty, I guess you are saying that I can't just wait for the soil to dry out? It seems amazing to me that everything was good for the last couple of months and now I haven't watered in the longest and the soil won't dry. I am going to give it a few more days and hope for the best, if they don't dry I will have to repot. Dang it!
by JimmyGreen on September 17, 2006 02:41 AM
Patty, two things I forgot to mention. First, the soil I used is a high quality potting soil and it is peat moss based. Second, I have a decorative green moss on top of the soil which probably holds moisture in. Everything I have seen on this has said this is a good thing.
by Patty S on September 17, 2006 03:15 AM
OK, you have the right kind of soil in the pot, but it does need to have better drainage.
...everything was good for the last couple of months and now I haven't watered in the longest and the soil won't dry.
We might be back to the subject about things not reacting right away. [dunno] Like anything else, plants will sometimes tolerate less than perfect conditions for just so long, before they can't ignore them any longer. I hope that when you repot, to get the rocks in there, you don't find mushy, water-logged roots that stopped taking in moisture.

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by Tomacco on September 17, 2006 08:42 PM
JimmyGreen, I don't have experience with your specific plants but I do with Overwatering the result of overwatering <drat>. You don't mention what kind of pot (plastic or clay), but in plastic, plants will stay more wet.
I am going to give it a few more days and hope for the best, if they don't dry I will have to repot.
May I suggest, in addition to good stone drainage at the bottom, that when you repot and if you find the root ball is wet, set your plant on some newspaper for a day or two (not exposing the roots to hot sun). This will wick out excess moisture. Definitely repot in a clay pot that breathes.

Can you post pics of your plant?

p.s. I'd believe your moisture meter [Smile]

* * * *

That coffee was so strong, it swallowed the cream...
by JimmyGreen on September 17, 2006 08:46 PM
Thanks Patty. I hope the roots are ok when I take them out. I think these plants are in pretty good shape right now. I am sure they will be fine. I wanted to add another plant anyway so rearranging some of them in different pots was going to take place regardless. I will do what I can as far as pictures. I actually lost my digital camera on a trip a little while ago so I have not taken many pictures lately.
by JimmyGreen on September 17, 2006 11:47 PM
I repotted two of them. I used the same high quality soil as before and even added a little extra peat moss and a little extra perlite for aeration. I also lined the bottom of the pots with stones about 2 inches high. The new soil before I even water shows a 5 to a 6 on the water meter. I wondering if I even need to water these things at all. [Big Grin] If you were going to throw out an estimate, what would you say for watering with a nice humidity level? Once every two weeks?
by Star Dancer on September 19, 2006 05:49 PM
I respectfully disagree with much of what already has been said.

Water meters are notoriously unreliable. They don't measure moisture levels but rather, soil conductivity, which can be affected by several factors, of which moisture level is only one. Other factors include soil composition, the presence of minerals, pH levels. More reliable is to poke your finger deep into the soil to test moisture or use a soil probe which takes soil samples and provides aeration at the same time.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, placing gravel in the bottom of the pot can compound the problem. The physics is a bit complicated but the gravel or pebbles can cause the lower soil to remain moist too long, placing plants as risk for root rot. Always pot plants in pots with drainage holes.

Watering by the calendar is never a good idea as factors such as amount of available light, pot size, humidity levels, even the health of the plant can all affect how long it takes soil to dry and different plant species have unique water requirements. If you think the decorative moss is retaining too much moisture, you might want to experiment by removing it to see if it makes a difference.
by JimmyGreen on September 21, 2006 03:03 AM
OK great, now I am really confused. Thanks to all anyway. I have repotted all my plants with stones for drainage, all pots are clay based, I have used high quality soil with peat moss and perlite, and I am going to say prayers. HA

I am begining to doubt the moisture meter also. I stuck it in a new bag of soil that was probably sitting in home depot for 3 month and it read 10 on the moisture level. Highest level. What?????
by Tomacco on September 21, 2006 03:17 AM
JimmyGreen, Often, I have gotten bags of soil from HomeDepot, Lowes, and a local nursery and they ARE wet if it's been raining in the area within the past two weeks. More often than not, these bags are stored outside. I have even gotten bagged mulch that was mouldy in the center of the bag.

Does this "10" soil you just tested hold together when you squeeze it in your hand? Spread some of it out to dry, pack it in a cup and try your meter again.

Please don't write off a moisture meter. It is merely a guide in addition to other efforts we all make in determining when to water.

Tending potted plants is trial and error. If at first we don't succeed, we try something different until we do succeed [Smile]

* * * *

That coffee was so strong, it swallowed the cream...
by Patty S on September 21, 2006 03:23 AM
Contrary to conventional wisdom, placing gravel in the bottom of the pot can compound the problem. The physics is a bit complicated but the gravel or pebbles can cause the lower soil to remain moist too long, placing plants as risk for root rot.
[shocked] Now THAT'S interesting!

Please explain it to me. While it may be complicated, I'd like to know more about this & I have time to listen... or, can you put up a link to information that you may have come across?

Thanks. [Smile]

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by Star Dancer on September 22, 2006 02:22 PM
Initially it seems counterintuitive that adding pebbles could impair drainage but the science supports it. Principles of gravity, cohesion, and adhesion all interplay in the drainage of water in potted plants. A simple but good explanation can be found in this forum's archives;f=27;t=001130;p=0

Sorry for the typed out URLs but the UBB code doesn't seem to be working, at least on my computer.

Happy reading! [Smile]

by Star Dancer on September 22, 2006 02:34 PM
It seems the forum administration has blocked the URL of that site but searching the keywords gravity, water adhesion, cohesion, perched water table, potted plants will net lots of interesting reading. [Smile]
by Patty S on September 22, 2006 04:35 PM
Thanks, Star! [thumb] I'd never given any thought to the principles you mentioned (or to surface tension) in relationship to "drainage rocks" in a plant pot. VERY interesting... I'll have to mull it over for a while, so it can sink in!

I've never had a problem with plants such as my Dracaena, Spiders & Lipstick, & I do have rocks in their planters. [nutz] As this new information sinks in to my teeny brain, I'm wondering if my using lava rock has something to do with why I haven't experienced any root rot.  - (Many of my Orchids came in lava rock, & I think I might understand why, now! I've always thought that bark media was better, so I've repotted them!) [Roll Eyes]

I haven't used the lava rock "on purpose", FOR the plants, though... When we bought this house, all the pathways were filled with that stuff & I hate it, because I'm always barefoot & it's murder to walk on! I've given a lot of it away, raked the rest into a big pile behind the house & replaced it with sand. (It's easier on the feet & makes weeding the pathways a breeze!) ...So, when I've needed rocks for plant pots, it's just meant that many less to step on!

Thanks also, for finding that thread hidden in the archives! [shocked] I'd never seen it before... (entertaining, too)!

**By the way, Jimmy said that he replanted in clay pots. Uhhh, I don't think that was a good thing.. what do you think, Star? (Sorry Jimmy... I know it was a lot of work, but you might have to do the whole thing over!)**  -

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by Star Dancer on September 23, 2006 08:38 AM
You're welcome, Patty!

Like you, I've also had some success using drainage rocks in the bottom of pots, however, don't recommend it because it is more difficult to accurately monitor moisture levels deep down and, well, why take the chance, especially for someone already prone to overwatering or having plant problems?

Soil in unglazed clay pots dries out a little quicker than in glazed clay or plastic pots, which shouldn't be a problem if moisture levels are carefully monitored. I think more important is to use correctly sized pots. Most of my plants are in clay pots, others remain in their original ugly plastic grow pots, double potted in decorative pots (kinda defeats the purpose to have gorgeous plants displayed in ugly pots, right? At least that's how I justify my purchases to DH!)

Walking on lava rock?! OUCH!!! Sand is much easier on tender tootsies and very Zen. Bet it looks fantastic!

BTW, is there a trick to inserting those cute graemlins? Nothing happens when I click on them and I only know the code for a smilie.

by JimmyGreen on September 24, 2006 02:40 AM
OK guys and gals, I will go over the entire set up since it seems you all may be picturing something different based on my lack of providing full info. For one I didn't mention the drainage holes and that may have led to confusion.

I have 6 pots and all of them are what I would call clay-based. I don't know too much about pots. Is there anything other than clay and plastic? These are what you would typically find at home depot. Polished on the outside but rough on the inside. They all have 3 to 4 drainage holes on the bottom. They all sit on top of a saucer. I have now placed a level of rocks in the bottom.

Now based on what Star said about the science behind the gravel, which sounds highly probable, I still don't think that would cause a problem because I do have the drainage holes. My soil is not going to be affected by being packed into the drainage holes because of the barrier of rocks and the rocks are not going to let the water sit because there is drainage. I see that this should be the best possible way to water and get the water to flow through.

I have not given up on the water meter although I will also test with the finger. The soil I bought was at home depot and it was in the area of the tropical plants. It was not outside where it could get rained on and it was on one of their typical pallet set ups where it probably had been sitting for a while. It is the greenhouse area which I am sure is a little more humid than the rest of the building but certainly should not have had water hitting it. It must be that the conductivity and minerals in it make the reading high. It is pre-fertilized mix. When you take it out of the bag it is black and a little moist. You can't make a mud ball with it but it isn't exactly dry powder either.
by Patty S on September 24, 2006 04:15 AM
Jimmy, you sound like you're well on your way to success with your plants, because once a person gets a grip on all the interesting things like the ones we've covered in this thread, they have a lot better chance of being able to monitor the plants & watch for symptoms. (Lots to keep track of, huh?!) [thumb]

I've certainly gotten new insight to some things from the issues that have been covered here, & I'm going to step aside on the 'types of pots' subject, & see if I can learn more stuff! If nobody offers anything up on the subject, I might come back with what little I know. (I came here today, primarily to get newborn baby pictures posted, & seem to keep getting sidetracked on my way!) In keeping with what Star mentioned, it's been my observation that the uglier or more mundane the pot looks, the better it probably is for the plant! [Roll Eyes]

Walking on lava rock?! OUCH!!! Sand is much easier on tender tootsies and very Zen. Bet it looks fantastic!

BTW, is there a trick to inserting those cute graemlins? Nothing happens when I click on them and I only know the code for a smilie.

Nope, looks like sand... & sounds like sand when it sucks up into the vacuum, as I think most of it gets tracked into the house! [Big Grin] (I wanted a clay/sand mixture, & was told at the quarry that's what I was buying, but it turned out to be 100% sand!  - The clay is in my gardens!) [Frown]

No "tricks" to the smiley guys... if I can do it, anybody can! I'll PM you... BUT FIRST, I need to get on task & post those baby pictures!) [wavey]

* * * *
by JimmyGreen on September 28, 2006 12:10 AM
Star dancer, if it isn't too much trouble I would like to inquire you on the soil probe you talked about. I am becoming more unsure of the moisture meter. This is what I typically see. The soil looks only slightly moist at best. Even a little dry and light brown on top and as I put my finger down an inch or two I find it to be slighty moist at best but it still does not stick together like a mudball. The moisture meter reads moist at two inches and then wet the farther I go down. I believe now that this is because of mineral composition and not the actual water level. How does the soil probe work and are they available at most places like Home Depot?
by Star Dancer on September 28, 2006 05:16 PM

My soil probe is made of durable, sturdy, yet inexpensive, plastic, 12" long plus handle, with 5 evenly spaced notches along the length of the probe to gather soil samples.

You insert the probe deep into the soil all the way to the bottom of the pot, twist the probe 1/4 turn, then pull out. Small soil samples are scooped up into the notches so you can more easily and accurately tell how dry or moist the soil is at different levels of the pot. I usually repeat the process 3-6 times to aerate the soil. If a plant is potted in a poper size pot, you will likely strike a root or two inserting the probe. Though unnerving the first few times it happens, don't worry, it won't harm the plant.

Pinch the soil in each notch between your fingers; dry soil will crumble into a fine powder and will easily blow away with gently blowing. The other extreme are the mud pies you refer to. Slightly damp and moderatly moist soils will fall in on somewhere on the continuum,, sticking to itself to varying degrees.

Soil probe results are another tool in an indoor gardener's arsenal to help accurately determine one of the most challenging aspects of houseplant care, after appropriate lighting. The finger method works well with smaller pots but is impractical with pots too large to deeply insert a finger.

Because I purchased my soil probe online, I've never looked for one in Home Depot or other retailers. In case it is against forum policy to post links to commercial sites, I'll PM you with information about mine.

BTW, it seems there is still some confusion about pots and drainage layers. I will return to this post, time permitting, to address why it is that even with drainage holes, potted plants are still at greater risk for root rot in a pot that has a bottom drainage layer. Unfortunaely, I'm half asleep and probably wouldn't make any sense if I tried to explain it now. Class starts early, so I'm off to bed!

by JimmyGreen on September 30, 2006 06:32 AM
Thanks Star. I am starting to regret the repotting using the rocks if it is going to mean repotting again. Arrgg! I bought another plant and forget the name now but it is a three stem plant with long green leaves with reddish streaks thoughout. Nice looking plant. After a couple weeks it has the bottom leaves starting to wilt and some of those becoming pale. I am wondering what is causing that. I also have a leaf or two on my braided plants turning pale green once in a while and I am wondering if that is normal or not. It happens every 2 to 3 weeks or so. There seems to be a couple of different things happening and I don't know enough to know whether these things are normal.

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