Water is a vital part of thriving plant life; without it, plants would shrivel up and die. Ensuring your plants receive the precise amount of water they need can be difficult, especially if you’re new to gardening. Plus, even the most experienced gardeners over- and under-water their plants once in a while. When you’re taking care of a jungle of plants, it can be hard to remember the specific needs of each one.
While a quick poke in the dirt can show if the soil is soaking wet, it’s tougher to discern more subtle moisture levels. Checking moisture levels also can help determine how well the soil is retaining water. If the soil feels dry after a rainstorm, it may be draining too well. With the help of a soil moisture meter, you can do away with some of the guesswork and get it right almost every time.
Keep reading to learn more about how to select a soil moisture meter, and check out some of the best soil moisture meters on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: XLUX Soil Moisture Meter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter
- BEST FOR KIDS: AM Conservation Group Soil Moisture Meter
- BEST FOR COMPOST: REOTEMP Garden and Compost Moisture Meter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Soil Moisture Meter
A quality soil moisture meter is a worthwhile investment for the well-being of your indoor and outdoor plants. The best soil moisture meters are accurate and sturdy, providing precise information in nearly any soil condition. When choosing a moisture meter, consider its intended use, display type, your soil type, and any additional measurement or smart features that would help make maintaining plants even easier.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Use
A soil moisture meter is a helpful tool for any household plant, from a potted fiddle leaf fig to a burgeoning vegetable patch. Many soil moisture meters are equipped for both indoor and outdoor use, but there are a few features to take into consideration.
Indoor plants tend to be smaller and rest in looser potting soil. A moisture meter with a short probe may be suitable for indoor potted plants, which are usually not very deep. Short probes also are easier to store, and durability is less of a concern with indoor use.
For outdoor plants, durability may be a more important feature. Consider a meter with a sturdier build, like a model with a probe at least 1/4-inch thick so it’s more resistant to bending, or one with a stainless steel housing instead of plastic. Also, consider models with a longer probe for outdoor use. Long probes are especially useful for certain jobs, like using a compost moisture meter to check a pile of compost. Probes on a compost moisture meter are often thicker, with about a 5/16-inch diameter.
Analog vs. Digital
Soil moisture meters come in analog and digital models. An analog meter is a cost-effective pick for the average gardener. These meters are simple and often show their moisture readings on a 1 to 10 scale, sometimes color-coded for easier use. Analog meters don’t require batteries and are ready to use right out of the box.
Digital moisture meters can include a range of convenient features, but they do come at a cost. While pricier than a simple analog meter, they can be more accurate, easier to read, and may have remote or smart connective capabilities. Digital soil moisture meters will require batteries or USB charging.
Regardless of the moisture meter type, a clear and easy-to-read display is helpful. Some meters have an angled display on the top of the unit to make it easier to view while it is in the soil.
Soil Type and Texture
The soil type and texture can influence the choice of soil moisture meter. For harder soil types, like heavier clay soils, look for a meter with a very sturdy probe. Although most meters have aluminum or steel probes, some flimsier and thinner options can bend or dent in harder soils. A probe that’s at least 1/4-inch thick is a better choice for these soil textures.
As any soil moisture meter can handle the looser potting soil used for indoor plants, the probe is a greater concern for outdoor plants. However, regardless of the meter type, it’s best not to jam the meter into the soil. If there’s too much resistance in any soil type or texture, pull the meter out and try a different spot.
Also, keep in mind that high levels of sodium in soil can cause inaccurate readings, and it may be helpful to test soil salinity if plants are failing to thrive. When using a soil moisture meter in salt-affected soils, the meter can display the moisture level as higher than it really is. In these cases, physically feeling the soil can help determine if the reading is on the right track.
Multifunctional soil meters can include a range of measurement features. These handy meters can provide a snapshot of soil conditions that warn about any potential problems. Additional sensors can measure pH levels, light levels, and ambient temperature.
- Moisture: The simplest meters are a type of hygrometer and have moisture sensors to gauge soil moisture levels. They often show the moisture level on a color-coded scale of 1 to 10, a decimal number, or a percentage value, where lower numbers mean drier soil and higher numbers indicate wetter soil.
- pH: Some moisture meters include pH sensors to measure the pH levels of soil and give insight into whether the soil is acidic or alkaline.
- Light levels: Different plants prefer different levels of lighting. A lighting meter measures the intensity of light in a specific area.
- Ambient temperature: Some moisture meters also measure the surrounding ambient temperature. This measurement can give an idea of when the season is changing and indicate the right time to plant or prune certain plants.
Accuracy is an important feature in a moisture meter; it can mean the difference between a thriving or languishing garden. For a more accurate reading, consider a digital moisture meter. Some digital meters show soil moisture levels to a decimal point or percentage, making them more accurate than an analog meter with a 1 to 10 scale.
Calibration features also can help with accuracy. A user-calibrated meter allows the calibration to be adjusted for different conditions, such as for gardening or composting, humidity conditions, or to the specific moisture needs of certain plants.
Also consider the appropriate probe length for the intended use. For example, a compost moisture meter tends to be much longer than a moisture meter for potted indoor plants. Most meters have moisture sensors at the end of the probe—not along the entire length—so the right length is important for an accurate reading. The probe needs to be long enough to reach the area to be measured. Probe lengths can range from a few inches to as long as 24 inches.
Like many devices, soil moisture meters can include smart connectivity features. Smart soil moisture meters connect via Bluetooth to a smart device to display their findings. This opens the door to a variety of extra features, like tracking a plant’s history and progress and making tailored suggestions for each plant.
For ease of use, these smart devices often have a sensor that sits inside the plant at all times. Users can then connect to the sensor device via an app to check on soil conditions. Beyond just measuring moisture levels, most of these devices measure light levels, temperature, and fertilizer levels. This information can indicate ways to improve plant care.
Our Top Picks
The following picks include an array of some of the best soil moisture meters from simple analog devices to high-tech, Bluetooth-enabled models. Read on to discover a selection of products that fit almost every budget and gardening scenario.
For basic but reliable soil moisture readings, depend on this simple moisture meter from XLUX. Using a single 7-inch probe, this meter measures the soil moisture level of indoor and outdoor plants. The large color-coded, 10-point scale is clear and easy to decipher, making it simple to tell when plants need more or less hydration.
Simply insert the meter probe into the soil, and the dial will show an immediate result. Although it doesn’t have the features of more expensive devices, this meter offers accurate and near-instant moisture level readings. It also doesn’t require any batteries or charging, making it ready to use right from the box.
- Easy to read
- Immediate and reliable result
- No batteries required
- Not designed to stay in the soil permanently
This inexpensive soil moisture meter from Gouevn is a simple device with no bells and whistles. If your goal is to test the soil’s moisture levels and nothing else, it’ll do the trick. The analog display is easy to read. The back of the packaging also features a handy watering guide for both indoor and outdoor plants.
The 7.7-inch probe is sensitive and works without a battery. To receive an instant reading, just pop it into the soil, making sure not to hit rocks or pebbles, and then check the display. The dial will provide a reading on a scale of 1 to 10, showing if it’s time to quench the plants or put away the watering can.
- Great for maintaining plant health
- Accurate readings
- Good customer service
- Not suitable for hard compacted soil
Kids can learn so much by joining in the garden work. They can learn how food grows and how different plants and insects, like ladybugs, work together to rid the ecosystem of unwanted pests. This moisture meter from AM Conservation Group is shaped like a ladybug, offering a colorful garden accessory that can help get kids excited about this gardening task.
No batteries are required for this moisture meter, which displays the level of moisture on a scale from 1 to 10. While watering may not be many gardeners’ favorite chore, it’s an essential one. Perhaps this big-eyed ladybug can make it more fun for gardeners of all ages.
- Fun ladybug design
- Simple to use
- Can prevent overwatering
- Needs to be wiped with a cloth between tests
This soil moisture meter from REOTEMP is suitable for gardening-related tasks, but because it features a long 15-inch probe, it’s particularly ideal for probing the compost pile. If the compost is too dry, it can take a long time for the material to decompose. Leave it soaking wet, and it might end up attracting pests.
The lengthy meter can help stabilize moisture levels, speeding up the composting process. It’s made of rust-resistant stainless steel and provides instant readings. The heavy-duty stem is thicker than the probe of an average moisture meter to prevent it from bending when testing thick compost or heavy soils. This meter is powered by one AAA battery.
- Multiple lengths available
- Rust-resistant stainless steel
- Heavy-duty thick stem
For quick and accurate moisture readings while watering your plants, consider the XLUX Soil Moisture Meter. If you have deep areas of soil or compost and require a more robust unit, then the REOTEMP Garden and Compost Moisture Meter is your best bet.
How We Chose the Best Soil Moisture Meters
The best soil moisture meters are accurate, affordable, and easy to use. These devices are a useful pick to add to your gardening tool kit. Our list of top picks offer an accurate measurement of soil moisture conditions. We made sure to suggest products that are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. We also included several battery-free options for added convenience. More robust meters that provide highly accurate information do require a battery, and we have researched the product that stands out in the market and included it in our list of recommendations.
Advantages of Using a Soil Moisture Meter
It’s no secret that plants need water to survive, but the amount of water also makes a big difference. While you can stick a finger in the soil and try to judge the moisture level from feel, it won’t yield very accurate results. This method also isn’t effective when it comes to deep plant roots or compost piles.
Using a soil moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering plants and provides an accurate moisture level reading. These affordable and simple-to-use gardening tools can help potted plants or garden beds flourish. A soil moisture meter is worth the investment for the following reasons:
- A soil moisture meter can provide an accurate and numerical reading of soil moisture levels, so you will be better informed of when to quench the plants’ thirst or hold off on watering.
- They are easy to use. They are even easier than a finger test or guessing the soil moisture levels by sight. There’s no need to take off gardening gloves or dig around in the dirt; just insert the moisture meter probe into the soil.
- Some soil moisture meters also measure soil pH, light levels, and surrounding temperature. These features give a better overall picture of conditions so you can take your garden from surviving to thriving.
Aid your green thumb with a soil moisture meter. These handheld devices are a small but useful tool for gardeners, providing a tangible measure of soil moisture levels. When choosing a soil moisture meter, the following answers to some frequently asked questions may help.
Q. Are soil moisture meters accurate?
Yes, a soil moisture meter provides a numerical measure which is more sensitive than the touch-and-feel method many gardeners use. Most inexpensive analog meters provide a measure on a 1 to 10 scale, which is accurate enough for the average gardener. For an even more accurate reading, consider a digital moisture meter that provides a reading to the nearest decimal point or shows a percentage.
Q. What should your soil moisture be?
The ideal soil moisture level depends on the type of plant you are growing. Some plants thrive with very little moisture (as low as one or two on a 10-point scale), while others prefer very moist soil (eight or higher).
Q. Can I leave my moisture meter in soil?
It depends on the moisture meter, but most meters on the market should not be left in the soil. Although moisture meters are made to withstand some wear and tear, leaving the device in the soil can cause it to rust and degrade. Unless otherwise specified, it is best to clean and store a moisture meter after each use. If leaving it in the soil is an important feature for your garden, look for one specifically designed to be left in the soil.