Get A Moisture Meter

By Bonnie Grant | November 9, 2022
Image by Björn Forenius
by Bonnie Grant
November 9, 2022

I love my houseplants. I mean seriously adore them. Many of them are decades old and have been moved to a few new homes. They have always done beautifully until my current abode. Since we moved to this house, my plants have struggled. Some of this is due to raising a feral litter of kittens, but part of it is due to low light. And some of it is due to me.

Moisture and Houseplants

Most plants need well-draining soil, a certain level of light, and moisture, with a smattering of other things thrown in as well. My houseplants are a combination of desert and tropical varieties. Each has its own peccadilloes which I aim to satisfy. Many of my plants are very stoic and continue to grow steadily, but a few complain about their current circumstances.

There are two issues with my plants. In spite of gorgeous picture windows on the west side of the home, very little light penetrates the interior. I use plant lights, but they don’t seem to give some of the desert plants enough light. The other major issue is dampness. Our home is damp. I use a dehumidifier which helps bring moisture levels down to 50 % after running for an hour or more. But even at that level, the ambient moisture is a bit too much for some plants.

This leads to an operator error situation. I had, for years, a certain watering schedule for all my interior plants. I have had to adapt this over the year significantly. When I first moved here, many of my plants got fungus gnats. These soil gnats are common when overwatering occurs. It became apparent that my watering schedule had to change to a large degree.

Treating Fungus Gnats

I re-potted any infected plants and determined to chart a new course for watering houseplants. The desert plants are neglected to a large degree now, but seem not to mind. I no longer get soil gnats nor occasional rot.

Moving on to tropical houseplant watering. These guys primarily like to be kept moderately moist, but care must be taken to prevent excess water. I manually monitor their water needs by inserting a finger to the second knuckle. When I don’t detect moisture, it’s time to water. Seems to be working well, so far.

The plants that have been affected the most are my snake plant (which is supposed to be such a forgiving specimen, so you can see how badly I have botched this), and the jade tree. Some of their initial problems resulted from overly rambunctious kittens, but now that they are older and some have been adopted, poor health has persisted. I’m seeing signs of rallying in the jade, but I’m not so sure about my snake plant. It hasn’t grown all year and looks very sad indeed.

I never put my houseplants outdoors, but I am changing this in the upcoming warm season for some of them. I’m worried about other insects getting into the soil but will use some Bti to hopefully squelch any hitchhikers. I think a season of real world exposure might do wonders for some of my struggling babies.

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