Kill any plants lately? If so, it was probably because of too little or too much water. The tool you need is the moisture meter. Now, one of the guest speakers (the “Giggling Gardener”, I believe) on the Farmer Fred radio show said that each of us has a moisture meter on each hand. But, honestly, I don’t like jamming my finger down into the soil. I hate dirt under my fingernails. Then too, sometimes even a long finger can’t get through the plant to reach the soil.
Many moisture meters come with 2 probes. I personally find the additional metering of pH and light useless. A second probe also makes it twice as hard to penetrate the soil. Moisture meters are available at garden centers and nurseries for about $10. If you can only find 2 probe models, I suggest you snip off the second probe. Are you really ever going to adjust the pH of your soil? Dip each probe separately into water to see which one detects moisture. Don’t leave the meter in soil between uses. Corrosion will reduce effectiveness. If corrosion appears, use steel wool or fine sandpaper to clean the probe.
I believe most of you have potted plants, and it is those plants that are susceptible to over or under watering. Whether it is potted irises, violets, cyclamen, ferns, or Chinese evergreens, soil moisture needs to be monitored. By the way, you do realize the proper way to water a potted plant is to apply water until it runs out the bottom. That will reduce the buildup of minerals in the soil. Another tip is to beware of drip basins. Water left in a drip basin will cause soil to remain saturated resulting in root rot because of a lack of oxygen.
Keeping potting soil moist can also result in the culture of soil or fungus gnats. These are tiny (like 1/8 in) flies that arise from the soil of indoor potted plants when watered or otherwise disturbed. The flying adults are harmless, but it is the larval stage that can do damage by eating the roots hairs of your plants. Here you can use your moisture meter to monitor soil moisture. Allow the top layer of the potting mix to dry out between watering. This will simply break the life cycle of this pest without the application of various chemical products that are available. Watering from the bottom up is another technique to keep the soil surface dry.
Moisture meters are common in nurseries and can be purchased on Amazon for less than $10. I encourage you to leave the moisture meter somewhere in the house where you will come across it frequently to remind you to check your potted plants. Believe me, you will kill fewer plants by using this simple device.
Keeping my fingers clean,
Stan, The Tool Man