The phrase “evenly moist” is frequently used to describe how to water plants that do not like to dry completely.
The problem is that “evenly moist” doesn’t provide a lot of clarity about how to achieve it successfully. The vagueness of “evenly moist” often results in plants that are overwatered and susceptible to root rot or underwatered and becoming brown and crispy.
“Evenly moist” is also described frequently as “plants that like to be watered when approaching dryness.”
Some examples of plants that need to remain evenly moist are ferns, anthuriums, prayer plants, most alocasias, peace lilies, many begonias, and many orchids as well.
Many plants that prefer to have a consistent level of moisture can survive occasionally drying out.
However, there are some plants that will quickly deteriorate if not kept moist. One example is rare anthuriums (like Anthurium clarinervium).
What are some ways to successfully keep a plant evenly moist?
I am aware of 3 methods to keep a plant evenly moist. Utilize the links below to skip to a particularly method or keep reading to learn about all 3.
Each method is linked to the detailed section below.
#1 Use a Moisture Meter
A moisture meter is an inexpensive tool that measures the amount of moisture in your potting mix. It typically measures moisture level using a range from 1 to 10.
Results from 1-3 are labelled as dry conditions.
Results from 4-6 are moist conditions.
Results from 7-10 are labelled as wet conditions.
To help a plant stay within the moist range (from 4-6), the plant can be watered as soon as it reaches a 3 (the line between moist and dry).
You want to avoid allowing the plant to get too dry by avoiding it getting down to the 1 or 2 reading.
#2 Use Your Fingers or a Chopstick to Gauge Moisture Level
Another way to gauge the moisture level in your potting mix is to use a chopstick or your fingers.
Option 1: Use a chopstick to determine moisture level:
Insert the chopstick into the potting mix and then pull out slowly. If soil sticks to the chopstick, the potting mix is still moist or wet. If soil does not stick and the chopstick comes out clean, the potting mix is dry and ready for watering.
To use this method to maintain evenly moist conditions, the chopstick is inserted at a shallower level (between 1 to 4 inches, depending on pot size) and when the upper layers are dry (no soil sticks to the chopstick), the plant is watered.
Option 2: Use a finger instead of a chopstick to measure moisture level:
If the potting mix in the top layer sticks to your finger, it’s still wet. If it doesn’t stick, it’s dry and time to water.
Option 3: Gauge moisture level by touch:
If the first inch or so of potting mix is dry to the touch, it is time to water.
I don’t personally use this method because I have a tough time distinguishing between cold potting mix and moist potting mix.
There have been multiple instances where the potting mix feels moist to me but a moisture meter shows that it is actually dry.
Option 4: Pinch the potting mix between your fingers to gauge moisture level.
Soil that is still moist or wet will clump together; soil that is dry will fall apart again into its individual components.
#3 Use Setups that Maintain a Level of Moisture for You
The last method I am aware of to keep a plant evenly moist is to use a setup that does the job for you.
Growing plants in passive hydroponics will maintain a constant moisture level for your plant.
Passive hydroponics (or semi hydroponics) is a growing method where the substrate houses the roots of the plant in the top two-thirds and the bottom third is submerged in water.
The substrate then wicks water up to the plant as needed, providing a constant level of moisture.
Our job is to maintain some water in the bottom of the pot so the wicking action is continuous and to provide the plant with nutrients regularly (since it isn’t planted in a potting mix that would normally provide these nutrients).
Planting in a self-watering pot will maintain a consistent moisture level
Self-watering pots are designed to wick water from the water reservoir into the potting mix. This is similar to passive hydro but uses a regular potting mix instead.
There are many different designs that can accomplish this goal. Two of these designs are discussed below.
Design #1: The self-watering pot uses a string that is threaded from a water reservoir through the potting mix and back into the reservoir (where the string wicks water to the plant).
Here is an example from Amazon of a self-watering pot that uses a string to wick water:
Design #2: The pot consists of an inner unglazed clay pot and an outer glazed clay pot. The outer pot holds water while the inner, porous pot wicks water through the sides of it, providing a slow release of moisture into the potting mix.
Here is an example of this particular type of self-watering pot from Amazon:
There are many more setups that work successfully for people.
Do you need a rich soil to keep a plant evenly moist?
Nope. In fact, you may not want to use a very rich soil because even water-loving plants can develop root rot and dislike being kept in wet conditions.
I use a well-draining mix with my moisture lovers, but check their moisture level more frequently.
If you choose to use a more water-retentive mix, be sure to monitor the moisture level for the first week to ensure the plant doesn’t stay very wet for long periods of time.
The material your plant’s pot is made from also helps to increase or decrease moisture levels
Unglazed, clay pots (like terracotta) are porous and wick water out of the potting mix. Cement pots also absorb water out of potting mix (unless glazed). These types are perfect for plants that want to dry out quickly.
Plastic or glazed pots do not provide this wicking capacity and therefore keep potting mixes wet or moist for longer periods of time.
Can you plant moisture-loving specimens in terracotta or cement pots? Yes. That is what I do with the majority of my plants that want to stay moist. I just check them VERY frequently to ensure they are not dry for long, if at all.
- Plants that prefer to stay evenly moist do not like to dry out.
- There are multiple easy methods to keep a plant evenly moist:
- Use a moisture meter
- Use a chopstick or finger
- Pinch the potting mix
- Self-watering pots or using passive hydroponics is another way to maintain consistent moisture
- Even water-loving plants like well-draining potting mixes (for the most part)
- The type of pot you use affects how long water is retained in the potting mix of your plant
Have any other questions regarding this topic? Let me know in the comments below!
Click to read last week’s article: How to Care for the Vanilla Bean Orchid