Soil moisture sensor

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A simple soil moisture sensor for gardeners.

Soil moisture sensors measure the water content in soil.[1] A soil moisture probe is made up of multiple soil moisture sensors. Since analytical measurement of free soil moisture requires removing a sample and drying it to extract moisture, soil moisture sensors measure some other property, such as electrical resistance, dielectric constant, or interaction with neutrons, as a proxy for moisture content. The relation between the measured property and soil moisture must be calibrated and may vary depending on soil type. Reflected microwave radiation is affected by the soil moisture and is used for remote sensing in hydrology and agriculture. Portable probe instruments are used by farmers or gardeners.

Soil moisture sensors typically refer to sensors that estimate volumetric water content. Another class of sensors measure another property of moisture in soils called water potential. These sensors are usually referred to as soil water potential sensors and include tensiometers and gypsum blocks.


Technologies commonly used in soil moisture sensors (water content) include:

Water potential sensors

  • Tensiometer
  • heat dissipation sensors rely on the effective thermal conductivity of soil. Soil with additional water conducts heat more readily than dry soil.[4] Heat dissipation sensors that include a porous intermediate water holding element are subject to errors of up to 30% during the wet and dry cycles.[5]
  • electrical resistance sensors such as Gypsum blocks[6]


Measuring soil moisture is important in agriculture to help farmers manage their irrigation systems more efficiently. Not only are farmers able to generally use less water to grow a crop, they are able to increase yields and the quality of the crop by better management of soil moisture during critical plant growth stages.

Besides agriculture, there are many other disciplines using soil moisture sensors. Golf courses are now using sensors to increase the efficiencies of their irrigation systems to prevent over watering and leaching of fertilizers and other chemicals offsite.

Landscape irrigation[edit]

In urban and suburban areas, landscapes and residential lawns are using soil moisture sensors to interface with an irrigation controller. Connecting a soil moisture sensor to a simple irrigation clock will convert it into a "smart" irrigation controller that prevents an irrigation cycle when the soil is wet.

Simple sensors for gardeners[edit]

Cheap and simple devices are available for checking whether plants have sufficient moisture to thrive that do not require a power source. After inserting a probe into the soil for approximately 60 seconds a meter indicates if the soil is too dry, moist or wet for plants.


  1. ^ Arnold, James E. "Soil Moisture". NASA. Retrieved 15 June 2015. Soil moisture is difficult to define because it means different things in different disciplines. For example, a farmer's concept of soil moisture is different from that of a water resource manager or a weather forecaster. Generally, however, soil moisture is the water that is held in the spaces between soil particles. Surface soil moisture is the water that is in the upper 10 cm of soil, whereas root zone soil moisture is the water that is available to plants, which is generally considered to be in the upper 200 cm of soil. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ archiveurl= archivedate=2013-01-01
  4. ^ 229 Heat Dissipation Matric Water Potential Sensor (PDF), Instruction Manual, Logan, Utah: Campbell Scientific, Inc., May 2009, pp. 2–3 
  5. ^ Scanlon, Bridget; Andraski, Brian J.; Bilskie, Jim (2002), "Miscellaneous Methods for Measuring Matric or Water Potential", in Dane, Jacob H.; Topp, G. Clark, Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 4, Physical Methods (PDF), Soil Science Society of America 5, Madison, WI: Soil Sci. Soc. Am., pp. 643–671, ISBN 978-0891188414 
  6. ^ Scanlon, Andraski & Bilskie 2002, pp. 654–659

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