What is a soil thermometer? (with photo)

Soil temperature can be monitored using a soil thermometer.

A soil thermometer is a thermometer specifically designed to measure soil temperature. Gardeners find these tools useful for plantation planning and are also used by climate scientists, farmers and soil scientists. Soil temperature can provide a lot of useful information, especially when mapped over time.

For gardeners and farmers, soil temperature is key to making planting decisions. Whether planting seeds or seedlings, if the soil is too cold, the plants can die. While people can use guidelines such as the most recent frost date, ambient air temperature, and time of year, soil temperature measurements can be very important in confirming that the soil is ready for the growing season. Likewise, people who monitor weather and soil health use soil thermometers in their work.

Soil thermometers include a long probe that allows people to reach deep into the ground. Some should be taken out for reading, using a traditional mercury bulb thermometer design. Others have a display on top of the thermometer that can be digital or analog, allowing people to quickly read the temperature of the ground.

Typically, the probe is coated to help it resist corrosion. It is advisable to periodically clean a soil thermometer to remove dirt and any salts that may have adhered, to extend the life of the probe. If the probe is used in a humid environment, it must be cleaned and dried before storage. Many soil thermometers come with cases or clips that can be used to secure them for storage while not in use.

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A quick-reading soil thermometer will read very quickly and is useful for a quick soil survey to check conditions. Other thermometers need to be left in place for a few seconds to generate a stable reading. Some are specifically designed to be left in place. In greenhouses and other highly controlled environments, people can leave thermometers in the ground so they can take regular readings.

One thing to be aware of when purchasing a soil thermometer is that many have limits on the highest temperatures they can read. If people are using a thermometer to manage something like a compost pile, the temperatures inside can get too high for a regular soil thermometer to read. It is advisable to choose a product with a wide range if this is a concern.

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