Frequently Asked Questions


Reading Device Questions

"At what Centibar value should I be irrigating?"

This depends on the type of crop and the type of soil it is growing in. There are resources available for most commonly grown crops that can give detailed information regarding recommended tension levels.

Use the following readings as a general guideline:

0 - 10 centibars = Saturated soil

10 - 30 centibars = Soil is adequately wet, field capacity zone (except coarse sands, which are beginning to lose water)

30 - 60 centibars = Usual range for irrigation (except heavy clay soils)

60 - 100 centibars = Usual range for irrigation in heavy clay soils

100 - 200 centibars = Soil is becoming dangerously dry for maximum production. Proceed with caution!

More info can be found on our Soil Water Basics page.

"I don't believe the sensor"

As often as not, the truth is simply not what the user expects, but there are situations that can cause incorrect readings.

Some things to consider:

Are multiple sensors correlating with each other? One problematic sensor/ installation may be possible, multiple problems are unlikely.

Are the sensors responsive? If the sensors are responding well to irrigation and drying as expected, there is no reason not to believe the reading.

If the sensors are very unresponsive to expected changes in soil moisture, the sensor may need to be reinstalled. The WATERMARK sensor depends on a tight bond with the surrounding soil to absorb and release soil moisture. A poorly installed sensor can be just "sitting in the hole" with no ability to move water in and out of the granular matrix.

Are the sensors in the active root zone? If the sensor is sitting on top of a rock, below a hard-pan, or outside of the area being accessed by the plant root systems, water movement can be impeded and the sensor will not accurately reflect the soil moisture available to the crop.

Is the sensor installed in a heavy soil that has recently been dried out (80cb +)? Heavy soils can actually pull away from the sensor when they become very dry. This can cause the loss of connectivity between soil and sensor. Typically an irrigation event will correct this problem, but re-installation may be required in extreme cases.

"Sensor always reads 0"

A constant "0" reading can indicate a short in the sensor wiring. If the sensor is at the end of a spliced wire run, try disconnecting the sensor from the cable extension (at the field side) and see if the reading is still "0". If so, there is a short in the wiring between the reading equipment and the sensor. Also see How can I check the sensors?

"Sensor always reads dry"

A maximum dry reading can indicate a broken or poor wire connection. Typical culprits include bad wire splices, chewed or cut wires, wires pulled out of the sensor, or poor connection to the reading equipment. A poorly installed sensor can also be constantly dry, with no bond to the soil allowing it to absorb soil moisture. Also see How can I check the sensors?

"Sensor is reading erratically"

Erratic readings are frequently the results of poor connections. Check all wire splices and connection points and ensure they are solid and waterproof.
Stray current from poorly grounded equipment in the field can also cause erratic readings. If it is possible to ground the reading equipment to a common ground with the suspect equipment, this may solve the problem. Also see How can I check the sensors?

"How long do the sensors last?"

The expected sensor life is 5+ years. At the five year point we recommend removing the sensors and checking them.

"How can I check the sensors?

The only way to thoroughly check a WATERMARK sensor is to remove it, soak it in water, and then hang it out to air dry.

A. With a sensor submerged in water, your meter reading should be from 0 to 5. If the sensor passes this test, go on to step B.

B. Let the sensor air dry for 30 to 48 hours. Depending on ambient temperature, humidity and air movement, you should see the reading go right up from zero to 150+

C. Put the sensor back in water. The reading should return to below 5 within 2 minutes. If the sensor passes these tests, it is O.K.

If the sensor has been installed on the end of PVC pipe, you can do a quick check on a sensor by pouring water down the pipe. The sensor should drop to below 5 within a few minutes.

"How do I install the sensors?"

Soak the sensors overnight in irrigation water. Always "plant" a wet sensor. If time permits, wet the sensor for 30 minutes in the morning and let dry until evening, wet for 30 minutes, let dry overnight, wet again for 30 minutes the next morning and let dry again until evening. Soak over the next night and install WET. This will improve the sensor response during the first few irrigations.

Make a sensor access hole to the desired depth with an IRROMETER installing tool or a 7/8" O.D. rod. Fill the hole with water and push the sensor down into the hole so it "bottoms out". A length of 1/2" Class 315 PVC pipe will fit snugly over the sensor's collar and can be used to push in the sensor. A good snug fit in the soil is important. This PVC can be solvent welded to the sensor collar with a PVC/ABS cement (IPS Weld-On #795 or equal). If the PVC is solvent welded to the sensor, drill a small (1/8") vent hole in the pipe just above the sensor.

If the PVC pipe is not left on the sensor, then backfill the hole so the sensor is buried (see Fig. 1). The sensor's wires can easily be staked up for easy access. If PVC is left on, then compact the soil around the surface to seal off the hole (see Fig. 2). The PVC acts as a conduit for the sensor's wires. Be sure to cap off or tape the top of the pipe, so surface water will not infiltrate to the sensor and give a false reading.

For very coarse or gravelly soils, an over-sized hole (1" - 1-1/4") may be needed to prevent abrasion damage to the sensor membrane. In this case, auger a hole to the desired depth and make a thick slurry with the soil and some water. Fill the hole with this slurry and then install the sensor. This will "grout in" the sensor to ensure a snug fit.

Another method of installing sensors in difficult gravelly soils, or at deeper settings is to use a "stepped" installing tool (see Fig. 3). This makes an over-sized hole for the upper portion and an exact size hole (sensor is 7/8" O.D.) for the lower portion where the sensor is located. The hole must be carefully backfilled and tamped down to prevent air pockets, which could allow water to channel down to the sensor.

"How does soil temperature affect the reading?"

Soil temperature affects WATERMARK sensor readings by 1% of the measured resistance per 1 degree(F) temperature. If the reading equipment does not use some form of temperature compensation, it is not unusual to see some movement in the sensor reading from day to night due to temperature effects. Soil temperature changes are typically mild at depths below 12". Accurate temperature compensation requires that the temperature sensor be located at a depth that represents the temperature around the WATERMARK sensors.

"Should the Irrometer be protected from freezing temperatures?"

Yes, it is recommended that the Irrometer's be protected from freezing temperatures. Most susceptible to damage is the gauge. When water in the Bourdon tube of the gauge freezes, it expands causing the tube to become distorted, throwing the gauge out of calibration.

Several options are available for winterization:

1. The Irrometers can be removed and stored in a warmer location during the winter months.

2. Removing the cap will allow the water to drain from the Irrometer body, but not the gauge. If you want to leave the Irrometers in the ground, drain in this fashion and remove the gauges for storage in a warmer location. Be sure to replace the caps and plug the gauge port.

3. Bury the Irrometers so they will stay above freezing and then unbury them come spring.

4. Cover them with a box that will provide sufficient insulation.

5. Mix no more than 45% rubbing alcohol or methanol with the fluid to create an anti-freeze solution. It will be necessary to remove the gauges to drain them of the regular water and then hand vacuum pumping to replace with the new anti-freeze solution in the instrument.

If you intend to take readings during the winter months, options 4 or 5 are best. If you do not need to take readings during the winter, other options are easier.

"What types of soil can I use WATERMARK sensors in?"

WATERMARK sensors are designed for use in typical soil conditions, from sandy loam to heavy clay. Exceptionally coarse or loose soils like sand or potting mixes do not present good conditions for WATERMARK sensors, potentially leading to very slow sensor response. Consider IRROMETER "LT" tensiometers for these applications.

Click here for the sensor selection guide.

"Can I read a WATERMARK sensor with a digital multi-meter?"

No, WATERMARK sensors require specific reading circuitry to read properly.

"What does (insert your volumetric measurement here) equal in Centibars?"

WATERMARK sensors are calibrated to represent soil moisture in Centibars (or kPa) of soil water tension, equivalent to the reading given by a tensiometer in the same soil. There is no direct comparison with volumetric measurements possible without creating a site specific calibration, as different soil types and conditions create different tensions for the same volumetric contents in different soils.

"Can I read a WATERMARK sensor with my device?"

The WATERMARK sensor is read as a resistance. Excitation for the sensor must be of a specific nature with very precise timing in order to produce accurate results, and the circuit must be designed to account for other factors that will affect the lifespan of the sensor.

IRROMETER offers a voltage output adapter for any standard WATERMARK sensor, the 200SS-VA. This adapter wires onto the lead lines of the WATERMARK sensor and outputs a simple 0-2.8 volt scale representing 0-239 Centibars and can then be read by most devices with analog inputs.

200SS-Voltage Adapter & Isolator Datasheet

To directly integrate WATERMARK sensors with your device, please see our WATERMARK Sensor Integration Guide

"Is the WATERMARK sensor a gypsum block?"

The WATERMARK sensor is a granular matrix sensor (GMS) which in operating principle is similar to a gypsum block, but is constructed to last considerably longer, maintain contact with surrounding soil, and provide better response at lower tension levels.

"What soil characteristics affect the Watermark Sensor readings?"

Watermark Sensors, like all electronic type moisture sensors, are affected by things that will change the conductivity of the soil water. Salinity is the typical concern and the Watermark has enough internal gypsum to buffer the effects of "typically salinity levels found in irrigated agriculture." We publish no reference as to how much salinity is too much. Certainly a newer sensor can buffer for more than an older one because gypsum does go away over time. Researchers using them for different applications have told us that effects from salinity are not usually noticed unless it is >3 dS/m. Sometimes after a fertilization event the reading may appear artificially wetter from the added salts if high but after a flush with the next irrigation cycle they will return to normal.

"Which wire is the ground wire on the 200SS?"

Current IRROMETER products do not require observing any polarity on the sensor connection. If using another reading device, check with their specific instructions.

"How many records will the 900M data logger hold?"

- The older style 900M Data Loggers (pre 2016) will hold 4094 records, while the newer version will hold 8192 records. Both versions when full will start deleting the oldest records and adding the newest.

"My data logger is displaying "open" on the display."

- This code is an indication of a lose wire, a really dry sensor, or a switching gauge.

"How long does the 9V battery last?"

- Depending on the selected reading interval, the 9V battery in the 900M will last between 9 and 12 months. Replacement at the beginning of each growing season is recommended.

"How long do the C batteries last?"

- The batteries will last 2+ years in the Watermark Sensor version of the IC-10. Versions setup to read IRROMETER tensiometers will last 1+ year.

"How often does the IC-10 read and report records?"

- The IC-10 will read sensors every hour, and report to IRROcloud every other hour. In other words, the readings are hourly but sent to the cloud every two hours.

"What type of cellular service is required for the IC-10?"

- The IC-10 utilizes LTE-M cellular tech which works over existing 4G LTE networks. If you have decent cellular service on your phone in the area of installation, the IC-10 is highly likely to work.

"How does the frost alert on the IC-10 work?"

- If an air temperature sensor is installed and the feature is enabled on IRROcloud, the IC-10 will send an SMS text alert to the configured phone number anytime the air temperature reaches 34 F. The alert will not be repeated until the temperature has climbed above 40F and fallen again to 34F.

"Why am I only getting two dashes on the display?"

- The first press of the READ button will wake the meter up from sleep. READ must be pressed a second time to read the sensor for display.

"Why is my meter only reading 199 or 0?"

- Damage to the attached cable on the meter can cause this. To test, clip the two cable ends together and read. This should always read "0". Now separate the leads and read again. This should always read "199". Any other reading indicated a broken cable which is available as a replacement part.

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