LECA for Plants: One Secret to Thriving Indoor Gardens
Have you ever struggled to keep your home or office plants alive, or wondered what is the secret to thriving indoor plants? The key to flourishing plants is all about what you plant them in. We’d like to introduce you to the world of LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), a game-changer when it comes to indoor plant care. In this blog we will go over all things LECA-related, so let’s dig in!
What is LECA for Plants?
LECA for plants is a type of growing medium made from small clay pellets. You might be thinking that clay in soil means it's too heavy and dense. That is certainly true outdoors since clay underground is raw and thick. These particular pellets are produced by heating natural clay to high temps in a rotary kiln. The high temperature causes the clay to expand and creates a porous structure within the clay pebbles that are lightweight and don't break down over time.
They have an exceptional ability to retain water while also providing excellent aeration. These features explain why expanded clay pebbles are commonly used in hydroponics, indoor gardening, and as a soil amendment. Here are some other notable features about LECA:
Composition: LECA is made up entirely from clay, which is a natural and abundant material. Before the heating process begins, the clay is shaped into small pellets - ready for expanding!
Appearance and Texture: The finished product of these expanded clay pebbles typically have a rough texture and are quite porous. They also have a beautiful mottled, brownish-red appearance to them. Sizing can vary, but they are usually small - ranging from a few millimeters to about an inch in diameter. We get a lot of comments that they look like cocoa pebbles. We couldn't agree more, but LECA is definitely not something you'd want to confuse with cereal on accident!
Physical Properties: We mentioned earlier that these clay pebbles are lightweight. This is due to the air-filled cavities that are formed during the heating process. But don’t be fooled, these pellets are strong and don’t easily crush or break down. This feature is probably the reason LECA can be found in the construction and civil engineering industries. They are often used as a lightweight aggregate in concrete and insulation.
Benefits of Using LECA Balls for Plants
LECA is a unique substance that has a wide range of applications and benefits for several industries. However, we’re about all things green and thriving over here. So now we will get more into the details about all the different benefits expanded clay pebbles have to offer our green friends.
Because the balls are so porous they provide amazing drainage for plant roots. Their porosity prevents the soil from becoming waterlogged which in turn also helps to prevent root rot. These pellets make great companions for plants that are sensitive to overwatering. Remember, if you want happy plants they need happy roots!
Another benefit of the porous nature of LECA is that it promotes better aeration of the roots. This means these expanded clay pebbles make sure the plant roots receive the oxygen they need for healthy growth. Good aeration encourages robust root development. Robust roots = strong plants!
LECA is pH-neutral, which means it won't significantly affect the pH of your growing medium. This allows you to have more control over the pH levels of your nutrient solution, making it easier to maintain optimal conditions for your plants
LECA is a durable medium that can be reused for multiple growing cycles with proper cleaning and sterilization. This can save you money in the long run and reduce waste.
LECA is an inert material. Inert materials do not contain any nutrients of their own. Some other examples of inert materials include sand and glass. This material allows you to have precise control over the nutrients your plant receives by using a hydroponic or nutrient solution tailored to your particular plant’s needs.
Because LECA doesn't provide a suitable environment for many pests and diseases to thrive, it can help reduce the risk of infestations and infections in your indoor garden. Please keep in mind pests can still be introduced through other means, such as contaminated plant material or the surrounding environment. Therefore, regular monitoring and good plant care practices remain essential for maintaining healthy plants.
While using purely LECA as a medium for plants offers many benefits, we want to note that it may not be the best choice for all of your plants. Some plants may prefer different growing mediums or soil mixes depending on their specific requirements. It's important to research the needs of your plants and consider factors like humidity, temperature, and nutrient delivery when deciding whether to grow plants in LECA. You'll want to use a specifically tailored nutrient regimen if you plan to grow in 100% LECA for extended periods of time.
How to Use LECA Balls for Plants
Alright, so we’ve covered what LECA for plants is and the many benefits it provides, but how do you use this magical medium? We’re so glad you asked! Using LECA in a potting mix is pretty straightforward, but using it as an entire medium has some specific steps to follow. Here is a simple step by step process for growing plants in LECA:
- Start by thoroughly rinsing the balls to remove any residual dust and open up pore spaces in the material. This step also ensures a more attractive look with clear water instead of cloudy.
- Soak the rinsed LECA balls in water for about 24 hours. This step is totally optional but can help the pebbles to start with some moisture, which can be beneficial for hitting the ground running.
- Next, you’ll want to select a pot without drainage holes and fill it halfway with the rinsed clay pebbles. Normally we would never recommend pots without drainage, but for a semi-hydroponic or hydroponic setup, you'll want a basin of water to remain.
- Finally, Transition your plant to the LECA environment by carefully removing it from its previous medium and cleaning the roots (if it was in soil). Place the plant in the pot and add more balls around the roots for support and stability. Keep the water level at roughly 1/3 of the container, and the other 2/3 will be above water. The portion of LECA Balls in the roots, but above the water line will still wick moisture up from the basin.
LECA for Plant Propagation
Prepare the Cuttings: Select healthy stem or leaf cuttings with at least one node. For stem cuttings, aim for a length of 4-6 inches and remove leaves near the bottom.
Rinse and Soak LECA Balls: Rinse the balls to remove dust, then soak them in water for about 24 hours to ensure they are fully hydrated.
Set Up the Container: Use a clear, clean container without drainage holes. Fill it with the soaked LECA balls, leaving some space at the top.
Insert the Cutting: Gently place the cutting into the pebbles, making sure the nodes are in close contact with the moist LECA balls. Arrange the balls loosely around the cutting for support and air circulation.
Water and Nutrients: Initially, use plain water or a very diluted nutrient solution. Keep the water level just below the bottom of the cutting to encourage root growth. Gradually increase nutrient strength as roots develop.
Light and Temperature: Place the container in a spot with bright, indirect light and ensure a warm environment, avoiding direct sunlight and extreme heat.
Monitor Growth: Regularly check and maintain the water level. Roots typically start to appear in a few weeks.
Transplanting: Once a strong root system has developed, you can transplant the cutting into a permanent pot, either continuing with the clay pebbles or switching to a potting mix.
This method provides a clean and controlled rooting environment, reduces the risk of diseases, and allows for easy observation of root development. Remember, rooting times can vary, so patience is important!
We hope this blog has informed you on exactly what LECA is and how you can utilize it as your secret weapon to thriving indoor plants. While it may not suit every plant's needs, its benefits in promoting healthy roots and ease of use are worth a shot, even if you just want to experiment with a plant or two. The beauty of gardening indoors or out is learning through experimentation. You never know when you just might find a new method that changes the way you think.
Ready to transform your indoor gardening experience? Give LECA Balls a try and Grow Happy Plants!