Although some growers are still somewhat skeptical about LECA balls, they have long been widely used at home, even though they require quite significant expenses.
The idea behind the method is quite simple: for plants to grow and flower, they need light, air, water, heat, and nutrients. Soil is not at all so necessary if the roots can receive the minerals necessary for plant growth from the nutrient solution. Let’s find out more about these LECA beads.
What Is LECA?
LECA (usually pronounced leh-Kuh) is an acronym that stands for lightweight expanded clay aggregate. Simply put, these are clay pebbles that you can use instead of potting soil. LECA clay balls are small and lightweight granules of clay obtained during the firing process. The material is widely known for its lightness, strength, and environmental friendliness.
These clay balls for plants are inorganic and non-destructive, making them one of the most versatile growing media available. Clay pebbles are also often used in hydroponics (growing plants without soil) or aquaponics (aquatic life in a system). It is also often used in combination with potting soil.
Advantages and Disadvantages of LECA Beads
Now that you know that LECA is just clayed pebbles for plants, you may be wondering why many gardeners choose this method of growing and how it is good for your little green friends. Let’s find out.
Plants Are Easier to Water
The most important advantage of growing plants in LECA is the prevention of waterlogging of the roots. By using these clay balls, you create a false bottom and thereby lift the plant roots from under the bottom of the pot. Then you can water the plant until the water is under the roots of the plants. The balls begin to absorb the water in the pot without the roots themselves getting into the water.
Now your plants take just as much water as they need. This has a particularly positive effect on the condition of moisture-loving plants that require frequent watering: the soil would not acidify, and in the intervals between moisture intake (without extreme intervals), the plant would not suffer from drought. And if your plants still want to drink, the roots may begin to grow to the water at the bottom of the pot and drink directly from there.
Less Risk of Root Rot
When you grow plants in soil, probably, you water it when the soil seems dry or the plant looks a certain way. But when you are using expanded clay pebbles, watering the plant is much easier because you only do it when there is no water in the pot. The plant has drunk everything or the clay balls have absorbed everything. Even if the LECA balls are still full of water, additional watering would not lead to waterlogging, since the plant takes only the amount of water it needs. But this does not work with ordinary soil. If you accidentally water the soil while it is still wet, you run a high risk of killing the plant due to the developed root rot.
Less risk of root rot when using LECA soil is because there are air gaps between the clay balls. Thanks to them, oxygen is supplied to the roots of plants, thereby preventing the occurrence of root rot. The fact is that in many cases it is the lack of oxygen that is the main reason for the development of this unpleasant disease.
It Reduces the Risk of Pest Infestation
As mentioned above, when watering plants that are grown in clay pebbles, there is no excess water left, which prevents the development of root rot, and, accordingly, does not attract various insects. Another reason is that the use of clay balls for plants reduces pests is that, unlike soil, LECA is not a living growing medium. As the soil is an organic substance that has nutrients not only for plants but also for insects that can transmit diseases.
You can also transplant your green friends into LECA if they are sick or have rotting roots. This can help the plants to heal and grow as they used to.
You Can Observe the Roots of the Plant
When you grow a plant in soil, you only have the opportunity to see its roots during planting and transplanting. The rest of the time, you cannot find out what the roots look like and whether they need help. But when you grow them in LECA soil, you can observe them every day. But, perhaps, this should not be done so often, since some plants do not like changes. As a rule, you should clean the plants that grow in LECA no more than 2-4 times a month, and that’s when you can find out how the roots live. This way, you can notice in time how they are moving and adjust the placement of the plant in the pot.
Reusable Culture Medium
Another important advantage of LECA is that you can use it over and over again if you clean it and take proper care of it. Unfortunately, this cannot be done with the soil without the use of fertilizers, since the previous plant can absorb all the nutrients and there would be nothing left for the new one. Moreover, if any pests remain in the soil, then you have to make considerable efforts to completely clean it. In the case of using LECA balls for plants, everything is much simpler: you just need to wash it well before planting the plant there. Hence, you can use the same clay balls many times.
It is important to note that the material is durable: it does not decompose, does not acidify the soil, and is not exposed to microorganisms. It is completely safe, chemically inert to nutrient solutions, and retains its properties for 3-4 years.
LECA for plants costs 3-4 times more than ordinary soil. When you have decided to grow plants in clay rocks and need to obtain materials, it can seem like a rather expensive investment and you may start to wonder if the cost would pay off. As we mentioned above, you can use the same clay balls repeatedly. Plus, you get easier plant care for the money.
More Effort Is Needed before Growing
When using soil, all you have to do is open the bag and put the soil in the pot. But in the case of LECA, you have to spend a little more time, since these balls need to be cleaned of dust and dirt. The process can take up to 30 minutes.
Using a Special Fertilizer
Since LECA does not contain live nutrients, you need to periodically add them to the water in which you soak the clay balls. But there is one problem: you need to use exclusively fertilizers for hydroponics since the usual ones are not suitable.
Where Can I Buy LECA?
You can purchase LECA from most gardening centers, including Home Depot. You can also find these clay stones for plants in many online stores.
How to Use LECA for Plants?
First, clean the clay balls to remove all dust and possible debris. How to clean LECA? To do this, take a bucket of water and place the balls there. It is best to have an extra bucket to facilitate the cleaning process. So, after cleaning the clay balls, move them to the second bucket of clean water. Drain the dirty water from the first one and repeat the cleaning process 4-5 times until the water from under the balls is clear.
You can also soak them for a day to make sure to remove unwanted chemicals. Now start to plant. Gently remove the plant from the pot and remove any remaining soil from the roots. Before planting, be sure to inspect the plant, and remove any rotten root areas, if any.
Fill the bottom third of the container with wet clay balls to create a false bottom, and carefully place the plant on top. Next, fill in the remaining space with LECA balls. To grow plants in clay balls, all you have to do is water and fertilizer from time to time. Also, remember to clean the balls regularly.
Can All Plants Be Grown with LECA?
Having learned about the wonderful properties of this artificial media, you probably wonder whether all your plants can be grown in this way? Yes! The only thing is that some of them need to be watered more (or less) often. Thus, by growing succulents in LECA balls, you can perfectly mimic the natural arid environment these plants prefer, provided you rarely water them. Accordingly, thirsty plants should be watered a little more often. With LECA, you can control the moisture in the entire pot well, which makes it a versatile growing medium for any plant.
Lightweight clay pellets are an excellent growing medium for all indoor flowers, as they guarantee optimal conditions for plant growth and health.
This is a real find for all gardeners who love to grow plants but do not have enough time to properly care for the soil. If you are thinking about starting to use clay balls for growing plants, then we strongly recommend that you weigh the pros and cons. In any case, this is a pretty good way and can make it much easier for you to care for your plants.
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