Newcomers to horticulture may be seeing the term LECA for the first time: LECA stands for Light Expanded Clay Aggregate and is a popular substrate for beginners and veterans alike.
These fired pellets, also known as clay pellets, clay balls, aqua clay balls, or hydraulic pebbles, have a very wide range of applications.
So in this article, you’ll discover can you mix leca with soil. Let’s start.
What is LECA?
LECA is pure natural clay fired and rolled at high temperatures in a rotary kiln. As a result, it is ultra-light and porous and swells when immersed in water. As mentioned earlier, it is an earth-like substrate (or growing medium) for growing plants.
Why and how can you mix leca with soil?
Thanks to their unique structure, LECA clay balls allow the gardener to control the supply of nutrients and moisture to the plants during the growing process; LECA clay balls are inorganic, have a neutral pH, do not mold or rot; LECA clay balls are also very light and porous.
This makes them an ideal growing medium, soil amendment, and drainage system for plants.
1. Growing medium
It may seem strange, but LECA can be used instead of soil for growing houseplants. Unlike soil, LECA is a naturally neutral substance, which makes it an ideal substrate for houseplants. These clay pebbles can provide houseplants with the ideal balance of moisture, nutrition, and air.
However, it should be noted that unlike soil, which is an organic substance, LECA does not contain nutrients. Therefore, the nutrients needed by the plants must be added to the water manually through additives. However, the clay balls are porous and therefore can easily absorb water and nutrients.
How to use LECA as a medium
Soak the water clay balls in a bowl for 12-14 hours to allow them to fully absorb the water.
Select plants (lightly remove soil from hydroponic cuttings or plants grown in soil).
Find a growing pot with adequate drainage holes or use a mesh pot (sometimes called a hydroponic pot) and a sleeve.
Fill the pot halfway with clay water balls and place the cuttings in the center of the balls.
Secure the cuttings and pour more aqua clay balls on the sides and top of the cuttings for planting.
Then fill the plant to the base with water (from the top of the pot or sleeve). The clay balls will absorb the water and the roots of the plants will slowly drink the required amount of water. This helps keep the roots away from the water.
Place the newly planted plant in a location that suits the plant’s light needs and wait for the plant to slowly absorb the water from the water soil ball.
Allow the water to dry out completely before replenishing to avoid algae growth. When changing the water, make sure that the water is enriched with nutrients to just below the roots.
Selecting suitable plants for growing in LECA
When using LECA as a medium, first select houseplants that are not too demanding. Choose plants that
- Plants that like to dry out between waterings.
- Ability to grow large roots quickly.
- Don’t mind topdressing from time to time
- Prefers soils rich in oxygen
- It does not rely heavily on the soil as a source of nutrients.
Aqua Clay Balls can also support healthy plant growth by improving potting soil drainage. To do this, spread the Aqua Clay Ball to a depth of 4 inches before adding potting soil or compost. The round shape and small size (8-16 mm) allow for good aeration and very fast drainage, which means unimpeded root growth.
Unlike potting soil and other solid soil beds, they are non-organic and therefore much less susceptible to pests, algae growth, and plant diseases. The extra space between the pebbles also allows vital oxygen to reach the roots, eliminating the risk of root rot.
Can I mix it?
Yes, you can: mixing LECA into the soil improves soil aeration and drainage and increases water retention. So if you want to use these wonderful clay pebbles, either way, you don’t have to make an either/or decision.
3. Treatment of the topsoil
LECA can also be added to soil to protect houseplants. Adding Aqua Clayball to a potting mix can also significantly reduce the risk of pests on houseplants.
LECA is particularly effective in eliminating fungus gnats, as they do not like to lay their eggs in inorganic materials. LECA inhibits their reproductive cycle, so outbreaks can be prevented.
In addition, the AquaClay ball can be placed on the soil surface to retain more moisture. Covering the top layer of soil protects plant roots from heat and temperature shocks and helps to increase the moisture content of the soil.
This is especially useful in winter (or colder climates) when indoor air can be very dry. In addition, the clay granules have an elegant appearance.
Tips for growing with leca
As with planting with soil, there are many ways to experiment with hydro towns. Which method you choose depends entirely on the plant and its stage of growth.
To crush or not to crush leca?
Expanded clay granules can be crushed into smaller pieces. If you choose to crush the original size, it will create a texture that retains more water and is ideal for seeds you want to germinate. Place the expanded clay in a disposable bag and crush it with a hammer or mallet.
Use the smaller pieces like potting soil until the seeds have formed their first leaves. However, crush the pieces enough to fit in the pot.
The germination of the seeds
First place the soaked pellets in a small growing pot, just as you would when growing seedlings in soil. Then place the seeds on top of the pellets and cover them with a few pebbles to stabilize them. When they are ready, feed the seedlings in a humidity dome.
If a misting device is used, make sure the pump does not run for more than 10 seconds at a time and repeat the process every 2-3 hours. If you do not have such equipment, you can mist it manually. Just make sure that the water does not dry out before planting the seedlings.
Hydroton Grow Rock is lightweight but strong enough to withstand plant positions, especially cuttings. It is also sterilized, making it an ideal material for cloning plants.
Low-transplant and top-drip germination methods can be used for clonal cloning with hydroton.
In the low-pot method, plant the seeds low in small pots and provide adequate moisture at the top of the plant. Fill the pot one-third full with water and plant the seeds 1-1.5 inches below the top of the pot.
This serves not only to moisten the bottom of the cutting with the soil nutrient solution but also to keep the pellets partially submerged in the water. Moistening the bottom of the pellet facilitates the uptake of water and nutrients into the clone above the water.
The top-drip method means that the seed is planted in a location where it will remain throughout the seed’s growth, not just during the germination phase. This method is especially recommended if you do not want to spend a lot of time and money on more pots or if you are a beginner gardener.
Beginners, P. C. F. (2021, June 18). How to make your soil drain water quickly? Plant Care for Beginners. https://plantcareforbeginners.com/articles/how-to-make-your-soil-drain-water-quickly
Trees.com Staff. (2022, March 2). How to Use Hydroton (Expanded Clay Pellets) in the Garden. Trees.Com. https://www.trees.com/gardening-and-landscaping/hydroton