What Are Leca Balls and Why Are They Useful For Plants?
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Once in a while, something comes along that can excite even the most learned plant growers. A perfect example is LECA, which stands for lightweight expanded clay aggregate.
LECA has recently become a buzzword among plant lovers because of its capacity to substitute soil. This new type of growing medium helps you grow plants faster and healthier.
The mechanism of these balls is quite simple. They absorb water, expand, and retain moisture for the plant to use continuously.
Aside from water, LECA balls also provide oxygen for the plant to grow. The clay traps air bubbles inside the plant's root zone, allowing roots to breathe better than if you bury them in soil.
These air pockets also help keep moisture evenly distributed throughout the soil. They produce better effects than pooling water in one spot, like traditional garden soil or potting mixes. They also allow plant roots to absorb nutrients more efficiently, resulting in healthier plants.
If this is your first time hearing about LECA, or if you want to get to know these functional balls a bit more, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll discuss what these LECA balls are, explore their benefits, and go over tips on how your plants can get the maximum benefits from these balls.
What Are LECA Balls?
LECA balls, also known as hydro crunch, hydro balls, hydrofarm, and hydroton, create a safe growing medium for plants. These balls are made from clay and become porous after baking in a kiln. Their sizes usually range from 0.3 to 0.6 inches. These clay pebbles have actually been in existence since 30 years ago. Fortunately, it didn’t outlive its usefulness.
They are ideal for hydroponics systems or containers on the ground. Hydroponics is a hydroculture and horticulture system that involves growing plants through water alone.
LECA balls are a great tool in this soilless plant-growing method because they’re good at retaining moisture, improving aeration, and offering excellent drainage. They’re also environment-friendly and have a longer life cycle. All of these characteristics make hydroponics using LECA balls possible and seamless.
They are for sale in local garden shops and online shops like Amazon. They come in many sizes and colors, like white, brown, and red. However, the color of your LECA Balls is not really significant because they will not affect plant growth. They won’t also change the pH level of your soil mix or water supply.
These balls have a unique structure that allows gardeners to control their plants' humidity and nutrient levels as they grow. These balls have the following characteristics:
- Neutral pH level
- Won’t rot
All these make these balls one of the most suitable drainage devices, topsoil, and growing medium for your plants.
Plants That Grow Best Using LECA Balls
LECA balls are for such plants as pileas, alocasia, hoyas, monsteras, philodendrons, pothos, snake plants, orchids, and other water plants that exhibit the following properties:
- Quickly dry out when watered
- Grow massive root systems fast
- Can be handled occasionally
- Thrives in oxygen-rich soil
- Not reliant on soil for nutrients
Plants Not Ideal for LECA Balls
These are the plants that might struggle in soaked Leca balls:
- String of pearls
- Elephant bush
- Prayer plant
While there may be success stories where these plants did well with LECA pebbles, most of them struggled. There are different reasons these plants are not compatible with these clay balls. Prayer plants, for example, are incredibly thirsty plants that detest standing water. Submerging them in a vase with stagnant water isn’t a good idea.
Reasons To Use LECA Balls for Plants
Although there are plants that don’t perform well with LECA, these clay balls are still one of the perfect ways to grow plants at home. They're lightweight and easy to use and can significantly impact your plant's health and growth. They don't take up a lot of space—you can fit several LECA balls into a vase.
You can reuse them by fully submerging the pebbles, taking them out, placing them in hot water, and letting them dry. They’re also great for areas with no consistent rain or watering schedule because they drain quickly.
Unlike soil, they don't decompose, so they last longer —which means less hassle when you need to replace them. The pores in the balls allow air circulation, which lets plants breathe better than they would otherwise. This is crucial for plants that require more oxygen.
When you switch to LECA balls, you don’t need to buy a different soil for succulents or orchids. They miraculously work with all types of plants. This makes them ideal for use in small-space gardens and apartments since they don’t require wide storage. Unlike growing plants traditionally, you don’t also need a vast space wherein you can store bags and bags of soil.
If these reasons are not enough to sway you in the direction of using LECA balls, consider the following more specific reasons to try these garden balls out:
Easier To Water Plants
This is highly likely the most crucial factor in choosing this method of watering, as it saves you time and effort. These balls regulate moisture well, making it easy to water your plants consistently without the risk of overwatering them.
As you already know, overwatering is one of the biggest challenges in plant care. These LECA clay balls will water the plant for you, and you must ensure that you soak them in a water-filled pot. With the watering problem removed from the equation, your only concern is giving your plant proper sun exposure. This makes it easier to grow even the most demanding plants.
Less Risk of Root Rot
Roots growing in a solid medium have less risk of root rot, a common problem for plants grown in soil. With LECA balls, the plant roots will not rot even if you submerge them in water because of the introduction of airflow around the plant roots.
When you pour the LECA balls into a container, their slightly irregular and round shape leaves small air gaps in the formed strata. The plant roots will then use these gaps to force themselves down the strata. As a result, the porous balls provide sufficient airflow, which is responsible for preventing root rotting.
Pests are Less Likely to Attack
Since plant roots are not prone to rotting when they grow in LECA balls, you don’t have to deal with pests. When soil gets too wet for an extended period, it will rot along with your plant’s roots. This easily attracts bugs and other plant pests.
Aphids are just one of the houseplant pests that love damp soil and rotting matter. If you’re tired of root rots and fungus gnats, go for LECA balls. They don’t have live organisms, so they won’t rot even when you submerge them in water for too long. Instead, the plant roots will absorb the moisture from the clay ball slowly and in minute doses, keeping them from being overwatered.
Some pests also live in dry environments, just like spider mites. Soil is excellent at containing and absorbing moisture. However, humidity can’t fully benefit the plant when the water gets trapped. So you might need to mist your plant to keep the environment humid if this happens. This humidity is necessary to ensure spider mites stay away.
LECA balls, when put in a container or vase, have significant gaps between them. These make it easy for some contained moisture to evaporate, helping the plant’s immediate environment to turn humid without misting.
Simpler To Check On Your Plants
LECA balls inside a vase or pot allow you to easily view the condition of the plant and its roots without disturbing it. This can be necessary if you need to check whether the balls are dry or if there are any other problems with their health.
This also makes it simpler to check whether or not more water is needed. Otherwise, it may be challenging for you to tell when enough has been added based on how saturated soil feels or looks.
Reusable and Less Messy
LECA balls are an excellent alternative for soil. They are easy to use, reusable, and less messy. They’re also lightweight, so they’re easier to move around when you need more space or want different levels in your planter. It doesn't get muddy like dirt when wet either – everything stays dry even after watering the plants on top of the ball.
As LECA clay balls are reusable, you don’t have to take trips down to Home Depot every couple of months just because you ran out of potting soil again. Of course, these balls are not cheap, so you’d probably limit your purchases to once in a while.
LECA balls also win over soil since you can't use soil forever, as it won’t remain nutrient-rich for a long time. You’ll also need to replace it every time you repot a plant. This is not the case with LECA balls. You can clean and maintain them and use them over and over for your plants.
The only thing you must look out for with LECA balls is the dust, which you’d encounter as soon as you open their bag. However, this dust will disappear as soon as you soak these balls, and you’ll be ready to pot your chosen plants.
If you wish to know more about LECA balls and other plant-growing tips, check out this blog.
Treat LECA balls before using them
In general, you should treat LECA balls before using them, so your plant can start its semi-hydroponics life with a healthy foundation. If LECA isn’t soaked properly, it can cause a plant to grow much slower than it should
📚 Tips To Get Started With LECA Balls
Since you’re already aware of the purpose, benefits, and uses of LECA balls, you’re ready to grow your plants using them. Here are several smart tips to help you get started:
- When transitioning from soil to LECA balls, starting with younger plants with less dense plant root systems is best. You can also use water-propagated cuttings.
- The roots of soil-grown plants differ from water-grown ones, so transitioning can be especially jarring for larger and older plants.
- Significant changes to any of your plants almost always come with some risks. This is why when you’re learning the ropes when it comes to LECA balls, experiment first with plants that are not that expensive.
- You’ll need tools like new pots and pH testing kits to get started. However, you can get these tools in your local garden shops or online.
- Note that Leca balls may provide water but not plant nutrients. This means you might need periodic hydroponics fertilizer applications.
Plants have different needs, so it’s best to do your research. This is to ensure that your plant thrives where you grow them.
How To Use LECA Balls To Grow Your Plants
Here are steps to help you use Leca balls as your plant’s growing medium:
- To help the clay balls absorb as much water as possible, soak them in a container with water for at least 12 to 14 hours.
- In choosing a plant to grow using LECA balls, go for a cutting that you propagated in water or cleaned from the soil.
- Look for a pot or vase made of glass. You can also use hydroponic or neti pots or transparent containers and sleeves.
- Fill the pot with 50% water before placing your clay balls inside it. As soon you’ve positioned them correctly, pop in your cuttings at the center.
- Add more LECA balls to the top and sides of your plant cuttings to keep them in place.
- You can also pour in more water at the top of your pot. Wait until the plant roots are submerged. The LECA balls will absorb the water, and your plant will slowly drink it when needed. These clay balls will also keep your plant’s roots away from the water.
- You need to place your potted cuttings in an environment with enough light. This will help the plant absorb the stored water in the balls at its own pace.
- Let the water completely dry out before you refill the container. This practice will keep algae from growing.
If you want to read more plant-rearing tips or learn about another kind of plant-related ball, check out this post about Marimo Moss Ball care.
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FAQs on Leca Balls
How long do you soak LECA balls?
Soak your Leca balls in tap water for at least 24 hours. If you’re feeling lazy, you can soak them for two days. Once they’re thoroughly soaked, you can start using them to grow your plants.
Are LECA balls better than soil?
Although one can be better than the other, you can’t really compare both plant-growing mediums because there are plants that grow best in soil. Some thrive with the use of LECA balls.
Can you mix LECA balls with soil?
Yes, you can safely do so. When you mix soil with LECA balls, you’re improving soil aeration, drainage, and water retention. All these are beneficial to the plant.
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