LECA, which stands for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate, has become a popular growing medium among houseplant enthusiasts and hydroponic gardeners. This lightweight, porous clay material provides an alternative to traditional potting mixes and soilless mediums. So how to use LECA for your plants to offer a variety of benefits and to help your plants thrive ? Let’s read on the article.
What is LECA?
LECA is made by heating clay at high temperatures, causing it to expand and create a porous, lightweight structure. The resulting clay pebbles are round, open spaces surrounded by a rigid external shell. This structure gives LECA some exceptional properties that make it ideal for plant growth.
The pebbles have a neutral pH and do not contain any inherent nutrients. However, the porous structure allows LECA to hold both water and air. The spaces within each clay pebble provide room for moisture retention while still allowing excess water to drain away easily. This aeration allows oxygen to penetrate the root zone, creating the ideal conditions for healthy roots.
LECA is also quite lightweight, making it easier to move plants around without disturbing the root system. The pebbles won’t break down over time like organic potting mixes, providing long-term stability for plant roots. And LECA is reusable and lasts for years with proper care.
6 Benefits of Using LECA for Plants
There are several key reasons why LECA can be beneficial for growing houseplants and hydroponic systems:
- Excellent drainage and aeration – The porous structure creates lots of air pockets to supply oxygen to roots while allowing excess moisture to drain away. This helps prevent problems like root rot.
- Lightweight – LECA is much lighter than soil, making it easier to move plants around without disturbing roots. Hanging baskets and vertical gardens can benefit from LECA’s low density.
- Mineral neutrality – With no inherent nutrients and a neutral pH, LECA provides a clean slate for growers to manage fertilizer and nutrients according to plant needs.
- Reusable – LECA clay pebbles can be rinsed and reused multiple times, unlike traditional potting mix that breaks down over time.
- Insulating properties – The clay helps insulate root systems and maintain even moisture levels. Roots stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
- Hydroponic compatibility – The neutral pH, drainage, and aeration make LECA an ideal growing medium for hydroponic systems.
Using LECA offers major advantages for houseplant growers looking to improve drainage, aerate roots, retain moisture, and reuse growing media.
How to Use LECA for Your Plant ?
Switching traditional container plants to LECA clay pebbles is easy. Follow these steps for the best results:
Choose an Appropriate Pot
Select a pot that has adequate drainage holes. Plastic pots work well, just ensure holes are large enough to prevent clogging. For easiest drainage, opt for a pot with vertical ridges along the side. Terra cotta and fabric pots also work well to maximize airflow. Match the pot size to the plant’s current root system, allowing some extra room for growth.
Fill the Pot with LECA
Place a layer of pebbles or mesh screen over the drainage holes to prevent LECA from washing out. Then fill the pot about halfway with soaked, rinsed LECA pebbles.
Transplant the Plant
Carefully remove the plant from its old potting mix, loosening the roots. Prune any dead or damaged roots. Place the plant in the LECA-filled pot, spreading the roots evenly over the surface.
Fill In Around Roots with LECA
Gently pour more soaked LECA pebbles around the roots, adding enough to cover them completely. Leave about 1 inch of space below the rim for watering. Do not pack the pebbles too densely.
Water well after transplanting to settle the pebbles. Allow any excess to drain out the bottom. LECA has more air space than traditional potting mixes, so plants often need more frequent watering.
Fertilize as Needed
Without inherent nutrients, LECA requires fertilizer to support healthy growth. Use a balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength with every watering. Slow release fertilizer spikes can provide a low maintenance option.
The Advantages of LECA for Hydroponic Growers
Hydroponic gardeners can also utilize LECA as an effective growing medium. The clay pebbles are well-suited to a variety of hydroponic systems. Compared to options like rockwool or coconut coir, LECA offers:
- Excellent drainage and air space for healthy roots
- Reusability over many seasons
- Long-term stability and shape that resists decomposition
- Versatility to work in different types of hydroponic setups
- Neutral pH without adding salts or chemicals
- Lightweight and easy to handle
- Insulating properties to protect roots
LECA is commonly used in ebb and flow systems, drip systems, deep water culture, and nutrient film technique setups. The clay pebbles can be reused for several seasons with proper cleaning between grows. For best results, soak LECA for 15-30 minutes before first use to saturate pebbles with water.
LECA offers a sustainable and effective growing medium for houseplants and hydroponic systems. The porous clay aggregate provides the ideal balance of air, drainage, and moisture retention. Plants thrive in LECA with proper fertilizer and an adapted watering schedule.