Lightweight expanded clay aggregate, or LECA, is an alternative to traditional soil for growing your plants. You may be wondering, “What’s wrong with soil, it always works fine for me?” Well, that makes sense, but there are actually some wonderful benefits of using LECA instead.
This article covers:
- What is LECA and how to use it for healthy growth
- Why plants love it the types of plants that thrive with the methods
- Potential downsides to be aware of before using lightweight expanded clay aggregate
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Table of Contents
What is LECA?
LECA is an acronym that means lightweight expanded clay aggregate. What is that? Well, it’s a substance made of little compact balls of clay often used in hydroponic gardening, but can be used in many situations as an alternative to traditional soil varieties.
While soil has all the nutrients and biodegradability..and is an affordable option, LECA offers its own set of benefits.
LECA is made of baked clay balls in various sizes, which means they offer air pockets that can help the plant in a variety of ways. As a substitute, they provide constant controlled access to water and nutrients without suffocating the root system.
Basically, the plant gets what it wants and needs, but not more. It also means less chance of developing root rot or infestations.
Check out this awesome video if you plan on growing hydroponically using LECA:
How to Grow with LECA
Growing with LECA is generally easy. First, you need to rinse off all the LECA pellets before using them in a pot for a plant. Fill a pot about ⅓ of the way with the LECA growing medium and then carefully place the plant.
Then, fill it up just like you would with the soil making sure to hold the plant in place as you surround the roots and base with clay LECA balls. Then, fill your outer pot with water up to the bottom layer of LECA pellets.
Not all plants do great with LECA, so you want to read the section below about which plants love LECA. You should also start with cuttings or at least young plants when using LECA. This is because dense root systems may not adjust easily to the change.
It can also be beneficial to use plants you don’t care a ton about at first, because any major change can harm a plant.
Finally, you will need to use fertilizer to ensure the plant gets enough nutrients because LECA doesn’t provide the same amounts as soil.
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Why Do Plants Love Leca?
There are lots of reasons plants love LECA and these are the reasons it remains a good alternative to soil for certain growing purposes. Let’s look at the advantages to the plant and to you so you can decide if you want to try LECA for your next house plant adventure.
Great Water Distribution
LECA will give your plants the right amount of water. That’s because the LECA substance absorbs water directly from roots, but leaves air so that the plant doesn’t suffocate. The clay pellets will soak up water and expand.
Then, the LECA balls release some of the water gradually so that the plant always receives a steady supply.
This ensures that the plant doesn’t get too much water, which can cause root rot and waterlogged leaves and stems, but it also ensures that it doesn’t completely dry out and die. This makes it perfect for the houseplant enthusiast who tends to forget to water every now and then.
Houseplant pests love soil. They live in it, especially when it gets really moist and nutritious. But pests aren’t so crazy about LECA because it doesn’t contain live organisms that are found in organic soil.
That means less likelihood of an infestation of pests attacking your lovely plants! If you struggle to keep your plants pest-free, then this is certainly an appealing benefit, especially when you consider that it prevents mold, mildew, fungi, and root rot as well.
Compact for Storage
LECA doesn’t take up nearly as much place as potting soil. Each bag of those takes up all the space you have in storage, especially if you have several types of plants that need different soils.
LECA is good for any plants that do well with it, so you can use the same product for both orchids, petunias, and succulents as well as almost any other type of plant.
This makes it a great choice for those who don’t have much extra space, particularly in apartments or shared rentals.
No Big Messes
If you’ve ever spilled soil, you know how much of a hassle it is to clean. It seems to sneak under everything and when sweeping it’s even hard to make sure you get the tiny, nearly microscopic pieces.
In fact, when repotting, you may leave a trail of spotty soil-covered areas. LECA will have some dust when you open the bag, but as soon as they get a little wet, they are good to go.
You can Reuse LECA
Once you use soil for a while, it no longer has nutrients to give, which means you need to repot and add new soil. LECA, on the other hand, can be used as many times as you need with proper maintenance and cleaning.
You can transfer LECA from one pot to the next, just make sure that you thoroughly wash them if you reuse them for a different plant.
More Oxygen to the Roots
Whereas soil, particularly soils that aren’t well-draining or porous, can suffocate a plants’ root system and end up killing it or making it sick. LECA is more porous and allows enough oxygen to get through to the systems.
This means healthier overall plant growth, which, in turn, may mean brighter colors on your attractive plants.
Downsides of Using LECA
As you can see, LECA offers a ton of great benefits, but it also comes with some disadvantages that you should be aware of before making the switch. Let’s look at the biggest downsides and what to keep in mind related to each one.
While soil is very cheap, LECA may break the bank! Okay, so it’s not that bad, but it definitely costs more than soil. It costs about three to four times as much depending on the type of soil that you compare it to.
However, remember that it can be reused over and over again, so you may save money using LECA in the long term. Still, the initial cost of switching all your plants may be a little bit over budget for your house plants.
Whereas soil already contains lots of nutrients to keep your plants happy and healthy, LECA does not, which means you have to buy additional fertilizer.
Not only that, but you must remember to fertilize your plants at the right time. Make sure you get the right type of fertilizer for the type of plants you are growing!
May Need Other Tools
You will need pots without drainage holes to use LECA appropriately because this will ensure the LECA absorbs the water the way it is supposed to.
In addition, you will need to consistently monitor the water quality and check the pH with a monitor. If the pH level is off, then your plant may not be able to eat the right amounts of nutrients that it needs to thrive into a luscious beauty.
What Plants Love LECA
Most houseplants do well in LECA including snake plants, orchids, monstera, and epiphyte plants. You will need to follow care tips for each individual plant regardless of whether you use traditional potting soil or lightweight expanded clay aggregate.
The porous atmosphere that LECA promotes is perfect for epiphytes in particular because they need lots of oxygen. This includes orchids or hemi-epiphytic monstera plants. It also includes some Hoyas and bromeliads.
If you like aroids like we do, then you’re in luck because Araceae plants also do well with LECA! This includes Pothos vines, anthuriums, philodendrons, alocasia, peace lilies, and more. Snake plants also love LECA pellets.
If you want to grow a plant that we haven’t mentioned, it may very well work with LECA. In fact, most plants will work with LECA given the proper care.
However, the change can stress plants out and work best with younger plants. You may want to perfect your ability to transfer from soil to LECA before trying to do so for a plant you adore (or one that is rare or costs a lot of money).
Final Thoughts on LECA and Why Plants Love It
LECA is a fantastic alternative that many homeowners and plant lovers prefer because of its awesome benefits. It supplies a steady dose of water to the plant without suffocating the leaves. If your plants are prone to infections or infestations, particularly root rot and other diseases, then LECA may be the easiest solution.
While they work great and last longer because they are reusable, it is important to note that they cost quite a bit more than soil. However, if you are willing to pay the money initially, you may have more beautiful plants for healthy long-term growing success.