Over the past few decades, clay pebbles have become a popular substrate for houseplant enthusiasts.
Also known as hydro pebbles or LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), you don’t need to water the absorbent clay pebbles as frequently as you would with soil.
In addition to looking great, clay pellets are fungus free and do not rot, allowing the plant to thrive. Moreover, since it consists of inorganic material, pests can hardly survive in clay pebbles.
This post focuses on how to use clay pebbles for houseplants and their benefits. Read on to learn more;
How To Use Clay Pebbles For Houseplants
Begin by adding a 4 cm (1.57 inch) deep layer of aqua clay pebbles to the bottom of a pot. Next, place your plant’s rootball in the center. Gently fill in any gaps around the rootball with soil. Finally, top off with a thin layer of aqua clay pebbles to help retain moisture and provide a barrier to prevent soil from washing away.
What Exactly Are Clay Pebbles?
Clay pebbles are a growing substrate utilized in hydroponic agricultural and container gardens.
Hydroponic gardening involves replacing soil with nutrient-rich water. However, plants require a medium for the root to grow, creating the need for clay pebbles.
With its neutral pH, LECA, which is made by tumbling pure natural clay at a high temperature, offers an ideal medium for growing plants, such as cannabis.
However, despite being reusable, clay pebbles on their own don’t offer nutrients to plants.
How To Use LECA Balls
To use LECA, add a 4 cm layer of clay pebbles to create a false bottom, raising the roots of your indoor plants from the pot.
Next, add your compost or potting mix. Afterward, top up with tap or hose water, ensuring the water level is below the plant’s roots.
Using Clay Pebbles for Houseplants
Here are some common uses of clay pebbles for houseplants;
1. Used for drainage
Clay pebbles are a great option for improving plant drainage. Typically, adding clay pebbles or broken terracotta will facilitate greater aeration and drainage, preventing root rot from occurring.
When transplanting your houseplant, place about 2 inches of LECA into the pot prior to adding the potting mix.
Alternatively, you can add clay balls to your potting mix to improve the soil’s water retention ability.
We recommend using clay pebbles for plants that dry out rapidly before the next watering session.
Also, use the hydro pebbles if you’re busy and can’t water the potted plants as often as you should.
With their small size and round shape, aqua clay balls provide a high aeration level, unlimited root growth, and quick drainage.
Moreover, unlike other substrates, inorganic clay pebbles are less vulnerable to algae, pests, and other plant diseases.
2. Use as a growing medium
You can replace the soil with clay pebbles as your growing medium for indoor plants. Luckily, LECA is less messy and has a neutral pH, making it the perfect substrate for houseplants.
In addition, the clay pebbles provide a perfect balance of air, moisture, and food for indoor plants.However, unlike potting mixture, which is organic, clay pebbles don’t provide nutrients to the plant.
Consequently, you’ll want to add the nutrients to the plant manually. In this case, the plants will absorb the nutrients through the clay balls. Sounds cool.
Lucky for you, growing houseplants in clay pebbles instead of soil is pretty simple with the following steps;
Step 1. Thoroughly rinse the clay balls before soaking them for 12-14 hours to absorb the water fully.
Step 2. Find a desired plant, such as a propagated cutting. Alternatively, uproot and softly clean the dirt from the roots of plants grown in the soil.
Step 3. Find a transparent grow pot or hydroponic pot consisting of glass. This way, you can observe the plant’s roots.
Step 4. Halfway fill your pot with clay pebbles and place the propagated plant at the center. Top up more clay pebbles around the plant to hold it in place.
Step 5. Add distilled water to the pot just below the plant’s roots. The clay balls will absorb the water before supplying it to the roots when required. This way, the roots don’t contact the water directly.
Step 6. Place the plant in a good indirect light source
To deter algae from growing, ensure the water dries out completely before topping up. Also, remember to use nutrient-rich water when watering the plant.
3. Use clay pebbles to propagate plants
Propagating indoor plants is not only easy but also rewarding. When you plant a cutting, the roots will develop, adapting to the hydroponic condition and open-air system. Here’s how you can get started;
- Clip the stem of your desired plant. The stem should have a few leaves
- Place the plant cutting into the LECA pot and top up with nutrient-filled water
- The clipping will absorb water from the clay pebbles and develop roots
- For a soil-to-LECA transition, use a mild fertilizer that attends to the health of the roots. This prevents transfer shock, allowing the roots to develop strongly.
4. Add humidity using clay pebbles
Using clay pebbles can intensify humidity levels for plants with higher humidity preferences. Some plants with this preference include ferns, spider plants, ZZ plants, Fiddle fig plants, Peace Lily, and Prayer plants.
For this step, place the clay pebbles in a vase or pot and fill it with water. The clay balls, being highly absorbent, will increase the plant’s humidity
Remember to clean the clay pebbles often and top them up with water to maintain the anticipated humidity.
Also, the clay pebbles prevent the plant from directly contacting water, which could result in root rot.
However, if the plant is thirsty, the root will start growing towards the water at the bottom of the vase, absorbing moisture directly.
5. Use as a topsoil dressing
You can use LECA as a soil topper to guard your houseplants. In addition to regulating the moisture level, the pebbles also minimize the risk of pests attacking your indoor plant.
Clay pebbles are especially effective against gnats, which prefer landing and laying eggs on organic materials.
In addition, since LECA is inorganic, it disrupts the pests’ reproductive cycle, preventing an outbreak from occurring.
Covering the topsoil with LECA adds a decorative touch to the houseplant, making them more stylish.
Also, adding clay pebbles to the top layer of your soil shields the plant’s roots from excessive heat and thermal shock.
Choosing the Right Plants to Grow in Clay Pebbles
While clay pebbles offer an ideal growing medium for various indoor floras, you’ll want to settle for less fussy plants. The rule of thumb is to choose plants that;
- Can develop a large root structure quickly
- Thrives well in oxygen-rich soil
- Don’t rely primarily on the soil for nutrients
- Dry out between watering sessions
Some great indoor plant options include;
Once you’ve figured out how to grow indoor plants in clay pebbles, you can start experimenting with clippings from other species.
Cons of Using Clay Pebbles for Indoor Plants
While clay pebbles offer numerous advantages, they have several downsides that may affect your indoor plant’s well-being. Some issues you’ll encounter when using hydro pebbles include;
1. Mineral deposits may clog the clay balls’ pores
Using tap water only will gradually clog the cay pebbles’ pores, preventing them from absorbing more water. So, while the pebbles will still do their job, they’ll be less effective.
2. Pests and insects
Failure to clean the clay pebbles frequently will entice pests, including scale insects, thrips, and red spider mites. You’ll want to sterilize the pebbles or replace them frequently to avoid this issue.
3. They’re expensive
While they’re easy to work with, hydrotons are costly, especially for large growers. This leaves many houseplant enthusiasts opting for other substrates.
4. Limited fertilizer choice
Regular fertilizer works best with organic soil. As a result, you’ll need a specific nutrient solution for your LECA medium.
Should You Use Fertilizer With Clay balls for Houseplants?
Unlike soil, clay pebbles are inorganic and contain no nutrients. Therefore, adding fertilizer is the only way your indoor plant can receive essential nutrients.
The liquid fertilizer solution contains isolated micro and macronutrients for the plant.
Also, since some minerals and vitamins are only obtainable by plants at a specific pH, check the water’s acidity before watering your plant.
For hydroponic structures, use a pH-balancing product to raise or lower the water’s acidity level.
Should I Clean The Clay Pebbles
Clean your expanded clay pebbles monthly. Typically, nutrient buildup blocks the pores, limiting the pebbles’ ability to hold and transfer moisture.
Rinsing the plant and flushing the plants removes the buildup from the roots, allowing for better nutrient absorption.
Alternatively, you’ll want to replace the hydrotons frequently to prevent algae growth and keep insects away.
Can You Mix Clay Pebbles With Soil?
While LECA is designed to be used independently, you can mix it with other growing mediums.
Typically, mixing clay pebbles with soil allows you to enjoy the benefits of both organic and inorganic substrates.
Also, mixing the mediums eliminates the need to add fertilizer to the plant. Soil contains the necessary nutrients required by plants.
If you’re new to working with clay pebbles, it’s a good idea to mix them with your potting soil.
Do Clay Pebbles Hold Water?
Clay pebbles can hold onto water, discharging it only when the plant’s roots absorb it. This makes the plants more autonomous since they only take in water when needed.
As such, little clay pebbles are an ideal growing medium for plants that don’t like to be soggy. However, to ensure that the pebbles absorb the maximum moisture, soak them for several hours.
Alternate between tap water and rainwater when soaking the clay balls since the minerals can block the pebble’s pores, making them less porous.
How do you prepare clay pebbles for plants?
First, place the clay pebbles in a bucket and fill it with water. Next, wash the pebbles thoroughly, transfer them to a second, and wash them again. Once the pebbles are clean, boil them in a large kettle or cauldron for 10 minutes to sterilize them. The heat should kill any bugs, fungi, or algae present.
Should you put pebbles in indoor plants?
Place pebbles in your indoor plants to improve drainage and enhance water retention. The pebbles prevent water from evaporating from the soil. Additionally, clay pebbles absorb excess water in the container, releasing the water when the pot dries out.
Are clay pebbles good for succulents?
Yes, LECA is a good medium for growing succulents. Since it imitates the natural semi-arid environment, clay pebbles allow succulent plants to develop a strong and quality root system This way, the roots enjoy the air circulation necessary for a sustainable and healthy plant growth.
Leca vs. Soil: Is leca better than soil?
Generally, LECA is better than soil, especially for indoor plants. Light expanded clay aggregate provides the right moisture amount, deters pests from reproducing, and utilizes minimal space. However, before choosing LECA as your growing medium, remember that they only work well with particular plants.
Whether you want higher humidity levels, better drainage, or a new substrate to experiment with, Clay balls are the go-to option.
Once you learn how to use clay pebbles for houseplants, you’ll never look back. You can reuse the clay pebbles as much as you want, provided you wash and clean them thoroughly.
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