How to Use LECA Balls?

LECA Balls
LECA Balls (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lately, LECA has been a common word among plant lovers, and it is starting to pop up everywhere in the gardening community.

Have you seen some plants growing in a pot filled with small balls instead of soil?

Well, those small balls of clay are called LECA balls. LECA is short for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate.

So what is LECA actually, and how do you use it?

LECA balls are a collection of small clay balls used as a growing medium, especially indoor plants. When brought in contact with water, the clay balls soak the water, after which they’ll expand slightly. Thus, you can use LECA balls to provide the plant with water when required.

LECA Balls
LECA Balls (Source: Amazon)

Also known as clay pellets, clay balls, hydro pebbles, and aqua clay balls, these pellets have a wide range of usage, which we will go through in this article.

What is LECA?

As mentioned before, LECA stands for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate.

LECA balls are a growing medium used instead of soil or water that helps regulate the nutrient and water requirement throughout the growing process.

It started its journey from the hydroponics sector and has slowly been popularized in indoor gardening.

LECA was first developed in 1917 in Missouri for use in construction works.

However, its versatile nature has been widely used in construction, water treatment, drainage, hydroponics, and gardening.

LECA balls are very lightweight, have a low thermal conductivity, are impervious to moisture, and won’t decompose in severe conditions

It has a neutral pH value, making it easy to use as an alternative for soil, filtration, and water drainage.

It can be used independently or mixed with soil or peat to improve its drainage and aeration capacity.

LECA balls used as growing medium
LECA balls used as growing medium (Source: Amazon)

How are LECA Balls Helpful for Plants?

By now, you know what LECA Balls are and the various fields where these balls are used.

But we are here to talk about its usage while growing plants and how it helps in plant growth.

Below are some of how LECA Balls are helpful for plants:

1. Consistent Water Supply

If you are a veteran plant grower, you must know how damaging overwatering can be.

There is a fine line between watering a plant perfectly and overwatering. LECA helps to breach that line and ensure that your plants are never overwatered.

By replacing your soil with LECA, you will be able to maintain a consistent water supply without stressing about overwatering.

You can replace your soil with these clay balls and put water at the bottom of the pot. LECA helps to soak up the water from the bottom through its capillaries.

It means that when your houseplant needs water, it will soak up from the LECA balls. When not needed, it will remain as it is.

2. Fewer Chances of Root Rot

Root rot is a significant problem while growing plants, and it is one of the most common ones as well.

Root rot mainly occurs due to problems related to overwatering and the use of heavy soil.

If the soil mix you are using doesn’t have enough drainage and aeration, your plant easily becomes susceptible to root rot.

LECA solves this problem by providing a well-draining and aerated system for the soil. It provides the required conditions for the roots to thrive.

Root Rot
Root Rot Symptoms (Source: Unsplash.com)

Adequate Oxygen through the pellets will prevent the root from rotting.

Root rot due to excessive watering shall also be eliminated when using LECA balls. So even when your LECA is filled with water, it doesn’t essentially harm the plants.

Your plant will only choose to take water from the balls when they need it.

When using normal soil, overwatering the plant means that the plant must soak up the excess water. But this is not the case with using LECA.

Is your Snake Plant suffering from root rot? Check this article: How to Revive and Prevent Snake Plant Root Rot?

3. Reduced Incidence of Pests

The most common reasons for your plants to get infested by pests are root rot and excessive humidity.

Pests like scales, mealybugs, aphids, gnats, etc., thrive on the overwatered and rotting plants.

If you leave soggy soil attended, it will easily attract pests and harmful insects to your plants.

The use of untreated garden soil can also make the plant susceptible to pest attacks. Many kinds of pests lay their eggs on the soil.

Pest Infested Leaf
Pest Infested Leaf (Source: Pixabay)

LECA balls solve this problem by eliminating the use of soil. Since it also doesn’t have any live organisms, chances for decomposing and rotting down are non-existent.

Because LECA balls are not live growing medium, unlike soil, it doesn’t have the nutrients required for pests and insects to thrive.

It makes it hard for the pests and insects to multiply and save your plant from being damaged.

4. Easier Plant Care

LECA balls make caring for plants easy and less time-consuming.

You don’t have to spend more time researching the perfect soil, watering when and how, and maintaining soil moisture.

Using LECA balls means that you will be able to skip over these aspects.

Moreover, LECA balls are a very versatile growing medium. There is a specific potting soil mix for every different kind of plant.

But once you use these balls, you won’t have to worry about the kind of soil you will have to use.

These balls work for various plants, whether they be succulents, aroids, or tropical plants.

LECA-in-plants-amazon
LECA Balls (Source: Amazon)

6. Easy to Check your Plant Roots

Another cool aspect of using LECA balls is that you can easily check the roots of your plants now.

Most people only get to see the root system of the plant while repotting. It is feasible considering the lengthy process one has to go through to check the plant roots.

If you are using soil as a growing medium, then it can make quite a mess. Uprooting the plant is also a big no considering the time you have to spend cleaning up afterward.

With these LECA balls, you won’t have to worry about cleaning up after uprooting the plant. You will also be able to check the roots cleanly without difficulty.

As someone who has dealt with many root rot problems, I can confidently say that LECA balls are boon for indoor gardeners.

Not only will you get the check on the roots regularly, but you also won’t have to go through the trouble that you have to go through when using soil as your growing medium.

Plant grown with LECA
A plant is grown with LECA (Source: Amazon)

5. Less Weekly Maintenance

You will greatly reduce the week-to-week caring for a plant if you substitute your soil medium for LECA balls.

It regulates the water requirements means that you won’t have to stress about watering your plant regularly.

All you need to do is make sure that there is enough water on the pot for your plant to absorb.

You won’t have to worry about watering it consistently or ensuring that your root is not rotting down.

The time spent regularly checking for pests and root rot diseases will also be cut down.

6. Reusable Growing Medium

One of the best aspects of using LECA balls is that you can reuse them again and again for different varieties of plants.

Soil, being live growing medium, loses its nutritional value over a long period.

You cant reuse soil efficiently as the previous plant would already have absorbed the nutritional value of the soil.

Moreover, reusing soil has its downsides. For example, it can make the next plant highly susceptible to disease and pests.

Fungal spores can attract themselves to the soil, and they can damage your next plant if you plan to reuse them.

All these problems are non-existent with the use of LECA balls. You can effectively use the same LECA balls for different plants without losing their value.

If you plan to reuse your LECA balls, you will have to clean them before using them again.

It makes it very cost-effective, and you won’t have to go through a lot of hassle that comes with reusing the soil.

Indoor plants grown with LECA balls
Indoor plants grown with LECA balls (Source: Amazon)

Drawbacks of Using LECA balls

Although there are many advantages that LECA has over the soil, a few drawbacks also cannot be ignored.

It has been able to bag a firm place in the plant market, but you should consider some of its cons before buying it.

1. Costlier than Soil

LECA is costlier than normal potting soil. It can be up to 4 or 5 times more expensive than soil.

The initial cost of setting up LECA is also high compared to growing plants in soil.

However, the plus point is that LECA can be reliable for a long period thus, saving the long-term care expenses.

2. Need of Nutrients

Some plants can do well in garden soil without any added fertilizer.

However, LECA being an inorganic material, would require an added nutrient solution in the soil to grow the plants.

The nutrient solution will also have to be replaced timely which can be a headache for some people.

3. Need of New Pots and Tools

If you plan to grow plants in LECA balls, you will have to get a pot with no drainage holes.

Besides, various other things like a pH meter and the bottom vessel would be required if you want to keep your plant healthy in LECA.

Normal clay or terracotta pots doesn’t match well with LECA, so you will have to get new special pots before using LECA.

How to Use LECA Balls?

You can use LECA Balls in a variety of ways depending upon the outcome you want.

You can even fully substitute your potting soil with LECA balls.

Because of their unique structure allowing drainage and proper humidity to the plant, it can be used as a growing medium, top dressing, or as a drainage option for your plant.

How you choose to use LECA balls depends on where you want to place them.

LECA Balls
LECA Balls (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

1. As a Growing Medium

You can use LECA balls to replace soil fully to grow indoor plants. It is a great substitute for soil due to various reasons.

LECA balls are a lot less messy to deal with than using soil. Gone are the days when you need to keep moving your pot around for repotting.

It also has better drainage and aeration structure than soil, making it a perfect candidate as a potting solution.

A water-logged soil or clay-rich soil is harmful to plant health.

It constricts the growth of the roots and is a perfect environment for disease outbreaks.

LECA balls can get rid of this problem totally, and you will also have an easier time checking up on your plants.

Sprouts growing on LECA balls
Sprouts growing on LECA balls (Source: Amazon)

2. As a Drainage Aid

LECA balls have a unique structure that allows excess water to drain while preserving their moisture.

You can create a false bottom and raise the plant’s roots by filling the pot’s base with LECA balls.

To use LECA balls as a drainage aid, fill one-third of the pot with LECA balls on the bottom. And fill the rest with soil.

It gives leverage to the plant by improving the aeration rate, drainage capacity and provides space for unrestricted root growth.

The unique shape and structure of LECA balls make plant growth easier by improving the overall health of the roots.

LECA used as Drainage Aid
LECA used as Drainage Aid (Source: Amazon)

 3. Top Soil Dressing

You can either use LECA wholly or as a bottom aid or even as a topsoil dressing medium.

Placing LECA balls on the top of the soil makes the soil inaccessible to insects and pests.

It means that the balls can greatly reduce the chances of incidence of plant pests. For example, it is more effective against fungal gnats as they love to lay eggs on the soil.

Another advantage of LECA balls in topsoil dressing is that it acts as a layer of mulch that can help lock down the soil’s moisture.

It also protects the soil from excessive heat and frost too. Chances of thermal shock and frost damage to the roots are reduced when LECA is used as topsoil dressing.

It also creates a highly humid scenario on the soil, and the plant can use the excess moisture for maintaining its health.

Plus, it looks aesthetically pleasing when compared to soil.

How to Prepare LECA for First Use?

Treating and properly preparing LECA for its first use is important to ensure the long-term health of the balls.

If LECA is not prepared in the right way, it can result in slow growth and require frequent maintenance.

So a thorough preparation of LECA on the first use will ensure the plant’s rapid growth, and it won’t require much checking up.

Follow the steps below to prepare your LECA balls for first use:

Step 1: Rinse the LECA balls

  • Take the LECA balls out of the bag.
  • Place the LECA balls in a mesh cloth or a sieve.
  • Rinse it by placing it below running water.
  • Give it a good rinse till all the clay and dusty particles are removed.
  • Rinsing your LECA once or twice is good enough.

Step 2: First Soak

  • Place the rinsed LECA balls in a plastic container or bucket.
  • Fill the bucket with water and give it a good swirl.
  • Drain the water away to remove the dust and crud particles.
  • Refill the bucket with water to the brim and keep the balls completely submerged.
  • Let the LECA soak for at least 12-24 hours.

Step 3: Second Soak

  • A second soak will ensure that the LECA is fully rid of crud and dust particles.
  • Drain the water from the first soak and refill the bucket again.
  • Soak the LECA balls for 12-24 hours again.
  • Your LECA balls are ready for use.

Step 4: Drying and Storing

If you are planning to use your LECA balls right away, you can skip this part.

  • If you want to use your LECA balls later, then you can keep them safely stored.
  • Dry your LECA balls in the sun in laundry bags or mesh cloths.
  • Keep them until the balls are fully dried.
  • Store them away safely in a dry place for future use.
LECA-in-plants-2-amazon
Rinsed and Soaked LECA Balls (Source: Amazon)

Use LECA Balls as a Growing Medium

Preparing and treating the LECA is one part of the process. There is also a right way to use the LECA as a growing medium.

Follow the steps below to use your LECA balls as a growing medium properly

Step 1: Planting in LECA

Assuming that you have already prepared your LECA as said above, follow the instructions below to grow your plant.

  • Fill one-third of the pot with LECA balls.
  • Place your plant in the soil gently and make sure to spread out the roots evenly.
  • Add LECA balls to the pot level by level.
  • Shake the pot gently to make your LECA evenly leveled.
  • Continue adding the balls until it is an inch below the brim of the pot.

Step 2: Prepare the Nutrient Solution

LECA balls are an inorganic medium which means that it doesn’t have any nutrients within them.

Therefore, it means that you will have to add nutrients externally for the plants to grow.

Flora Gro(2-1-6), Flora Micro(5-0-1), and Flora Bloom(0-5-4) are good choices for the nutrient solution.

Note: LECA balls in themselves don’t have any nutrient elements which is why you will have to choose your nutrient solution wisely depending on the plant you want to grow.

  • Fill a bucket with 4 liters of distilled water.
  • Shake all the bottles vigorously before you use them.
  • Pour 1.25ml of Flora Micro into the distilled water.
  • Add 1.25ml of Flora Gro to the distilled water.
  • Add 1.25 ml of Flora Bloom to the distilled water.
  • Swirl the water on the bucket well before use to make sure that the nutrients are mixed evenly.
Flora-Series
Flora Series (Source: Amazon)

Tips: Always use the lowest recommended dosage of the nutrient solution that is given on the label.

Step 3: Add the Nutrient Solution to the Nutrient Reservoir

  • Place the pot that you are using inside a bigger pot or a deep saucer.
  • Make sure that there are no drainage holes.
  • Pour the nutrient solution into the outer pot till it reaches over the drainage hole of the inner pot.

Some people also choose to grow the plants without adding nutrients.

It should be avoided as LECA doesn’t have nutrient elements of its own.

Lack of nutrient solution can result in slow growth, and the plant will suffer from nutrient deficiency.

LECA balls outer reservoir
Potted Plant with Nutrient Reservoir (Source: Freepik)

Tips: You can use an opaque saucer or an opaque pot to prevent algal growth into the nutrient solution.

Step 4: Topping up the Nutrient Reservoir

In time, the nutrient reservoir will start to deplete as the water starts to evaporate.

You will have to top up the nutrient reservoir with fresh distilled or filtered water up to the previous level.

Topping up the reservoir means that the roots can access the water easily.

Make sure that you don’t top up the reservoir with nutrient-filled water as it increases the concentration of nutrients in the pot.

Water evaporates faster than the nutrients, which means that the nutrients will remain even if the water evaporates.

A high concentration of nutrients can have a detrimental effect on the plant, which is why it’s best to top up with clean water.

Step 5: Flushing the pot

As the LECA starts drawing up the nutrient water, a white residue of salt buildup can be seen on the surface.

Although nothing unusual, you will have to flush the pot in running water to rinse the salt buildup away.

You should ideally do it every two weeks to ensure the health of the LECA balls.

The excess salt buildup can have a damaging effect on the roots of the plant.

Flushing the pot helps to maintain the concentration of the nutrients and helps to restore the chemistry of the pot.

Check out this short video on LECA Balls.

Choosing the Right Plants to grow in LECA

Like any other growing medium, LECA also has its pros and cons.

While they are a perfect medium to grow some plants, others won’t do as better as those that grow.

Plants that can be grown in LECA should have the following characteristics:

  • Ability to grow a large root system in a short amount of time.
  • Prefers well-aerated moist soil.
  • Can handle the stress of being in and out of the growing medium.
  • It prefers to dry out between watering.
  • Don’t rely on the growing medium for its nutrient requirements

Consult the table below to know which plants grow well in LECA and which don’t :

Plants that grow well in LECAPlants that do not grow well in LECA
ZZ PlantHoya manipurensis
AlocasiasHoya pachyclada
Spider PlantCebu blue pothos
MonsterasPhilodendron melanochrysum
OrchidsHoya lacunosa silver
BegoniaHoya memoria

Check out this article about Philodendrons: Complete Care Guide for Philodendron Moonlight

Right Pot for Using LECA Balls

LECA demands the use of a specific kind of pot for the best results.

The type of pot you use is a huge factor in determining the success of your plant growth.

Using the wrong kind of plant growth can have a detrimental effect on your plant and may result in root rot and other diseases.

Following are the pots that are best for using LECA balls.

1. Self-Watering Pot

As mentioned before, LECA balls are inorganic material, meaning that they don’t have nutrients.

Thus, for growing plants in LECA, it is important to keep a reservoir of nutrient solution for feeding the plants.

A self-watering pot can be the best bet for using LECA that will help to provide sufficient nutrients and moisture to the plants.

Self-watering pots consist of a growing bed, water reservoir for holding the nutrient solution, potting soil (or, in this case, LECA), and a wicking system.

self watering pot
Self Watering Pot (Source: Amazon)

The wicking system absorbs water from the bottom half of the pot through capillary action allowing the plant roots to absorb it.

The growing bed is the upper portion of the self-watering pot where you grow the plant and where the LECA goes.

The reservoir is used to hold the nutrient-rich solution, which the LECA uses through the wicking system.

For refilling the reservoir, a vertical pipe is attached through which water is poured down.

Self-watering pots are not only convenient and resource-efficient but it is also said to improve plant health.

Want to check out great self-watering pots? 5 Best Self-Watering African Violet Pots

2. Wicking Pots

Wicking pots are similar to self-watering pots but differ because the water touches the liquid solution.

Any self-watering pot where the potting material and the water are in direct contact can be called a wicking pot.

Wicking pots water the plant from the base rather than from the top. Therefore, it eliminates many issues related to overwatering and the accumulation of water in the leaves.

It is a simple system where the LECA draws up water from the base through wicking action.

This allows even distribution of the water and helps to create more favorable conditions for plant growth.

Wicking Pot mainly consists of three layers. The first layer is where the LECA is laid and where the plant is grown.

The second is a layer of scoria or gravel as the base of the plant, and the third layer is the part where the pipe goes to provide water.

Between the layer of gravel and the layer of LECA, a permeable light source like netting or cloth can be used as the wicking object.

The nutrient-rich water should be filled through the PVC pipe and refilled in 2-3 weeks.

The LECA will absorb water through the wicking system, and the rest shall follow.

How do you Use LECA Balls for Aquaponics?

The origin of LECA balls in plants field started from Aquaponics and Hydroponics systems.

Thus, it is no doubt that LECA is a good option for use in an aquaponics system.

You can check out online resources to build your aquaponics system, or you can buy one from a hydroponic store.

LECA is commonly used on ebb and flow or flood and drain systems of hydroponics.

If the hydroponics system is already properly set, it is not that hard to prepare the LECA and use them.

Follow the steps below to use your LECA balls:

  • Rinse the LECA till you remove all the dirt.
  • Fill the rinsed LECA into a plant container.
  • You can start planting the seeds or transplant the seedlings into the system.
  • Use a nutrient-rich solution to fill the reservoir.
  • It would be best if you replaced the solution every other two weeks for the best results.
  • It would help if you flooded the plant container at least twice a day. You can set a timer for that.
  • Make sure that the water drains before it reaches the surface of the LECA. It should be done to avoid algal growth on the surface.
Aquaponic System for growing plants
Aquaponic System for growing plants (Source: Amazon)

FAQs About LECA Balls

1. Do Plants Grow Slower in LECA Balls?

On the contrary, plants grow much faster in LECA balls than soil as a growing medium. The concentrated nutrient solution also aids in faster plant growth.

2. How Often should you Water Plants in LECA Balls?

You will have to add water to the reservoir every two weeks or so. Once the water starts dropping below the drainage hole of the pot, fill it up immediately.

However, you should take various other factors like the size of the container, amount of sunlight, and humidity into account to calculate the frequency of watering.

3. Are LECA Balls Difficult to Use?

Not at all. It has its learning curve and does seem a bit difficult at first. It also requires some extra care than using soil.

But once you get used to it, you will prefer using LECA balls to the soil as a growing medium.

4. Do I Need to Boil my LECA Balls Before Using Them?

If you use a very high-value plant, you can boil your LECA balls to give your plants an extra layer of protection.

You can also boil your LECA balls before reusing them to prevent any cross-contamination of diseases.

Cute plant grown with LECA balls
A cute plant grown with LECA balls (Source: Amazon)

Conclusion

Now that you have all the required information about LECA balls, you can confidently use them as a growing medium for your indoor plants.

If you don’t want the hassle of planting in soil, LECA balls are the perfect option.

Although the initial cost is a bit expensive, you won’t be spending as much on LECA balls in the long term.

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