Are you sick and tired of fungus gnats? Looking for a low-maintenance way to keep indoor houseplants? Using LECA for your indoor plants could be your lifesaver! Growing your indoor plants in a clay pebble medium has many benefits, including fewer pests, a higher success rate with propagation and being generally easier to care for than houseplants that live in soil.
In this guide you will learn everything you need to know about growing houseplants in LECA (also known as clay pebbles).
We’ll discuss what exactly LECA is, the pros and cons of using it, which plants do well in LECA and how to get started with your clay pebbles to build a beautiful home jungle!
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What is LECA?
Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate, also known as LECA, is a semi-hydroponic growing medium, consisting of clay pebbles.
It’s commonly used for growing houseplants such as bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes that grow on trees in the wild (not to be confused with air plants which require no soil at all).
LECA is an excellent substrate for beginner plant parents, those who are trying propagation for the first or anyone who struggles with a proper watering schedule.
Think of LECA balls like a wick that carries water to the roots. They help the roots breathe because of all the airflow. Roots love oxygen!
You can find expanded clay pebbles at your local garden store or online (I generally find bigger bags are cheaper to order online).
Why Use LECA or Clay Pebbles?
There are many benefits to growing houseplants in a clay pebble growing medium, including pest prevention and reviving struggling plants.
Plants grown in LECA are generally healthier due to the added oxygen that can get to the roots meaning much less susceptible to root rot and disease and more resistant to pests.
Clay pebbles are also much easier to maintain than growing plants in soil because you can replant them when they get too big and re-saturate the growing medium with more water.
LECA is a perfect growing medium for beginners who struggle with watering schedules or anyone looking to try plant propagation without killing their new baby.
LECA can be an excellent substrate for beginner plant parents because it makes monitoring symptoms easier compared to soil where overwatering may not always be the issue.
Plants grown in LECA are more likely to survive propagation attempts than when grown elsewhere due to its lightweight nature and porous surface.
Pros of Growing Plants in LECA
This growing media does not need to be watered as much, which is good if you are a beginner. The clay pebbles help regulate the amount of water the roots receive by absorbing and releasing water as needed.
Higher rate of success for reviving struggling plants due to root rot in soil.
Fewer pest problems, which is good if you have a smaller budget to work with and don’t want to use pesticides on your plants.
Lately, there have been so many problems with mass produced soil mixes (Miracle Grow) that are either mouldy or have pests when you open a brand new bag.
It’s a little extra reassurance knowing you’re using a sterile growing method.
Easier to diagnose problems. Monitoring symptoms is much easier.
For instance, if you have your plants in LECA and the leaves start to turn yellow, you know the problem is the amount of sunlight it’s receiving since overwatering isn’t the issue. Whereas with soil, yellow leaves can indicate too much sun or too much water.
Perfect choice if you have cats who like to play around in your plants. Generally less messy than soil and dirt getting everywhere.
The clay pebbles are re-useable and can be easily cleaned.
You don’t have to purchase different bags of soil and substrate to mix together. For example, most houseplants enjoy a mix of potting soil, organic matter such as worm castings and a drainage component such as perlite.
Cons of growing plants in LECA
The initial cost of buying LECA is more expensive than a bag of soil. However, in the long run, it will end up costing you less money.
Since clay pebbles do not have nutrients, you will have to purchase and use fertilizer on occasion.
Using clay pebbles for growing houseplants can sometimes mean that you will have a smaller selection of plants because some are not suitable for this growing media, such as any plant with large root systems or acid loving plants.
Best Plants for LECA
There are many different types of plants that can grow in LECA. But not all types will thrive. The best plants for growing in LECA are the ones that have a fast growing root system.
The following plants do well when planted in LECA:
- Snake plants
- Spider plant
- Wandering Jew
- ZZ Plant
- Edibles such as strawberries, leafy greens and tomatoes
Bromeliads generally have a fast growing root system, which is perfect for growing them in LECA. They also require less frequent watering.
Most orchid plants grow very well in LECA. This is also a great option if your orchid is dying or needs to be brought back to life.
Ferns grow well with LECA because they prefer to stay slightly moist. A popular way to pot Ferns is to use a layer of clay pebbles in the bottom of the pot followed with soil on top. This helps keep everything hydrated without being soggy.
Dracaena plants are a good choice for growing indoors and do well with growing media such as LECA because they need less water to thrive and typically prefer more indirect light.
Plants with delicate or short root systems, such as the String of Pearls, generally won’t do as well in a semi-hydroponic setup.
How to Prepare and Use LECA for Houseplants
Wash the Pebbles Outside
Thoroughly rinse your clay pebbles. I prefer to do this outside so that you don’t get clay buildup in your interior drains.
There will be lots of silt that runs off and you do not want this in your pipes!
I like to use orchid pots because the holes act like a colander. Make sure they are as clean as you can get them before first use to prevent any chance of bacteria growth.
They also need to soak in water for at least 6+ hours to get them primed (ideally a full day).
Use a Nursery Pot and a Cache Pot
You’ll have more success using a pot with drainage holes that sits inside a cache pot or decorative pot.
I like these ones which are nice and sturdy and inexpensive.
Add a layer of LECA until it’s about half way to two thirds up the pot.
Then, place your plants inside the pot and fill any gaps with more clay pebbles. Water your pot only until about a third of the way up the pebbles.
Keep in mind that LECA needs to be maintained regularly so it doesn’t dry out or become too wet. It should look like this when growing houseplants:
Add Your Fertilizer
It’s very important to add fertilizer to your water once a month (and more often in the spring and summer during growing season). This is because clay pebbles do not have added nutrients like soil. Your plants won’t thrive and growth will be severely stunted without it!
I miss General Hydroponics Calimagic in with my water after I do my flush once a month (more on than below).
Mixing Soil and LECA
You can combine LECA with other growing media, such as soil, if desired, but it does depend on the individual plant.
Aroids like Monsteras, for example, would do well with a mix of soil, organic matter, drainage material and chunky pieces like clay pebbles or sometimes orchid bark.
Propagating Plants in LECA
Propagating plants in LECA is pretty straight forward and the same as you would do for soil.
Step one is to take a cutting from the desired plant, then dip it in rooting hormone and place it in your prepared vase with pebbles. Add a few more pebbles around the cuttings to keep them stable.
This is the only time I recommend using a pot without drainage as stem cuttings like to stay moist for the first few weeks of growth. After several inches of roots have developed, you should transfer it to a pot with drainage holes or soil.
How Long Does it Take for Plants to Grow in LECA?
Generally, growing plants in LECA takes anywhere from one to four months. The amount of time depends on the type and size of plant you are growing as well as the growing environment.
Growing conditions such as temperature, humidity levels, light quality and amount of water will all affect how quickly your plant or cutting grows.
Plants don’t necessarily grow better in LECA, it’s just that they’re easier to monitor and maintain, thus appearing to grow more successfully.
Tips and Tricks for growing plants in LECA
Moving Plants from Soil to LECA
There are a few reasons why you might want to remove a plant from soil and place it in LECA.
This can be a good option if you haven’t been able to figure out why your plant is struggling. Others might want to transition to lower maintenance houseplants.
Plants should be transitioned gradually to help prevent shock. To minimize shock as much as possible, add root booster to the first watering.
Start by carefully removing the root ball from the soil and gently rinsing off as much dirt as possible. You can also submerge the root ball in water for a few days to get the last remaining dirt off.
After placing your pebbles about halfway up the pot, place the roots on top and gently fill in the gaps with more pebbles. Water until a third of the way up.
How Often Should You Water Plants in LECA?
The best part about watering plants growing in LECA is that all the guesswork is taken out of it.
Keep the water level at about a third of the way up where the clay pebbles sit.
No more guessing! When the water dips below, just top it up.
Flush Your Pebbles Once a Month
You’ll notice that a white residue will build up on the top layer of pebbles. This is normal and caused by mineral build up from your tap water.
About once every 3 to 4 weeks you should do a complete ‘flush’ where you thoroughly rinse the pebbles all the way through and add fertilizer to the water.
In conclusion, growing houseplants in LECA is a great option for anyone who wants low-maintenance plants. It’s not difficult to maintain or use and it’s a good choice for beginner plant parents.
Clay Pebbles are growing media that can be used for indoor plants and orchids. It’s a great option because it doesn’t need to be watered often, is easy to maintain, looks good in any pot design, and can also help with overwatering problems if your plant isn’t growing well.
Which of these tips will benefit you the most? Let me know in the comments below!