Growing houseplants plants using LECA is easier than you think. Most people assume that hydroponics is complicated, but that doesn’t have to be true. The hardest part is actually deciding on what hydroponics method or system to use. Since “crop yield” is not necessary when growing houseplants, a simple passive or semi-hydro system is really all you need.
Is LECA right for me?
Do you have a tendency to kill houseplants because of overwatering? If this is the case, semi-hydro with LECA just might be the thing you need to prevent it from happening. When soil is overwatered, the structure of the soil can collapse and vital air pockets become less and less abundant. This results in very little dissolved oxygen available at the roots, and without it, they can develop the dreaded condition known as “root rot.”
These are the signs you’ve been watering your plant too much and too often:
- The plant has wilted leaves, but with completely soggy soil
- Large amounts of perlite are floating on top
- It has a hollow topsoil layer
- You constantly need to add soil to the pot.
In most semi-hydro setups, the water level is clearly visible, which makes them very difficult to overwater. And if LECA is overwatered, you can easily drain it—unlike soil, the structure is not likely to collapse.
Keeping things simple
Hydroponics systems can get complicated, but for growing houseplants, it makes the most sense to keep things very simple. The goal is to provide your plant everything that it needs to thrive, but without a lot of maintenance. The setup used at Variegated Plants by Inna’s nursery requires only four components: Net or slotted inner pot, vase or cache, LECA, and nutrient water).
How it works
- Start with a rooted cutting
- Plant cutting in rinsed LECA inside the slotted pot
- Rest the slotted pot inside the cache
- Fill with nutrient water until the bottom two to three layers of LECA are submerged
- As water level recedes, refill to previous level
Why it works
LECA stands for “lightweight expanded clay aggregate” and is made of little clay pebbles that have been heated to extreme temperatures in a rotary kiln. This process forms thousands of tiny bubbles that become voids inside and on the surface of the hardened clay pebble, which contributes to higher levels of dissolved oxygen available to the roots.
While it is true that LECA will absorb moisture and hold it available for plant roots, this setup utilizes its wicking properties to effectively deliver water—and everything else—to the plant through the roots.
LECA can “wick” nutrient water several inches above the water surface (add photo of leca wicking water). This allows for 30 times more increase in the surface area for water and air to come into contact, and since oxygen is dissolved in water once they do, any increase in surface area leads to greater levels of dissolved oxygen (up to a saturation point).
Since LECA does not contain any nutrients of minerals needed for plant survival, your LECA-grown houseplant will need to be watered with nutrient water. Sure, this requires more effort than watering soil, but if you do it right, you can have a happier plant with larger leaves that have vibrant colors and patterns.
Healthy roots you can see
We always use a glass cache and a clear slotted pot so you can see the roots throughout the growing process. Every plant owner knows the joy and anticipation of a new leaf unfurling, but few have had the amazing experience of watching the roots grow as well. In fact, did you know that not all plant roots have the same color?
Not only is the daily progress of roots a lot of fun to watch, but it also allows you to see how healthy your plant is. If your roots aren’t growing and the tips don’t look healthy, it’s an early indication that your plant is not in good shape.
Many first time LECA gardeners freak out when they see a fuzz surrounding what looks like a healthy root—this is not a fungus; they are tiny root hairs ready to take in all of the water and nutrient the plant needs.
Ready to try LECA now?