Let me spin you a tale of one of the biggest endeavors that I have ever attempted as a plant mom.
I had been researching switching all of my plants to leca a while ago, but after moving into my apartment for college and bringing my plants into a smaller space, I experienced the worst breakout of fungus gnats that I have ever experienced. I did everything that I could to get rid of them: drowning traps, sticky traps, letting my plants dry out completely for two weeks, and they still were rampant. It got so bad that my roommate and I had them flying into our noses (yuck!). So I finally pulled the trigger on the large first time investment of buying leca and all of the nutrients needed.
The Leca Basics
For some background, leca, or expanded clay pebbles, is an inorganic growing medium that you can grow plants in. It is beneficial for a majority of reasons. There is no soil, so no risk of pests like fungus gnats, there is proper aeration to roots, it is easy to pull out your plants and inspect your roots, and it lessens the amount of maintenance needed for your plants.
Since leca is an inorganic medium, it doesn’t give any nutrients to your plants, meaning that all of your nutrients need to come from your water. This come from extra hydroponic nutrients that you add in small quantities to your water. Since everything your plant needs is coming from your water solution, it is important to check the pH levels of the water. Houseplants like the pH level to be around 5.5-6.5. So you have to buy the nutrients and a pH level system in order for you plants to thrive.
Another important aspect of leca is to make sure that you set up your plants correctly. Leca uses capillary action in order to wick up water from the bottom reservoir of the pot to the roots of your plant. You don’t want your plants to be touching this reservoir, or you could run into problems of root rot. A good measure is to leave the bottom third of your pot to be a reservoir in order to allow room for your roots to grow downwards.
The Products I Bought
If you are looking to give semi-hydronics a try yourself, I will show you the products that I got for myself.
The Long Process
Step One: Prep Your Containers
This is one of the most time consuming parts of converting your plants to leca. There are many different types of containers that you can use. The most popular that I have seen is using a nursery pot inside of a cache pot (aka a pot with no drainage hole). You will fill the cache pot to the 1/4 point with water for the reservoir to make room for the nursery pot with leca. Once the nursery pot is put into the cache pot, the water level is usually around the 1/3 mark.
Another system is to have clear containers that allow you to see the water reservoir. You can drill a hole or two at the 1/3 level so that excess water can be drained and you can make sure that you aren’t overfilling your containers with water.
I have a mixture of the to of these kinds of containers, just because with the short notice, I grabbed whatever I had that would work for my plants.
Step Two: Prep Your Plants
The most time consuming of all tasks is prepping your plants to go into leca because you have to rinse off all of the dirt from you roots. I started out with a trash bag that all of my soil could go into, as not to get it all over the floor. To save my drain any hardships, I tried my best to remove as much soil as possible before I started rinsing.
This step it 100% easier if your soil is dry, so if you have time to let you plants completely dry out before switching them over to leca, I highly encourage that you do. Once you’ve removed as much of the dirt as you can by hand and gentle massaging the roots, you can now go to the sink.
I like to have my water set to lukewarm to slightly warm, since super cold or super hot water can shock you plants. I run the roots under the water and again just gently massage them to help remove any dirt.
A few things to keep in mind during this step:
You might lose some roots when washing.
You might not be able to get all of the soil off your roots.
If you see any unhealthy roots, pluck them off of your plants.
Most of the roots you see might die in the leca, but new ones will form once acclimating.
After the roots of the plant have been completely rinsed off, I like to place my plants into their new container, barerooted.
Step Three: Prep the Leca
So this step is one that is highly debated upon by anyone who does semi-hydroponics. Most directions that you will see tell you to first boil your leca, then to soak it in water for 24 hours. Most people that I have found while researching this part of the process however, just soak their leca for 1 hour.
If you can, do not rinse your leca in your sinks inside. Since leca is a clay pebble, there is a lot of clay dust that when wet, just turns into clay and can harm your drains. I soaked my leca in a large pot for 1 hour before dumping it outside and using it. I don’t have access to boil, but I recommend doing so if you can.
Step Four: Putting it All Together
Once your roots are rinsed and your leca is prepped, it is all a matter of choosing what containers to use for each plant.
Take your container and fill it one-third full with leca, this will be your water reservoir.
Place your plant and hold it in position
Add leca to cover the roots and support the plant
Shake the container to allow the leca to settle