what is leca

What Is Leca – How to Use It For Houseplants

If you are following me on Facebook, you must have seen that I mainly use leca balls as an alternative to soil for all my houseplants. Many people are not familiar with it as I was years ago. So in this post, I will explain what is leca, why I love using it instead of soil and how you can use it for your houseplants. 

what are leca balls
Unwashed leca balls

What is Leca?

Leca is an acronym for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate. It is made from clay that is heated to high temperatures and popped like popcorn. As a result, leca balls are lightweight and porous. They retain moisture well, so it is an excellent growing medium alternative to soil.  

Advantages of Leca Balls

I have been using leca balls for a long time now. Here are the advantages I like about it:

  • No fungus gnats and other soil pests – pests can’t grow in leca balls. When my houseplants were in the soil, I had endless problems with fungus gnats. One of the main reasons I switched my houseplants to leca balls is to free my houseplants from soil pests. However, plants in leca balls are still prone to other pests that live on the leaf surface, like spider mites and thrips. 
  • Leca balls are forever – since clay balls are inorganic, you can reuse them endlessly. But on the downside, you need to fertilize more frequently as no nutrients are naturally present in leca balls. 
  • Aesthetically pleasing – leca balls in clear glass pots are aesthetical. The plant’s root growth around them is amazing to see. 
  • Clear watering schedule – knowing when to water plants in leca is easy once they are in clear glass pots. 

Disadvantages of Leca Balls 

Using leca balls has its fair share of disadvantages:

  • Expensive – leca is more expensive than soil. But unlike soil, it’s reusable and doesn’t break down. 
  • Choking hazard to kids and pets – leca balls look like chocolate balls. Kids and pets might be compelled to eat them.
  • Transferring plants from soil to leca can be tricky – not all plants can thrive in leca. When transferring a plant, it’s best to rehabilitate the roots first in water. It’s also best to transfer small and baby plants. Based on my experience, big and old plants tend to get root rot when transferred to leca balls. 

Two Ways of Using Leca Balls for Plants

Open System 

open system leca
open system leca
With a water reservoir at the bottom of the second pot

Using leca in an open system involves two containers – one for the leca balls and the other for water. This setup is also known as semi-hydroponics. The roots growing in the first container with the leca balls feed from the fertilized water in the second container. The water in the second container can either dry out or be frequently changed. 

Closed system 

Using leca in a closed system involves one container only. This is what I use for my houseplants. 

The water level should be kept below the roots. The water inside the pot will evaporate upwards. As the leca balls stay moist because of the water evaporation, the roots will grow around them. Sometimes, depending on the plant, the roots will grow beyond the water line as they seek more water for nourishment. 

Soil Vs Leca – Which is Better?

Soil and leca balls are both growing mediums for plants. One is not better than the other. They are just different growing mediums that are not comparable to each other. Each has different properties, but the bottom line is they are both good for growing plants. Ultimately, it will just be a matter of preference for the plant parent. 

How to Prepare Leca Balls for Planting

rinsing leca
  • Wash the leca balls several times under running water until the water runs clear. It’s best to wash them outside as the powdery residue from the leca balls clogs pipes.
  • Soak the leca balls in water for at least two hours. This is important as the balls need to be adequately moist when planting.
  • After soaking them for at least two hours, they are ready for planting! I usually leave a bag of leca balls in a pail of water to have a good batch ready for use.
soaked leca bals

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why did you switch to leca?

I switched all of my houseplants to leca because I was so tired of fungus gnats. I also struggled with my watering schedule; I always overwatered or underwatered my plants. When I switched to leca, I liked seeing the water level and the growth of the plant’s roots.  I also didn’t need to change the leca balls like what I used to do with soil every year. 

Where to buy Leca balls?

The cheapest and most convenient way for me to get leca balls is through Amazon. You can order a big bag and have it delivered to y. ou. Another good place for buying leca is in Ikea. They sell smaller bags with smaller leca balls, perfect for baby plants. 

Are leca balls reusable? 

Absolutely! Leca balls are inorganic, so it means that they will never decay or break down. They are the perfect medium for controlled nutrient delivery for plants, as they retain water more stably. 

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