Have you been wondering whether to plant monstera in LECA or soil? Are you confused between both options?
In this article, we will explain the difference between LECA and soil and list the pros and cons of each growing medium so that you can make an informed decision.
Continue reading to find out more.
What is Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA)?
LECA stands for lightweight expanded clay aggregate- a clay medium used to grow and nourish hydroponic gardens. The clay balls ensure that water and air can pass through. However, LECA is not a suitable growing medium for all plants, which is why you should always keep the soil as an alternative.
Have you always grown your plants by using handfuls of soil? With LECA, this does not work. It contains balls of clay that are baked and of the same size.
At first glance, you might think that you are filling your monstera with a packet of Cocoa Puffs, but the truth is that LECA is extremely beneficial for plants. Since the balls are not glued together, they allow better aeration.
While the clay balls absorb water, it is still less than their volume. LECA balls can hold 30 percent of their weight in water. Moreover, LECA is wonderful for hydroponic gardening- this is a soilless method of growing plants, such as monstera, in which water transports nutrients to the roots of the plant.
Keep in mind that LECA is nutrient-free. However, you can always use a hydroponics fertilizer so that LECA can absorb the nutrients in the fertilizer the same way it would absorb water. Due to this quality, your monstera plant can last longer as compared to if you were using conventional potting soil.
Usually, the pH of LECA lies between 5.5 to 5.7. This means that it is acidic but not too acidic.
What is Soil?
Soil contains organic as well as inorganic particles and matter. It ensures that every plant gets the structural support they need in agriculture. Moreover, soil acts as the source of nutrients and water for plants.
There are many different kinds of soils available in the market, each of which has its own unique physical and chemical properties.
To understand LECA and what it does for the monstera plant, you need to know about the advantages of this growing medium. These will help you figure out whether you should use conventional soil or LECA to grow your plants.
Allows You to Check the Plant’s Progress with Ease
The greatest difference between growing plant monstera hydroponically and in the soil is that it is harder to look at the plant’s progress when using soil.
This is because soil completely blocks the established root system. It does not matter whether you are taking care of a grown plant or transplanting a tiny plant cutting; there is no way you can ensure that the roots are healthy.
Of course, you get used to this, and eventually, you will learn to understand when your plant requires less or more water.
However, when you grow indoor plants with LECA, you can always check in on them. For example, if a problem with the roots arises, you will know that your plant needs attention immediately instead of waiting until the leaves start showing strange symptoms.
This can be extremely helpful to indoor gardeners, especially those who are just learning about growing plants. Healthy, white roots will allow you to understand that you are caring for the plant properly, and this will give you the confidence to continue doing everything right.
If you do something wrong, LECA will allow you to see the symptoms before the plant dies.
Lower Risk of Pests
Have you ever experienced pest infestations in your indoor garden? If yes, you already know how hard it is to understand how the bugs are finding their way in. The truth is that moist soil is to blame- usually, it attracts insects and causes them to infest the entire garden.
Since soil already has living organisms in it, it is more likely to attract other organisms, including fungus gnats.
When these insects lay eyes on the juices produced by your plant, they make their way to them and suck on them. Soon, they start to reproduce. These insects go on to spread the disease to other plants in the vicinity, becoming a risk to the entire garden.
However, when you do not use soil and instead use LECA, you can minimize the number of living organisms present.
LECA Balls Can Be Reused
The best part about LECA balls is that they can be reused from the container or bot. If the balls are exposed to any disease, you will have to sterilize and clean the clay. Moreover, you will have to wash the LECA if it gets dirty.
As long as you take care of the health of the LECA and do not use dirty or infected LECA on indoor plants, you should be good to go. This is also a cost-effective option and will help you save money.
Decreased Risk of Root Rot
Are you wondering how LECA clay balls can lower your risk of dealing with root rot? This is because LECA balls have a finite amount of water. The monstera plant will absorb some of the water, while the LECA will absorb the remaining. Once the water disappears, you can refill it.
As stated previously in this article, LECA allows brilliant aeration as well. Hence, water in the container can travel, allowing oxygen to reach monstera roots.
However, if you use oil to grow the plant, you may enjoy the great drainage, but oversaturating the soil in water will reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the plant. This is how roots start to rot.
Rooting roots can attract insects, increasing the risk of infestation. If you are not careful, your plant can also die.
Even though soil contains loads of nutrients and is aerated, do not forget that it is primarily dirt. Working with soil means that getting it underneath your fingers is inevitable- you may also have it smeared across your hands or face, and you will have to get your clothes washed after a gardening session with soil.
Of course, some plant owners do not mind this because gardening is messy.
However, if you are someone who does not like getting dirty, LECA balls are a great alternative. This is because you can submerge them in water, and they will remain solid.
Moreover, you do not have to worry about any residue when you touch them. This helps lower the mess you have to deal with, which can be particularly helpful if you have a garden in your office or home.
Here are some downsides to using LECA as a growing medium for monstera plants:
If you are trying to save up, LECA might not be the best-growing medium for your plant roots. This is because LECA requires lots of equipment and tools that most individuals do not previously own.
For example, you will need a pH monitor as the pH of the water will have to be tested often. Even though you might find cheap ones available online, the advanced ones can be costly.
Moreover, most plant owners have containers with drainage holes. LECA gardening has no room for these pots as all the water would leak within minutes. Hence, you will need to purchase a bigger pot that does not have holes.
Of course, you cannot forget the price of LECA itself. If you compare the price of LECA pebbles to traditional potting soil, you will find that LECA costs four times more. Even though LECA is reusable, the initial expense can be steep.
You Will Require Fertilizer
Keep in mind that LECA does not contain nutrients. Hence, you will have to buy fertilizer separately. In soil, you can usually use an organic fertilizer like compost to ensure that the growing houseplants are healthy and happy.
However, with LECA, you will have to buy hydroponic fertilizer, special liquid fertilizer, or nutrient water.
PH will Need to be Constantly Monitored
As we mentioned previously, LECA clay balls are acidic. Hence, you must be extremely careful that the water you use is not overly alkaline or acidic, as this will alter the pH of the LECA balls.
If this happens, the plant will not be able to absorb nutrients, and eventually, it will develop a nutrient deficiency.
Not Suitable for Different Plants
Even though most plants like monstera plants grow well in LECA, other plants in your garden may not love it.
For example, plants that have big root systems do not grow well with LECA as it limits their growth. If grown in soil, these plants may end up growing bigger and larger.
Full of Nutrients
Unlike LECA, the soil is an ecosystem that is alive. In fact, one handful of soil is loaded with more than a million organisms that are alive. A process called decomposition takes place in soil- this is when all the microorganisms break down the animals, plants, dead leaves, and animal waste.
Because of this, the soil is a wonderful medium to grow plants in. It is full of nutrients, and growing houseplants love it.
The cost of potting soil is approximately four times less than that of LECA. When using soil, you do not have to worry about using a hydroponics fertilizer either.
Hence, using soil to grow your plants is a cheaper way of taking care of them. If you are on a budget or are just starting to grow houseplants and do not have much experience doing so, the soil is a better option than LECA. You can use as much soil as you want, and it will still not amount to half the price of LECA.
Since soil contains thousands and millions of living organisms and is an organic ecosystem, it is more prone to attract fungus gnats, spider mites, and shore files.
However, LECA is chemically inert and inorganic. This means that these clay pebbles deter pests. These insects do not like to live in this environment as they do not have any food to feed on, and the LECA pebbles are not a good place for them to grow and thrive.
For example, fungus gnats thrive on fungus and decaying components. These are naturally found when soil decomposes. These insects will not be attracted to an area that does not contain these important food sources.
On the other hand, plant roots in LECA are safe from infestations.
Low Aeration in All the Soil
A monstera’s roots require aeration. The plant’s roots absorb oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
However, the soil is not sufficiently airy, which is why it is common for carbon dioxide to get trapped, hindering the oxygen levels in the soil. Lower oxygen means the plant cannot absorb as many nutrients and water, which eventually stunts its growth.
Over time, soil also compacts, which means that its breathability starts to fall. This is why gardeners end up planting their plants in a fresh nursery pot with fresh soil every single year. They also ensure that these pots have lots of drainage holes.
Cannot Keep Roots Healthy
Healthy roots are important for a happy plant. Nutrients and water are transported from the roots to the leaves, allowing the process of photosynthesis to take place. Moreover, monstera roots also safeguard energy (carbohydrates), allowing the plant to remain in place.
However, unlike LECA, soil can be overwatered very easily. This leads to root rot.
Roots rotting refers to when the roots of the plant remain in the water for extended periods, eventually cutting off the oxygen supply and causing them to die. Root rot can also arise when the latter is kept moist for too long, attracting fungi that lead to decay. After all, too much water is not good.
If not treated in time, root rot can kill the plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to soak LECA balls?
It is important to soak LECA balls in a small bowl for a minimum of 12 to 14 hours. This will allow the clay balls to fully absorb the water.
When you first take LECA out of its packaging, rinse it properly to get rid of all the dust and debris. If you have the time, use tap water to soak the LECA for 12-24 hours. The first time you soak LECA using regular tap water, you will get rid of the initial wave of crud.
The second time you soak LECA, aim to soak for another 24 hours using lukewarm water or fresh water.
The soaking will provide you with a clean LECA.
How do you prepare LECA for propagation?
You can use some Ikea LECA as it does not contain residue. Dump the LECA in a bucket filled with water and wash it. Fill a second bucket and wash it till the dirty water disappears. Then, soak the LECA.
To propagate plants using LECA, add clay balls to a container until you fill half of it. If the plant you are using has a full root system, you only need to fill the base layer of the pot with LECA- leaving sufficient space for the root ball is important.
Then, add the plant cutting to the container. Once done, fill up the remaining space with some of the LECA you had soaked previously. Add some water to the container. You can refresh the water if need be.
Once the water evaporates, clean the LECA using fresh water and remove all the leftover water. You do not need to dump out the pebbles. Instead, hold your hand over the container so the water drains out. Once done, add water underneath the roots.
What are the differences between water roots and soil roots?
Water roots are thinner than soil ones. The latter have to reach deep to access sufficient water and nutrients. Since water roots do not have to fight for basic nutrients, they are small, fragile, and thin.
Water roots do not require as much time and energy as soil ones. It is no wonder that plants are often grown in a container of water, and when the roots develop, they are planted in soil.
Since water roots are always submerged, their hairs are finer and more infinite. On the other hand, roots in soil have fewer hairs.
Water roots can survive underwater. They use the oxygen found in water, which is why they have a higher surface porosity. However, roots in soil are not capable of this. This is also why soil roots are more prone to root.
Roots in soil are brown or yellow, while roots in water are white.
There are many reasons to grow monstera plants in LECA instead of soil, such as lower maintenance, fewer infestations, easy planting, and of course, the fact that LECA can be reused.
However, LECA is more expensive than soil, which can restrict your options. All the reasons listed in this article can help you decide whether LECA or soil is a better option for your plants. We would personally choose LECA, but the choice is completely up to you.
My name is Daniel Elrod, and I have been houseplant love ever since I was 17. I love how much joy they bring to any room in the home. I’ve always been amazed at how a few pots of flowing leaves can turn a drab and sterile office into an inviting place where people love to work at.