There’s been a lot of hype around LECA balls lately. These small balls of clay, four times more expensive than average soil, have made headlines on many gardening portals. But is there actually any evidence that LECA balls present a good growing medium for succulents? And what advantages does it exactly have when compared to a quality succulent soil mix? I will try to answer the question on the following lines.
Before we dive into details, let me make something clear: You definitely can grow succulents in LECA balls. The biggest advantage is that roots are less prone to root rot–the no. 1 reason why people lose their succulents. The biggest drawbacks are the price (when you have two succulents you probably don’t mind paying four times as much for growing medium, but when you have two hundred plants the Math changes suddenly), and the fact that you will have to use pots without drainage holes–something which I do not generally recommend with succulents, but LECA will work only in such pots (remember that it absorbs water slowly, hence if it drains away quickly through the bottom of the pot it won’t absorb any water, and the entire concept will fall apart).
LECA is pests free, but does it matter for succulents?
Advocates of LECA claim that since it is free from any living organisms (it is clay after all), you do not have to be afraid of dealing with pest infestation. But is this really just an advantage? We should not forget that plants and microorganisms have lived in symbiosis for millions of years. Many organisms living in the soil are actually beneficial for the plants, including succulents. Having a growing medium with no life has some advantages, but it has some disadvantages too.
What’s more, common succulents, such as jade plant, snake plant, zebra plant, hens and chicks, etc, aren’t prone to pests. Powdery mildew is the only exception, though it isn’t that common either. If you grow some rare and expensive succulent, however, for example one of the Korean succulents, that is more prone to pests and more fragile in general, it perhaps makes sense having a growing medium that’s naturally free from pests, such as LECA balls.
LECA releases just the right amount of water for your succulents
It is no secret that over-watering and the subsequent root rot (and the subsequent death of your plant) is the no. 1 issue succulent growers face with their plants. Of course, if you do everything right (good pot with drainage hole, right soil mix for succulents, watering the plants only when the soil is dry), you won’t face this problem. We should face the reality though. Most of us are busy, with this or that commitment. We’d love to give our succulents the care and attention they deserve, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.
LECA definitely makes it easier, at least when we talk about avoiding over-watering. The way the clay balls absorb water (and grow in diameter), and then slowly release it to the roots of the plant, it is close to impossible to over-water the succulent and experience root rot. This is definitely a point for LECA balls, and you may seriously consider them, especially if you have drown many of your succulents in the past. Having said that, if you have the right setup in place, that means good soil, good pots, and good watering schedule, I do not see a reason why you should change things up just because some new growing medium is trending.
LECA contains no nutrients which means you have to fertilize your succulents
One of the thing I love the most about succulents is that, when grown in a good soil, you barely need to fertilize them. They aren’t demanding, they thrive in neglect. Water, sun, and nutrients naturally present in the soil mix for succulents are pretty much enough to see your plants thrive and shine. But there are no nutrients in LECA, just like there aren’t any living organisms in it. And while succulents do not need much, they still need some nutrients.
Hence you will have to fertilize them regularly with hydroponics or liquid fertilizer specific to your plants. Not only does this add to your costs–you have to buy something you didn’t need before. It also adds another layer of complexity to your plant care. Without LECA you had to be careful about the watering schedule–one worry less with LECA. But now you have to worry about not forgetting to fertilize your plants, so basically one worry replaced another :). Also if you grow different succulents coming from different parts of the world, you may have to buy several fertilizers, making sure they are fitting for the plants. That’s another extra worry.
Final verdict on LECA balls and succulents
Considering all pluses and minuses, I do not think LECA balls will put a dent to the universe of succulent growing. Sure enough they have some pluses, and it is always tempting trying something new. In certain cases, such as when you struggle with root rot in your succulents, or with pests, it probably makes sense trying them out.
On the other hand, if you’ve been doing good with your succulents planted in soil up to this point, I see no reason why you should switch to LECA balls, spending considerably more money, and changing a lot of things in your setup. It just doesn’t make any sense. I will finalize this article with bullet points pluses and minuses of LECA balls for succulents:
- + Reduces the chances of over-watering and root rot.
- + Significantly reduces the chances of pest infestation.
- + Looks great in almost any pot.
- + Can be used for any succulent.
- – No life in LECA, you grow your plants in a “dead growing medium”.
- – Lacks any nutrients, hence you need to fertilize the succulents regularly.
- – Very expensive when compared to standard growing medium.
- – You need to change pots when transitioning to LECA, since it needs a pot without drainage.
I hope I have shed some light on this topic, and helped you make a decision when it comes to LECA balls and your succulents. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you for reading!
May also interest you: Epsom salt for succulents – Top 3 facts & myths.