For a lot of growers, the soil seems like the only option. It’s out there, it’s fertile, and it works wonders for plants. But more and more people who have small gardens or none at all decide to grow without soil.
It may sound crazy if you’re a beginner, but follow what we have to say.
There are lots of beneficial growing media. Clay pebbles are one of the best options you can pick. It’s ergonomic, popular, available everywhere, and careful with all kinds of plants. Basically, when you hear about clay pebbles, Expanded Clay Aggregate (ECA), Light Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA), Hydroton, or hydroponic pebbles, it’s the same thing.
These are clay balls that undergo severe heat processing. After that, they expand and become porous, which is great for aeration.
This media can become your breakthrough if you’re a beginner gardener and getting into hydroponics or aquaponics. It makes planting and harvesting very easy and has a lot of benefits along with some drawbacks we’ll talk about later.
In this guide, we’ll talk about why clay pebbles are such a great thing for hydroponics enthusiasts, how to use them, and their pros and cons. Besides, you’ll get answers to some more detailed questions at the end of the article.
Hydroponics: Why Clay Pebbles Are Used
There are 5 major advantages to clay pebbles that can solve a lot of problems gardeners encounter every season:
They Retain Moisture
If your area doesn’t have much water, clay pebbles will help you retain some and provide vital moisture to the young roots of your plants. If you have to leave for a day or two and don’t want to come back to a mess, clay pebbles are the way to go. The pores absorb water and nutrients you pour into it, leaving small storage for plants to use.
They Offer Sufficient Drainage
Insufficient drainage is often a problem for growers. The roots may get damaged if they sit in water for a long time. As clay pebbles absorb moisture very well, they don’t allow for that damage, thus providing sufficient drainage.
They Improve Aeration
Plants suffocate easily if the soil is too pressed or there’s no air in the water. The roots have to learn to look for air in the ground, which takes their focus off growing. Clay pebbles have a lot of pores inside, storing air inside. Plus, they don’t align too tightly, allowing for better aeration. This also makes hydroton very light, which is another perk.
They Are an Eco-Friendly Option
Clay is 100% organic; there are no harmful chemicals added. There’s no harmful gas used in their manufacture, only high temperatures, soil, and water. Besides, hydroton is filled with minerals and other useful natural ingredients that help your plants grow healthier.
They Are Reusable
Clay lasts longer than any other growing medium. The pebbles are reusable, so you can get a pack and use it every season for different plants. In the long run, it becomes a money-saving option, which also contributes to the eco-friendliness of the product. Just wash and use the hydroton again. Their lifespan ends when lots of salt accumulates on the surface, and it’s impossible to get it off. Also, if any organic build-up is seen, it’s better to buy a new pack.
They Are Easy to Harvest from and Plant In
This medium is quite loose and gives a lot of freedom to the plants and the grower. Planting and harvesting become very easy, with no root damage or other difficulties. It’s also easy to clean the containers after using clay pebbles as a growing medium. No more struggles with cleaning root balls from soil or another less defined medium.
They Offer Great Biological Surface Area
No ecosystem will work properly without microbes. Pebbles are quite smooth but not as much to bring microbe colonization down. BSA (biological surface area) is home to useful microbes that take organic resources they find and create nutrients from them, nurturing the plants. If there aren’t enough microbes in a system, it won’t be as healthy and stable. Clay pebbles aren’t a leading media BSA-wise, but it’s very nearby.
Every grower should try cay pebbles as a growing medium in their hydroponic or aquaponic installations. We have, and the results turned out to be much better than we’ve expected! The main thing wasn’t even the growth rate (which is high anyway due to hydroponic systems) but the ease of maintenance. No mess, no 3-hour cleaning afterward; clay pebbles are a very neat solution!
Clay Pebbles for Hydroponics: Disadvantages
There are also disadvantages you should know before choosing a suitable growing substrate for your plants:
- Water drains very fast.
While clay pebbles hold water in their pockets, it still drains pretty fast. You have to check on the plants very often and water them, especially during hot seasons. If you miss several sessions, the plant may dry up and die. However, if you have a watering system, this won’t be a problem. Also, if your plants don’t need too much water, you may not even notice any inconveniences. Most growers say they don’t have problems with the water holding capacity of clay pebbles.
- They may get into pumps.
Before the pebbles become saturated enough, they float and can get into pumps, which may become a problem, especially if you don’t notice it on time. This doesn’t happen often, though, if you’re maintaining the system regularly. Also, before using hydroton, you should rinse it from excess dust that otherwise may clog drippers or filters.
- They are quite expensive.
Depending on how you define the word “expensive,” hydroton can be quite an investment if you’re a grower with a large garden and need a lot of pebbles. The investment is completely justified, though, as the medium is reusable and very durable.
As you can see, with proper use and maintenance, most cons become irrelevant, except for the price. If you’re a small grower, the option is perfect for you. But if you have a lot of plants and need a new medium, it’s better to consider different options and find the one that will satisfy your needs, both quality- and budget-wise.
How to Use Clay Pebbles in Hydroponics: A Step-by-Step Guide
When we told you clay pebbles are extremely easy to use in hydroponics and aquaponics, we didn’t make a false claim. Let’s see if any of the following steps sound remotely difficult.
- Get expanded clay pebbles from a reliable manufacturer. Before using, rinse them very well to get rid of dust and debris that may clog the system;
- Take your plant container and fill it with the pebbles up to the height the plant needs. Some require ⅓, while others might need more;
- Put your seeds on the pebbles or, if you choose to plant seedlings, put them right into the medium. It’s better to start the seeds in rockwool or soil;
- Make a mix of water and the nutrient solution of your choice. The instructions should be on the label of the solution; follow them strictly to provide as much food to the plants as they need. Pour the mix into your nutrient tank and remember to clean it and change the food every 2-3 weeks, depending on the plants you’re growing and the solution recommendations. Some plants will require a more frequent change, so get some knowledge before starting the project;
- Flood the container where your plants grow about 2 times a day. If you’re using a mix of growing media that contains clay pebbles and other types, find out more about their flooding needs. Clay doesn’t hold water for a long time, so you may need to flood once a day or even less frequently;
- See if the water drains in the mid-level or a bit higher, but not after covering the highest layer of clay pebbles. This might lead to a rapid development of algae, which may not be friendly to the plants;
- Take care of the little buddies and maintain the system well, and wait for the harvest.
That’s it! Easy, isn’t it? Keep in mind that the steps and/or their frequency might be different, depending on the system you’re using. And remember to wash the pebbles well before using them in your next planting project. If you see a large mineral build-up, consider changing the medium to newly bought pebbles to make sure your plants are safe and sound.
FAQ on the Use of Clay Pebbles
Here, we’ve gathered additional information about the use of clay pebbles in hydroponics. Knowledge is the first thing you should get before taking up even the simplest project!
How to plant microgreens in clay pebbles?
A lot of microgreens like kale, grass, kohlrabi, etc., actually grow better without soil in any medium you choose, including clay pebbles. The algorithm is the same as for any other plant; you just have to know the seed concentration your type of microgreens needs. Make sure you choose light pebbles to avoid root damage.
How many clay pebbles do I need for a 5-gallon bucket?
First of all, you don’t have to fill the whole 5-gallon bucket with pebbles if you’re using hydroponics. You will need them as a growing medium; put them inside the net pots where your plants will be.
They need the pebbles to have a foundation for the roots. The requirements for every plant is different. Some need ⅓ of the medium, while others need more. It also depends on the size of your pebbles and the state you’re using them in (soaked or not).
How many cubic feet of clay pebbles do I need per square foot?
This depends on the type and size of clay pebbles you’re using. There are lots of variations, and every product description should state what area you can cover with the pebbles in the package.
How much does 10 l of clay pebbles weigh?
Usually, 10 l of clay pebbles weigh about 9.5 pounds. However, the number may vary, depending on the type you’re buying. If it’s a priority, find out the detailed information beforehand. It should be mentioned in the description of the product. If there’s none, contact the manufacturer for more info.
What grows best in clay pebbles?
Anything you can grow using hydroponics and aquaponics will grow well in clay pebbles. Vegetables, leafy greens, flowers (even orchids), microgreens are all thriving in clay pebbles as it allows for great aeration.
Can I use clay pebbles for aquaponics?
Clay pebbles are completely eco-friendly. They are reusable, pH-stable, clean, and allow for air to pass freely. Besides, hydroton provides amazing drainage, which is important for aquaponics. It’s especially suitable for flood and drains construction, as well as deep water culture systems.
Clay pebbles are one of the most versatile growing media. They are light, allow for great aeration, and are 100% natural! So, anyone who cares about eco-friendliness should try it instead of other media as clay is in abundance, and its use doesn’t harm the planet.
It’s also easy to use and will give a lot of convenience to your hydroponic and aquaponic plants.
Have you ever used clay pebbles in your practice? Maybe you found out something new about the media from this article. Tell us everything in the comments, and don’t forget to share the article with your garden-buddies!