LECA, or lightweight, expanded clay aggregate is getting a lot of attention in the plant community recently, as it should! These small clay balls are actually a hydroponic growing medium. They are lightweight, and porous which is why they’re such a great medium for plants. LECA can in fact be used alone or also in combination with other mediums (i.e. mixed with soil). Fortunately, it’s super easy to find in garden centers or online. Additionally LECA is a great growing medium for most plants like herbs, cacti, philodendron, monstera and more, but it’s not ideal for plants that need lots of water like ferns or mosaic plants.
Whilst most LECA is relatively similar, there are a lot of choices and also a few key things to consider when choosing which product to go with. For this article I have indeed scoured all the choices, checked reviews and testimonials and compared LECA by price, sustainability, size, materials etc. I’ve concluded that Hydroton LECA made by Mother Earth, a team of chemists, biologists and horticulturists, is my top pick for the best LECA for plants. It’s affordable, it does what it says on the tin and it can be delivered to your doorstep.
- Best Overall LECA – Mother Earth Hydroton Original Expanded Clay Pebbles
- Best for a Budget – Grow!t Clay Pebbles
- Best for Orchids – Organic LECA for Orchids
- Best for a Drier Environment – Hydro Crunch Expanded Clay Aggregate
- Best High Porosity LECA – Geolite’s Clay Pebbles Growth Media
Best Overall – Hydroton LECA Original Expanded Clay Pebbles
- Made in Germany
- Available in 10L or 25L
- $26.56 for 10L or $32 for 25L
This is a pretty standard LECA product and it can be found really easily in the US, which is one reason why I’ve rated this as my overall choice. This is very similar to the type of LECA you get from IKEA, but it’s shipped to your front door. You can usually also get it from your local plant shop, and support a small business! This original clay is a unique, lightweight expanded clay aggregate made in Germany.
The clay is in fact mined, formed into pellets, and then fired in the kiln at a super high temperature. This is to cause the clay to expand into hard but lightweight clay balls. This clay has a naturally balanced capillary action. It is also semi-porous so that it does not float in water, which some LECA brands do. These clay balls are also pH-neutral and inert. As with other clay balls this LECA is completely reusable as long as you give them a thorough cleaning between uses, good for sustainability!
Hydroton’s clay pellets are also widely regarded as the best choice and the highest quality growth-medium amongst plant enthusiasts. There are thousands of positive reviews for this product. Lots of people say that the bag was super light (which is great as it suggests that the clay is very low density and porous) upon arrival.
They drain really well and as the balls are porous they can absorb water which acts as a reservoir allowing the roots to have slow, consistent access to water which is ideal for optimum growth. The reviews also suggest that this particular brand is the most durable of the LECA products on the market. So you’ll get more bang for your buck over time!
Hydroton’s LECA bags come in a generous 10L size, perfect for home growers!
|Bigger bag has an easy pour spout
|Packaged in plastic
|More porous than many other products out there
|Some irregular shaped clay pellets
|Actually sinks when wet
|Some people report problems with mold
|Lasts a long time – very durable
|Slightly more expensive than some others
|Inert and pH neutral
Best Budget Choice – Grow!t Natural Clay Pebbles
- Manufacturing Origin not disclosed
- Available in 10, 25 or 40L bags
- $28 for 10L, $46 for 25L, $55 for 40L
- The 40L bag works out at $1.38 per liter
These clay pebbles are made from 100% natural clay which is super strong, reducing the likelihood of damage or breakage whilst you’re growing. These clay pebbles are a great choice for hydroponics or aquaponics systems too. These LECA balls are pre-washed, helping to ensure they are pH stable (and convenient since they’re ready to use). The 40L bag should be more than enough for the average home grower, so it’s a one time investment that will eventually pay for itself, if you’re not buying soil any more. They’re also one of the most affordable products on the market, without having sacrificed any of the quality or durability.
These clay pebbles are super lightweight, as they should be, reducing the likelihood of damaging or killing any delicate roots or pups. The slight issue is that this product often still floats when wet, which LECA is not really supposed to do.
There are some minor drawbacks to this product, versus the hydroton LECA; they are less uniform and tend to break down faster.
|Packaged in plastic
|More porous than many other products out there
|Some irregular shaped clay pellets
|Float when wet
|Irregular shape actually helps the pebbles stick together well
|Some reviews say that the pores became exposed as they were frequently rewashed
|100% natural clay used to make them
Best LECA Choice for Orchids – Organic Clay Pebbles for Orchids
- Available in 2lbs, 4lbs, 10lbs and 20lbs bags
- Cost $11.99 for 2lbs so $6/lb but if you buy a larger bag it works out at $4/lb, so if you try this clay and love it you might save money buying a bigger bag.
Whether you’re a newbie orchard grower or you’re a seasoned expert, there’s also new methods to try. Personally I have struggled with keeping my orchards happy in soil, and have more luck with LECA. If you want to try an effective growth medium for orchids you should try out LECA. The variety in size of these particular clay pebbles is great as there are enough small pebbles to fit within and support the root system. They are completely safe for your plant, being pH neutral the clay won’t damage your plants. It’s also worth noting that these are organic, so they haven’t been treated with any pesticides which could cause chemical damage.
|Safe for orchards as it is not exposed to pesticides and is not too acidic or alkaline
|Some people really want their LECA to be completely uniform in size, which these are not
|Various sizes is beneficial for the orchid roots
|This LECA is a bit more expensive than some of the choices from the list
|The expanded clay acts as a reservoir and releases extra water when the roots need it, which is ideal to prevent the orchid roots from drying out and dying.
Best for a Drier Environment – Hydro Crunch Expanded Clay
- Available in 10L or 50L bags
- $13.99 for 10L or $47 for 50L so it’s better value for a larger bag
These clay balls have an outer coat added to them, after the clay has been fired, this makes them less porous and a little less water wicking, as well as more durable. Therefore this brand is the best for plants that need a drier environment like succulents and cacti. Hydro crunch is ideal for growers who want even sized LECA, as this product contains only 8mm clay balls. They are 100% pure clay, and they come pre-washed ready to use. They are safe for your plants as they are pH neutral and are inert. It is worth noting that this LECA is not the best choice for food-and-drain hydroponic systems, but is better for individual plants or most other hydroponic systems.
This product is known to perform particularly well, arriving with minimal dust as they are much more hardy and long-lasting than some others. The bags are very lightweight, which suggests that they are very porous. Therefore preventing breakage or collapsing in the bag. However, some reviews suggest that this LECA might be too porous as they float even when wet. Floating isn’t really a problem for some people, it just depends on what you want to use your LECA for.
|Good price for such high quality
|Some people will find it inconvenient that this LECA floats, so just consider what you need it for
|More durable and harder than other LECA
|Some reviews mentioned a brown slime in their hydroponic system after using these. However washing the LECA between use, which is best practise anyways, will help to reduce or eradicate this issue
|The bag arrives relatively dust free
|The LECA is very uniform, all the balls are 8mm
Best High Porosity LECA – Geolite’s Clay Pebble Media
- Italian Clay
- Approximately 85% porosity
- Available in 10L or 45L bags
- $29.80 for 10L or $60.99 for 45L so it’s much better value for a larger bag
This LECA from Geolite is a relatively affordable, high quality choice made from Italian clay and kiln fired for structural integrity. This brand uses a mixture of shapes/sizes in their bags of LECA. As they are so highly porous it is easy for oxygen to reach the roots of your plants which is a big upside! They have a neutral pH as with the others and are totally safe for your plants.
These pebbles perform well once they are prepared but do tend to arrive with quite a lot of dust in the dag, so they will need a thorough washing beforehand. The reviews suggest that the product does not always expand in water, but I have had no problems with this product myself. This therefore is the perfect choice for growers who don’t care so much about the aesthetics of their products but more for the quality.
|Affordable, especially when buying a larger bag
|Dusty and needs washing
|Formed at super high temperatures which prevents degradation throughout usage
|Do not always expand
|100% Italian clay
Buying Guide and What You Should Know
How Do I Use Clay Pebbles for Houseplants?
First you need to choose the right houseplant, not all houseplants are suitable for LECA.
Then it’s important to wash the clay pebbles really thoroughly, just with water is fine, to remove any dirt, dust or debris. This is important before and after using them.
Then you can either use the LECA just to line the bottom of the pot, or to fill the whole pot for instance.
Choosing the Right Plant
Not all houseplants have the same needs, some of them are completely different and therefore some plants are going to fare better in different growth media. For LECA you’ll want to be looking for plants that require a well-draining growth media like succulents and cacti.
Plants that do well in LECA generally like to have their soil dry out in between waterings, don’t rely on soil for its nutrients, enjoy an oxygen rich environment and can put out a large root system rapidly. Monstera, sansevieria, ZZ plants, alocasias, spider plants, orchids and begonias are all great in LECA. On the other hand, plants that need constant moisture like peace lilies are not ideal for LECA. Nor are plants like croton which rely on the soil heavily for nutrients. Plants with very delicate roots, like strings of pearls, are also not particularly well-suited for clay balls.
How Is LECA Made?
First high quality clay will be selected, the best LECA will have all natural clay with no additives or fillers. The clay is first formed into small balls which are then kiln-fired at a super high temperature, around 1100 – 2000º Fahrenheit. Then, whilst the clay is being fired in the kiln it makes a popping noise which is where the clay is developing pores. The clay balls will have a larger circumference after being fired and they will be porous after that. As an example in a quality batch most of the clay pebbles will be circles and nicely round.
Pros and Cons of Using LECA
The Good Stuff When It Comes to LECA
LECA’s best benefit, in my opinion, is the reduced risk of pests, and how easy it is to deal with pests in LECA. As LECA is sterile and doesn’t contain any nutrients it doesn’t attract pests in the way that soil does. Also, because the LECA’s surface is hard and porous it is difficult for pests to land, lay eggs and establish an infestation compared to the warm, welcome embrace of soil. Plus, since the oxygen flow is so good in LECA the roots are less likely to be overcome with root rot. In turn this is one of the things that attracts pests in the first place.
LECA is also fantastic at regulating moisture levels which helps to prevent under or overwatering. Since it can be so hard to know what’s wrong when a plant is looking unhappy, knowing that the water is taken care of makes it so much easier to figure out what your plant needs, and how to revive it. Therefore LECA might even help save you time when caring for your plants overall.
A further benefit of using LECA versus soil is that it is reusable, where soil or moss needs replacing (which isn’t good for your wallet or the planet). The LECA just needs washing between uses! This in turn makes LECA great for houseplant owners who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
The Disadvantages of LECA
Unfortunately, on the other hand, it’s not all rainbows with LECA and there’s a few key disadvantages to consider.
One of the biggest drawbacks with this growing medium in fact is the cost, it can be expensive to set up, and whilst LECA can be reused some balls will degrade and need replacing. That’s why we’ve picked hardy and durable clay balls, as well as a more affordable option, to make using LECA more cost-effective.
A further disadvantage is that LECA is not that water retentive when used alone, but this can also be a good thing, depending on which plant you’re growing. That’s why it’s so important to consider the watering needs of your plants when mixing the medium you’ll be using. For example, you can use LECA with soil and change the ratio to be unique for each plant. You might want to do more soil for a plant that likes moisture like a mosaic plant, compared to something like a monstera.
Switching to LECA of course can also require more stuff, to be bought or found in the house, containers, water wicks if you’re using them, and nutritional addition as LECA has no innate nutritional value.
Which LECA is best?
Overall, Hydroton LECA from Mother Earth is the best LECA out there, in our opinion. It’s inert, pH neutral, affordable and high quality.
Is LECA good for all plants?
Absolutely not, all plants are unique and should be cared for in their own way, including the medium we chose to grow them in. Some plants suit LECA better than others, to figure out if your plant would be happy in LECA it’s important to consider a few key factors. Pay attention to whether your plants want to dry out between waterings or not, as LECA is not great for plants that like constant waterings like peace lilies. Plants with very thin roots are also not suited well to be planted in clay aggregate and nor are plants that rely on the soil for their nutrients like Crotons. If in doubt, always double check by just googling ‘is X okay in soil’ or by leaving a comment on this article!
What plants should not be grown in LECA?
Ferns and pothos that like a lot of moisture are not best suited for LECA as well as prayer plants, stromanthe, elephant bush and string of pearls which all have delicate roots. Potatoes and corn which rely on the soil for nutrients might not do very well in LECA either.
What is the disadvantage of LECA?
As with all products there are advantages and disadvantages, LECA for example does not do a good job of retaining much water when it is used by itself, it needs frequent rewaterings. LECA can also be a more expensive option than soil. Additionally, you need to add in all of the nutrients that plants can usually get from the soil by hand which involves some science, some math and a lot of remembering stuff.
Why is LECA so expensive?
Leca is more expensive than soil because of the labor required to prepare it for selling. LECA balls need to be separated, shaped and fired at an extremely high temperature. The process of firing all of these clay balls is expensive because of the equipment, expertise and energy required. LECA is around 3-4 times more expensive than soil, but it is reusable so over time you can save money.
Can I mix LECA with soil?
Absolutely, mixing LECA with soil is a great way to get the best of both worlds. Reducing the cost of set up, and general disadvantages of LECA whilst still benefiting from the porosity and good stuff!
LECA to Make Your Plants Greater!
If the reduced risk of pests, ease of care and sustainability benefits of using LECA have convinced you to make the change, yay! If you’re not convinced, that’s okay too! In fact many growers, myself included, incorporate LECA into our planting roster. Either as an additional tool, to be used for some plants, either by itself or mixed with soil. The Hydroton LECA from Mother Earth is the best product out there. But we’ve also rounded up the cheapest, best for orchids, most porous and prettiest options from the market into this article specifically for you! If you’ve enjoyed it please let us know, we love to hear from our readers!
Enjoyed Learning About The Best LECA For Your Plants?
Let us know your thoughts and feedback by commenting on this article, or by getting in touch with us – here. We love to talk plants!