Clay Granules, a Review- Are they a Good Investment in the Container Garden?

Houseplants need good drainage
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  Name of Product: Westland Hydroleca Clay Granules

 The Best Place to Buy: www.amazon.co.uk

 Product Dimensions: 54cm x 25cm x 10cm

Shipping Weight: 3.38kg

 My Score: 9/10

In this article, we will be discussing why you would want to use ceramic balls in the container garden. In a previous article, I discussed the difference between perlite, vermiculite and horticultural grit and in that article, I did not mention the fourth option and that is ceramic balls. This will be addressed in this article as we discover if you need it in the container garden.

 WHAT ARE CERAMIC BALLS?

The ceramic balls are expanded clay pellets and are one of the most versatile additions to any potting compost.

Houseplants need good drainage
Houseplants need good drainage

They have gained popularity due to their porous nature where each ball allows nutrients, oxygen and water to be absorbed and then become available to the roots of the plant.

Expanded clay pellets tend to be made by heating clay balls to over 1500 degree Celsius in a rotary kiln. As the clay balls are heated, they generate bubbles that collapse, forming an open, porous structure. The irregular-shaped balls tend to have a wide range of sizes and therefore can pack much closer together in a pot.

It is general used in a container garden to aid drainage, to allow water to drain away easier from the container. It is also used on top of the compost to act as a mulch, allowing water evaporation to be reduced and water to be conserved.

What you tend to do is place a few cms of ceramic balls at the bottom of the container, then fill the rest with suitable compost. You can then add the plant, firm it in and then add more compost to fill the gaps. After this, on top of the compost, you can add more ceramic balls to conserve moisture.

ADVANTAGES OF USING CLAY BALLS

There are many benefits to why ceramics balls should be used.

Clay balls are great as an aid to drainage
Clay balls are great as an aid to drainage

These include water drainage as it helps to drain excess water quickly, without affecting the plants’ ability to uptake nutrients.

In fact, the ceramic balls deliver more to the roots. This is because the pores in the ceramic balls can act as storage points for these nutrients. The balls themselves have no nutritional value to the plants and therefore will not be attractive to insects and bacterial.

As it does not break down in the compost, it will not degrade over time and so no extra will be required to fill voids made in the compost. As the balls are large and do not stick together, they can be recovered and reused in the container plants pots saving you money.

 DISADVANTAGES OF USING CLAY BALLS

It is not very cheap if you have to improve the drainage of many pots.

As it helps drainage, which is its main selling point, can be a disadvantage, as it may make houseplants dry out quicker. This needs not to be a concern as long as you water when the plant needs it.

The ceramic balls as they get crushed together tend to produce dust, which can make breathing difficult.  These dust particles can also block the drainage holes, so they will need to be washed off before you use them in any potting mixture.

The balls tend to have a size distribution of 8 to 16 mm and are pre-washed to remove dust from the product. It is not only suitable for container gardening but had many uses for those who garden using hydroponics. This product comes in a size of 10 litres, enough for a couple of containers.

 HOW TO CORRECTLY USE CERAMIC BALLS

Before using the ceramic balls on the container garden, you will need to rinse and soak them to get rid of any dust that resides in the pores. All you need to do is tip the balls into a bucket full of water and allow them to soak overnight, up to 24 hours.

Once this has been done, recover the balls and give them a rinse with fresh water.  To impregnate the ceramic balls with you preferred liquid fertiliser, you will need to use a liquid fertilizer at ¼ of the recommended strength and then apply it to the water whilst the balls soak overnight.

The balls will be much heavier after soaking for 24 hours and this is a good sign.

It takes many hours to hydrate them, but they do dry quickly as well and to replenish itself, it will rob water available to the plants. The result will be that the plant wilts and in the long run they can die.

When you are reusing ceramic ball, you must sterilise them to prevent bacteria, viruses and fungus from taking hold. To sterilize them, the best way is to place them in an oven for 20 minutes at a temperature of 140 degree Celsius.

DO NOT USE CLAY BALLS BY THEMSELVES

It is also not advised to use ceramic balls on their own, they will not provide the moisture and mineral quantities plants will require. It is best to use them as described earlier.

You will need to maintain the ceramic balls to prevent too many nutrients from being held within the pores of the balls. The cations will be held in the pores of the balls much longer than is effective so the result will be a build-up within the compost that can harm your plant when it leaches out of the balls themselves.

To prevent this, you will need to rinse the ceramic balls from time to time or you will need to feed them less regularly. A sign of nutrient build-up in the compost is a white residue of fertilizer crystals forming on the top of the compost and the plants do not look healthy.

You will then need to rinse the balls at the bottom of the pot (a good idea to do so when you are repotting the plant) and the balls at the top layer of the compost. Rinse with tap water as long as it is not too hard. If it is, you will need to use demineralised water.

Expanded clay balls give a level of nutrients that the compost cannot keep and the plant does not need. This is why a period of flushing is required. However, if you are using the ceramic balls as suggested in this article then you will get many years of service from them.

 PROS

  •  Can be used multiple times if the balls are sterilized between each use.
  • They can improve water drainage to prevent root rot.
  •  Can be used to hold and release nutrients when the plant requires it.
  •  Improves air to the roots and hence how healthy the plant is.
  •  It is pH neutral and so will not change the pH of the compost. This is because it does not degrade over time or leach chemicals from the ceramic balls themselves.
  •  The balls do not stick together, making it easier to separate and reuse, even after many months of use.

 CONS

  •  For large qualities, it can be very costly.
  •  Quick drainage will mean that plants need to be watered more frequently.
  •  It is dusty and caution must be made when handling it. Dust can block drainage hole, so it is best to soak them in water before you use them.

 WHY USE CERAMIC BALLS?

As you can gather, this is the 4th product that the container gardener that can help drainage in containers. It is just as effective as perlite, vermiculite or horticultural grit. Some will say much more, as the porous nature of the balls allow more nutrients to be held within the growing media. This will allow more access for the plant to these nutrients, which the other 3 do not provide.

The major drawback of the ceramic balls is retaining too many nutrients and this can be problematic but if you flush the balls once in a while or clean them when you are repotting, then you should have no problems.

I think it is a great alternative to the other 3 aforementioned products. As a mulch, I can safely say it has no equal, but as a drainage aid, it is quite similar to the other 3 products. I have used ceramic balls and I like the product but I leave it up to you if you want to try it or not.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to raise, please do so in the comment box below.

Use ceramic balls as part of your growing media.


10 thoughts on “Clay Granules, a Review- Are they a Good Investment in the Container Garden?”

  1. Hello there, thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful piece of information here with us. I must say i really did enjoyed going through your review as it contains valuable informations one needs to be aware of. I have used this before and yes it is much more effective than horticultural grits. 

    1. Hi philebur

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It is your personal choice to what your preference is-be it grit, perlite, vermiculite or clay balls. I give free reign to the one you want to use.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  2. Hello Antonio, 

    Thanks for such vital information. I have faced so many different challenges with my garden and one very common one is the death of my plants after about 4weeks after germination. I got to understand that there is excess water stored in the container and they end up causing the plant root to rot. I didn’t know this clay granules would be useful.

    1. Hi Reece

      Root rot is so determinantal to plant losses because you do not place your plant in proper draining growing media. This is why clay granules are very useful as they can be used for a long time. I hope that you think about investing in some.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  3. Hello there! Thank you very much for Sharing this review on clay granules. I’ve gone through it and it’s a very detailed review and it’s also filled with valuable information. From what I’ve read here, it’s a good investment. From your rating, down to the pros. I’ll definitely get the ceramic balls to allow drainage. Thank you 

    1. Hi Sophie

      I try to give as much information as possible so that, you as a gardener, can make an informed decision that will benefit you and your garden. I really appreciate the time and effort you make and hope you will continue to contribute to this site.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  4. I always enjoy reading your articles as I can expect the best knowledge and experience on everything gardening from them which I always make sure to emulate and learn from. The idea of clay balls which you have described in this article sounds interesting but unfortunately like you said, they are a bit costly. 

    1. Hi Sean

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting once again. I am a great believer that you cannot give too much relevant information and I try to give my review from a personal viewpoint. I think they are great but appreciate that they will not be for everybody.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  5. Hi,

    From my online research when you are ready to mix ingredients, be sure the soil is damp and workable, to determine this, take a handful, squeeze it and allow it to drop. If water comes out, it is too wet, if it breaks apart, it is too dry. But if the lump of soil retains its shape or cracks just a little when it is dropped, it is in good condition to work. Be certain gardening containers are clean when you start. Soak used or new clay pots overnight so they will not draw moisture from soil after planting. This is a very important step when you are beginning your plants life. If the pot draws off the moisture the new plant will be deprived.

    Thank you.

    Aluko.

    1. Hi Aluko

      Thank you very much for that insight as it is a valued contribution to this article. I am glad that you have used clay balls in the container garden, as it is a valuable tool to help with drainage and to prevent moisture loss.

      Thank you. Please come again.

      Antonio

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