Are Vermiculite and Perlite the Same?: Another difference: cation exchange capacity

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Are Vermiculite and Perlite the Same?

By drdawg
January 25, 2015

It seems that many people believe that vermiculite and perlite are similar products used for similar purposes. This is not true.

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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
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dave
Jan 24, 2015 8:27 PM CST

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Soils or medium with a high cation exchange capacity (abbreviated CEC on soil tests) means it can attract and hold onto large amounts of cations with the opposite charge. This translates to soil that can hold nutrients rather then leaching them right out.

Vermiculite has a good CEC value while perlite has almost zero. This means that generally speaking a potting soil mix with vermiculite will hold nutrients better than soil without it. The same is not true of perlite.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
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drdawg
Jan 24, 2015 9:05 PM CST
My main goal in using perlite is not to hold nutrients (and thus, water) but to allow better and faster drainage. I also want my soil to be more open, and allow passage of air more readily. I simply believe that this is what's best for my tropical plants.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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Name: Dirt
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dirtdorphins
Jan 24, 2015 9:59 PM CST
dave said:Soils or medium with a high cation exchange capacity (abbreviated CEC on soil tests) means it can attract and hold onto large amounts of cations with the opposite charge. This translates to soil that can hold nutrients rather then leaching them right out.

Vermiculite has a good CEC value while perlite has almost zero. This means that generally speaking a potting soil mix with vermiculite will hold nutrients better than soil without it. The same is not true of perlite.


This almost implies that vermiculite is 'good' and perlite is 'bad'--
Really, the goodness or badness of either is multifactoral and dependent on the desired outcome(s)...sometimes it is desirable to hold cations and sometimes it really isn't.
Not all charged particles are 'nutrients'...and not all 'nutrients' are positively charged
Cation= positively charged particle (i.e. Na+)
Anion= negatively charged particle (i.e. Cl-)

Vermiculite does have a high CEC ~100-150 meq/100 g (incidentally, significantly greater than any of the soil types listed in this guide from Purdue)

https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-238.html

for more than most people want to know...



Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Jan 25, 2015 6:59 AM CST
Good points, Dirt. We could use builder's sand, gravel, pumice, bark, and several other things to improve drainage, but because of the "lightness" of perlite, because it is readily availabile, and because it is so inexpensive, I really couldn't do without it.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Mary Stella
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Oberon46
Jan 25, 2015 12:05 PM CST
This is the best information on the perlite/vermiculite discussion I have read to date (including Ken's original article.) I will have to print them off for reference since no way will I retain all this. Wish I had a photographic memory. Thanks bunches for all contributions.
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