Cactus and Succulents forum: Opinions on Hydroton Clay Balls

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Name: Lindsey
Ohio (Zone 6a)
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ljones26
Mar 11, 2018 8:37 AM CST
Hello! Smiling Okay I need some opinions. I went to a greenhouse recently and purchased a ferocactus that had the hydroton clay balls as a substrate topper. I loved the look of it, and coincidentally I found bags of it that day at IKEA so I purchased them. I did some research and saw that they are used in hydroponics. For some reason I thought they would be like pumice and keep a substrate mix dry. Is that not correct? Just wanted to know the effects these have on succulents so I don't kill my plants! Thank you!!!
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Name: Karen
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plantmanager
Mar 11, 2018 9:15 AM CST
I'm not totally sure, but think they are like Aliflor which some people use for orchids. They hold water.
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Name: tarev
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tarev
Mar 11, 2018 10:09 AM CST
Hi Lindsey, leca ( light expanded clay aggregate) or those clay balls, does share similar attribute with pumice. Those clay balls have lots of air holes which allows good airflow at root zone.

Sometimes I use them too with my cactus soil, to help loosen the media, if I do not have perlite or pumice around. But not a lot of it, since it holds water much longer than pumice.



Name: Baja
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Baja_Costero
Mar 11, 2018 10:11 AM CST

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Yes, they absorb and wick water and are used in hydroponic type situations. They guarantee plenty of air in the spaces between the balls. Lots of detailed information about one such system here...

http://firstrays.com/semi-hydr...
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Mar 11, 2018 10:11 AM (+)]
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Name: Kristi
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pod
Mar 11, 2018 12:51 PM CST
I have used Hydroton in my plants for water conservation. I have never used it as a top dressing and will be curious to see how well it works when used with succulents.
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Name: Cactus Zach
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CactusZach
Sep 23, 2018 1:31 AM CST
I have a bunch of hydroton left over from a previous hydroponics project and have recently considered using them for my cacti and succulents. I like how they look, used as a top-dressing, and I think they could be beneficial mixed into the substrate for some plants. I might do a test and plant one cacti into my normal mix and another of the same species, in a new mix using hydroton and see if it makes any noticeable difference.

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Hamwild
Sep 23, 2018 7:41 AM CST
@tarev, did you ever try this?
Name: tarev
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tarev
Oct 1, 2018 10:31 AM CST
Hamwild said:@tarev, did you ever try this?


I have used them, but as I have mentioned earlier, not too much of it. The clay balls will have the tendency to hold water longer too. It is really good when it is the peak of our hot and dry summer here, the roots do need the cool down and there is good airflow around.

Caution has to be observed though when the colder season comes around. The succulent roots will definitely not like feeling too cold and damp. Though the clay balls have more surface area to allow good airflow, when plants are grown indoors in winter, it may take awhile longer to dry out, compared to summer time growing. So I use them quite sparingly, just enough to break the compactness of the soil, if I do not have pumice around.

Just be very careful in watering, and make sure the root area will not stand in water and empty out drip trays quickly.

In some of my own experiments, I use both clay rocks and water gel beads, just to increase further airflow at root zone, especially if I am using glass containers with no drain holes, but I have to be more selective as to which plants to use in this set-up.

Typically I see that the clay rocks really work nicely if the plant is more tropical in nature, since these types of plants loves more moisture at root zone. For myself, I do not recommend them much for most of the other succulents, since the roots of succulents, prefer to dry out much faster and are much thinner too, so it is quite easy to rot them especially if the ambient temps have gone way too cool for them. And typically when the colder season is at hand, the succulents slow down in growth, so they do not need to be getting too much moisture.

One can always experiment though. You can certainly try some succulents you have and see how it works out in your individual growing environment. My area is way drier, our humidity so low, so I can easily get away with dry out times.
Name: Jai or Jack
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Jai_Ganesha
Oct 2, 2018 5:51 AM CST
I personally stay away from them because of how well they hold water. My climate is too wet to begin with.
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Name: Baja
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Baja_Costero
Oct 2, 2018 9:05 AM CST

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The people I know who have been succussful growing succulents and caudiciforms with the clay balls do not use any other ingredients in the substrate. The balls wick and hold water quite well but there is an inherent limit in the packing efficiency so that there is always at least 25% (by volume) air in the medium, at last until the roots fill that space. The water-holding and air-holding capacity of the substrate sort of reach a balance.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Oct 2, 2018 2:12 PM (+)]
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patsyann
Oct 5, 2018 8:37 AM CST
These will work well and look nice as a "topper" in your pots. They dry out quickly and will not retain water. We have a small hydroponic greenhouse and use these. The top ones are always dry except when watered and then they dry out very quickly.

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