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LECA is a useful growing medium, providing a wide array of benefits that soil cannot. LECA creates a semi-hydroponic system that promotes healthy and strong root growth. 

Unfortunately, despite the positives that this growing medium provides, not all plants do well when grown in LECA. This is why it’s important to know whether or not your particular plant will thrive in this.

So with that in mind: can you grow Calathea in LECA? Let’s find out!

a person holding LECA clay balls for calathea

What is LECA?

LECA stands for “lightweight expanded clay aggregate” and is a growing medium that is small round balls made from clay. The clay has been heated and expanded, which creates porous pellets that are lightweight and absorb moisture. LECA offers many different benefits that soil just cannot provide.

By growing your plants in LECA, you’ll reduce the frequency of having to fertilize and water the plants, and it is also more likely to resist diseases and pests. 

However, not all plants can successfully grow in LECA. Let’s take a look at whether you can grow Calathea in LECA.

Do calatheas do well in LECA?

Calatheas is one of the many plants that can successfully grow in LECA. Calatheas are thirsty plants, and using LECA instead of soil allows them to get this higher level of moisture while also allowing oxygen to come in contact with their roots. 

Growing your Calathea in LECA also reduces the chance of the plant developing fungal diseases associated with soil pathogens.

This is some of the best LECA for houseplants you’ll find, including for calatheas.

What plants cannot be grown in LECA?

Even though LECA is a wonderful alternative to soil, not all plants do well when you try to grow them in LECA. In fact, there are several different plants that should never be planted in this soilless mixture. These plants include:

  • Pothos
  • Elephant bush
  • Prayer plant
  • Ferns
  • Stromanthe
  • String of pearls

The above lists of plants don’t do well in most hydroponic-type systems since they cannot tolerate having their roots sitting in water. 

Since LECA is semi-hydroponic, it does require the plants’ roots to sit in water. The plants listed above have a better chance of survival when grown in traditional soil.

How to transfer a calathea into LECA

Even though LECA is a great option for people who want a more easy-going way to care for their houseplants, there are a few things you will need to do beforehand when you transfer the Calathea in LECA.

1. Rinse the LECA

Before you can use these nifty little clay pebbles, you will first need to prepare them. This will require rinsing them with lukewarm water to remove any dust and debris that may be on them from the manufacturing process. 

Placing the LECA in a strainer and holding it under warm water works well to rinse them.

2. Soak the LECA

After you have rinsed the LECA, you will need to soak them in lukewarm for no less than 6 hours. This is needed because the LECA will absorb the water. 

Some LECA pebbles may float, which is completely normal and nothing to be worried about.

a healthy calathea in LECA near the window
Source: Lulu Lulík (CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. Sterilize the LECA

If you’re using a new LECA, this step can be skipped. If, however, you are reusing LECA, you will need to sterilize it before you can use it for your Calathea. 

This can be done by either soaking it in a diluted hydrogen period solution or boiling the LECA for about 5 minutes on the stove.

LECA is reusable but does need to be cleaned and sterilized before using it on a new plant. If you’re unsure as to whether the LECA is sterilized, err on the side of caution and re-sterilize the growing medium. This is simply a precautionary step to help reduce the chance of possibly spreading diseases.

3. Remove the calathea from the soil

Tip the pot to its side and carefully slide the Calathea out of the container. Refrain from pulling on the plant hard as this can damage the Calathea. You may have to use your fingers to loosen the dirt from around the inside of the container.

The act of transplanting Calatheas, or any plant for that matter, can be stressful to the plant, making it more susceptible to problems. 

You can help reduce the stress by watering the Calathea thoroughly before beginning and taking care not to damage its roots.

4. Discard the soil

You cannot plant the Calathea in LECA until you have first removed the soil. In fact, you will have to remove all traces of the soil before you can plant the Calathea in LECA. 

(Of course, this step can be skipped if the Calathea isn’t currently growing in soil.)

Once you have removed the Calathea from the container, carefully use your fingers to remove chunks of soil from around the plant. When you have removed as much of the soil as you can, use your hands to carefully rinse the plant’s roots with lukewarm water (never use hot or cold as this can stress the plant out even more) to remove the remaining soil.

a calathea in LECA on a brown pot
Source: Aimee Liang (CC BY-SA 4.0)

5. Examine the calathea’s roots

With the soil removed, this is a good time to examine the Calathea’s roots to ensure they are healthy. 

If you find any roots that are dead, diseased, or rotten, carefully trim them off with a pair of sharp pruning shears.

6. Spray the roots

Dilute 2 tablespoons of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide in 1 gallon of distilled water and then pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Liberally spray the Calathea’s roots with the mixture to kill any pathogens that are lingering on the roots. 

Let the roots dry completely before you continue with the transplanting process.

Related: 8 Steps to Save a Calathea With Root Rot (+ How to Spot It)

7. Plant the calathea in LECA

Pour LECA into the clean container so that it fills about ¼ of the pot, and then place the Calathea on top of the LECA. Make sure the Calathea is sitting in the middle of the pot and then fill the remaining void with LECA.

The LECA will need to be evenly distributed around the plant and completely covering its roots. Avoid pressing the LECA around the root system as this can damage the roots.

Care tips when growing calathea in LECA

Just because LECA is an easy-going growing medium, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you will need to do to help increase the chance of success when growing Calathea in LECA.

1. Watch your plant during the first weeks after transplanting

Transplanting any plant into any growing medium is a stressful experience, and how you care for it during the first few weeks after the process can make or break your success.

During the first few weeks afterwards, the plant can develop leaf loss and even damage to its root system. Ensuring you are giving the plant the proper care can help reduce the effects of shock.

2. Give the calathea its ideal growing conditions

Calatheas thrive in bright, indirect light, warm temperatures, and higher humidity levels. 

If you provide the plant with this type of indoor environment, you will increase the chance of its survival while also encouraging healthy and strong growth.

somone holding a calathea that will be planted on LECA
Source: perrine iou (CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. Add nutrients to your calathea

One of the downsides of LECA is that it doesn’t contain nutrients like soil does. This means you will need to add nutrients to the water to support the health and wellness of the Calathea. 

Choose a hydroponics feed and apply the Calathea as listed on the back of the feed’s bottle.

In most cases, you will need to mix the feed in water and then use that mixture to hydrate the Calathea. This should be done right after transplanting the Calathea. 

Applying the nutrients after transplanting can help reduce the symptoms associated with shock caused by transplanting.

4. Water the calathea

Just because you are growing the Calathea in LECA doesn’t mean you don’t have to water the plant. In most cases, you may have to add water about once every week to once every two weeks. 

Most gardeners wait and add the nutrients that are listed in Step 3 to their regular watering schedule. This helps to prevent overwatering the Calathea in LECA.

Related: How Often to Water Calathea Plants (So They Thrive)

5. Keep an eye on the water’s pH level

Like soil, LECA still requires you to check the soil pH level periodically and adjust it as needed. Most plants, such as Calathea, prefer a pH level of between 5.5 to 6.5. 

Use a pH soil test kit (this one is a great option and super popular – for good reason!) to determine what pH level the water is that you are using to hydrate the Calathea and then adjust as needed.

If the pH is too acidic, meaning the number is lower, use a product that will bring the pH of the water down, such as pH UP (check the latest price here). If the pH is too alkaline, meaning the number is higher, use a solution to bring it down, such as pH DOWN (which you can grab here).