Hydroton Expanded – IncrediGrow Garden Centre

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Hydroton Expanded

Hydroton is a versatile and popular growing medium used by horticulturalists and plant lovers around the globe. You may have also heard it referred to as "lava rocks," but are they the same thing? What is hydroton even used for? Let's find out!

What is Hydroton?

Hydroton is not a mystical substance; it's simply a brand name for a type of lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA). So, the terms "hydroton" and "expanded clay" are often used interchangeably, and you might also hear terms like, "clay balls" or "lava rocks", although the latter is misleading.

Hydroton balls are lightweight, porous clay pellets that are derived from natural clay, heated to a high temperature, and expanded in a rotary kiln. This process creates a multitude of tiny air pockets within the clay, making it an excellent choice for various horticultural applications.

Hydroton pellets are generally pH-neutral, which means they have a minimal impact on the pH of the nutrient solution in hydroponics. This neutrality is one of the reasons why they are favored in hydroponic systems, as it allows for better control over the pH levels of the nutrient solution.

Hydroton pellets do not contain nutrients for plant growth, and are primarily used as a support medium for plant roots. In hydroponic systems, all necessary nutrients are supplied through the nutrient solution, as hydroponics relies on precise control over nutrient content. While Hydroton doesn't provide nutrients, its inert nature ensures that it won't interfere with nutrient delivery or absorption.

Is Hydroton the Same as Lava Rocks?

While hydroton and lava rocks might appear similar at a glance, they are, in fact, distinct materials. Lava rocks are igneous rocks formed from solidified lava, usually from volcanoes. They are heavier and have a coarser texture compared to hydroton. Hydroton, on the other hand, is lightweight and has a more uniform shape, making it a better choice for hydroponics and container gardening. So, despite their superficial similarities, hydroton and lava rocks serve different purposes in horticulture.

What Is Hydroton Used For?

Hydroton is often associated with hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil. It provides a stable and inert medium for plant roots while allowing for excellent aeration and nutrient absorption. It's particularly popular in hydroponic systems like deep-water culture, flood and drain, and drip systems.

Soil Gardening: Hydroton is not limited to hydroponics; it's also useful in traditional soil gardening. Gardeners use it to improve soil aeration and drainage in containers or raised beds. When added to heavy or clayey soils, hydroton enhances root health by preventing waterlogged conditions.

Seed Starting: Hydroton can be used in seed starting trays or as a seedling medium. It offers excellent moisture retention and air circulation, creating an optimal environment for young plants to establish their roots.

Terrariums and Vivariums: Hydroton can be used to create the base layer in terrariums and vivariums. It helps with moisture control, promotes aeration, and creates a visually appealing substrate for plants and decorative elements in enclosed ecosystems.

Orchid Cultivation: Orchid enthusiasts often use Hydroton as a growing medium due to its excellent drainage properties. Orchids require aeration around their roots, and Hydroton provides the ideal environment.

Aquaponics: In aquaponic systems, Hydroton serves as a support medium for plants while facilitating the growth of beneficial bacteria. This bacteria help convert fish waste into nutrients for plants, creating a symbiotic relationship between aquatic life and plant cultivation.

Is hydroton environmentally friendly?

Now, let's address the environmental concerns. The production of Hydroton involves mining and heating clay at high temperatures, which can have environmental impacts, such as habitat disruption and carbon emissions. However, many manufacturers are making efforts to minimize these effects through sustainable mining practices and energy-efficient kilns. It's always a good idea to research the manufacturer and choose brands that prioritize eco-friendly production.

In terms of disposal, Hydroton is a reusable medium. After a growing cycle, you can sterilize it and use it again, reducing waste. The lifespan of Hydroton pellets can vary depending on several factors, including how well they are cared for and the specific growing conditions. With proper cleaning and maintenance, Hydroton pellets can last for several years. Regularly rinsing and sterilizing them between growing cycles helps extend their usability. 

Typically, Hydroton pellets can last for 2-5 years before replacement is needed, however some people opt to dispose of it regularly for the sake of convenience. If you do decide to dispose of it, Hydroton is inert and does not release harmful chemicals into the environment. You can recycle it as construction aggregate, use it to create decorative features in your yard, or even mix it with your garden soil.

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