Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles

Using Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles As Grow Medium

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Hydroton expanded clay pebbles are one of my favorite growing mediums to use in my hydroponic systems. Here’s everything you need to know about hydroton expanded clay growing medium and how to use in your hydroponic garden.

What Are Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles?

Hydroton is a brand name that is interchangeably used with expanded clay and clay pebbles. It’s one of the most popular grow mediums used by hydroponic gardeners. Hydroton expanded clay pebbles come from mined clay that is heated in a kiln to over 2000 degrees. This causes the material to expand like popcorn making it light and porous.

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles are lightweight and can come in circular ball shapes varying in sizes. Hydroton doesn’t compact and since it’s porous, allows for excellent water and airflow.

How Do You Use Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles In Hydroponics?

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be used alone or in with a combination of other grow medium. I typically use them as a standalone in my hydroponic systems.

Before using any expanded clay, you must completely rinse the dust from the grow medium. Even if your expanded clay pebbles come “prewashed”, I would still recommend rinsing them as a precaution. During transport, pebbles rub together and can sometimes get crushed causing dust. Dust from the expanded clay can cause clogs and wear on pumps.

hydroton expanded clay

Some seeds can be germinated in hydroton expanded clay pebbles under the right conditions. I was shown by a friend that crushing pebbles actually makes them more suitable for seed germination. Personally I prefer to germinate seeds in rapid rooter plugs then transplant them into the clay pebbles.

Come harvest time plants can be easily removed from the clay pebbles. The roots will stick to the hydroponic so you will have to pull some away by hand, especially at the base of the plant.

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be sterilized and used again for the next hydroponic growing season. I prefer to use a hydrogen peroxide mix, some prefer to use bleach. The hydroton should be soaked for a few hours and then rinsed. If using bleach I would  recommend rinsing several times.

What Hydroponic Systems Work Well When Using Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles?

Hydroton can be used in a few different types of systems. It is often used in drip systems, ebb and flow, deep water culture and aeroponic systems. Since these types of systems provide constant nutrient solution to the plants, it ensures the hydroton doesn’t dry out. Hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be used in net pots or large grow beds.

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles in flood and drain system
A few week old lettuce in Hydroton expanded clay grow medium.

Advantages To Using Hydroponic Expanded Clay Pebbles

  • It maintains a neutral pH.
  • Retains some water but doesn’t suffocate roots.
  • You can allow the hydroponic system to continually run, providing more nutrients to your plants.
  • It drains water well.
  • Comes from clay, which is abundant, so it’s environmentally friendly.
  • It’s reusable and can last a long time.
  • Can be inexpensive in small quantities.

Disadvantages To Using Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles

  • If the system fails hydroton can dry out.
  • Hydroton needs to be rinsed thoroughly before using.
  • Dust from hydroton can wear on pumps.
  • Can be expensive if using large grow beds.

Final Thoughts

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles are my go to hydroponic grow medium. It’s the clay pebbles “bilities’ that make them my favorite – flexibility, durability, and reusability!

Have you used expanded clay pebbles in your hydroponic garden? Share your experiences in the comments section!

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