Have you found yourself standing at the center of your garden, trying to figure out which one to add to the soil: Vermiculite or Perlite? Well, both these are natural soil additives that you can use to improve the structure of the soil. Now, did we tell you that if you make the wrong selection, it can actually MAKE or BREAK your gardening project? Don’t worry; we won’t let that happen! So let’s get into the details and clear all the confusions you have regarding Vermiculite vs. Perlite. Read on.
All About Perlite
Made from volcanic rock, perlite is heated and crushed until it pops and transforms into small white pieces. Now, did we tell you that it has a super cute nickname – volcanic popcorn? Well, yes! The ratings that it got for water retention are medium, and for nutrient retention, it’s low. You can add perlite to either soilless or soil-based potting mixes. It’ll improve their ability to drain.
- You can use perlite for blending your potting soil mix or seed starting mix.
- It has about 6% of water in it.
- It works wonders as a substitute for lightweight sand.
- Helps in loosening and lightening compacted soils.
- It can hold water that is three to four times its weight.
- It doesn’t mold or rot.
- Its pH level is neutral.
- It can hold nutrients.
- It’s so lightweight that it floats on top of potted plant containers.
- It’s odorless, non-toxic, sterile, and clean.
What Does Perlite Look Like?
Did you know from where perlite took its name? Latin Perla. If you’re like us, you might have guessed pearl! Are we right? Well, it does come in off white color similar to that of pearl. It’s dusty, and when it’s in the form of a rock, you can see that it has a certain softness to it. Give a closer look at it, and you’ll find that its surface is porous. If you ask about perlite pebbles, we’d say that they have soft edges and a round appearance.
All About Vermiculite
Vermiculite is an all-natural mineral product. Also, it is magnesium-aluminum-iron silicate. Before getting processed into soil additive, vermiculite is mined out of the ground. When applied to soil, vermiculite heightens its nutrient and water retention levels. If you look at it closely, you’ll find it quite similar to mica. It has layers that help it in trapping water. It has superb nutrients and water retention power making it a favorite among many gardeners. You can find vermiculite in dry fertilizers and pesticides as a fantastic anti-caking agent.
- It’s perfect for seed starting.
- It assists soil in retaining moisture.
- It provides plants with essential nutrients.
- It’s great for preparing your custom potting soil mix.
- It mixes effortlessly with soil.
- It’s odorless, sterile, non-toxic, and clean.
What Does Vermiculite Look Like?
When vermiculite is in its original form, it looks shiny and almost black. You can even find some light-colored veins on it. However, once it’s heated at super high temperatures and popped, it changes its looks. It appears more like something in pastel shades – khaki, brown, or yellowish-brown. Unlike perlite, it looks like rocks. Also, it is not dusty. Give a close look at it, and you’ll find some thin layers in it. And that’s precisely why vermiculite can hold water so well! It uses those fissures to filter water and retain it. Talking about vermiculite pebbles, they have a square-like appearance and are not round. With straight lines, they appear a bit edgy. They seem like small fossilized accordions.
Vermiculite and Perlite: The Similarities
Well, in order to understand the differences between vermiculite and perlite, let’s first state the similarities they have.
- Both these potting mixes are inorganic. This means, to make these soil additives, no tissue of living creatures is added.
- Popularly used as soil additives, vermiculite and perlite are almost entirely sterile.
- People use both materials to impart nutrients, retain moisture, and provide proper aeration to the soil.
Vermiculite vs. Perlite: The Differences
Now that you’re well aware of the similarities between vermiculite and perlite let’s look at their differences.
- Moisture Content
Vermiculite is like a sponge. It can absorb moisture that is five times its own weight. It stores the nutrients in the soil and holds the moisture near the roots for a longer duration compared to perlite.
Perlite offers better aeration than vermiculite.
- Alkaline Content
When it comes to alkaline content, perlite is a winner. It is used to control soil’s pH levels.
If you want soil additives to drain out water from the soil completely, go for perlite.
- For Flowers and Plants
Did you know that perlite can help you in creating loose soil? Of course, you have to make sure not to crush it, as doing so will make the soil lose its fluffiness. Instead, use vermiculite if you want soil additives for seedlings.
However, perlite also comes with some advantages. It helps in preventing various plant diseases and the formation of weeds. By offloading humidity at a faster pace, it keeps the soil at a steady temperature. And it can help you in putting an end to issues such as puddles and surface crusting. So if you want soil additives for flowers and mature plants, go for perlite.
- For Veggies
If you’re growing vegetables, you’ll want the soil to have water for a long duration, right? This is where vermiculite fits your need perfectly! Veggies require tons of water during their growth cycle. Using vermiculite will loosen the compact soil even if you have already tilled it. This gives veggies more access to oxygen.
- Chemical Properties
Using vermiculite will let you avoid overfeeding to the soil. It does ion exchange and helps in absorbing mineral substances. Whenever the plants need those mineral substances, vermiculite passes them to the plants. Suppose in a neutral environment; it interacts with hard water. In that case, it can change the soil’s acidity level to an alkaline environment. Also, this soil additive maintains gas exchange and heat balance.
Perlite, on the other hand, doesn’t undergo any ionic and chemical reactions. That is why it is considered a sterile medium for growing seedlings and seeds and cutting roots. Perlite is excellent for hydroponics.
Vermiculite vs. Perlite: Which One is Better for Your Garden?
Vermiculite and perlite are effective soil conditioners. You can use them to provide drainage to the soil, loosen compacted soil, and hold water three to four times their weight. Both are good in their own way. BUT, how to know which one’s better for your garden?
Vermiculite can be used if:
- You want to start seeds. Compared to perlite, vermiculite has more capacity for holding moisture. And thus, it’ll prevent drying out of your seeds at the time of germination.
- Your garden is in a dry climate area. If you add vermiculite to soilless mixes and potting soil, it’ll help conserve its moisture.
- You have outdoor container plants, and you want to pot them again. If you keep your potted plants outside, they’ll dry out soon. This is especially true for porous containers such as fabric or terra cotta pots. And this is exactly where vermiculite comes in handy as a solution! Add it to your potting mix, and it’ll help in retaining the moisture.
Now let’s see what perlite can do.
Perlite can be used if:
- You’re all set to loosen the heavy clay soil of your garden or pot. Adding perlite to the soil will help in breaking up the surface crust. Also, it’ll help in reducing soil compaction.
- Your garden is in a humid or wet climate area. Add perlite to the garden beds to prevent the soil from getting waterlogged.
- If you’re planning to have some shade-loving succulents, houseplants, and cacti in your home, know that they don’t require much water. So do one thing. Combine perlite with some potting mix to keep fungal disease and root rot at bay! You’re repotting plants that require dry weather to survive.
Then, just remember these two sentences –
- Use vermiculite when you need to retain moisture in the soil
- Use perlite when you need the soil to have better aeration and drainage
What is the Best Way to Use Vermiculite and Perlite?
So you’ve decided which one to use on your soil – vermiculite or perlite. And now, you want to know how you can use them the proper way, right?
Well, we’re here to help!
- Mix vermiculite and perlite with the soil, growing medium or potting mix. There are gardeners who, for seedlings, actually use vermiculite alone. However, we’re not suggesting you use it, as it’s not tested.
- Now, let’s tell you at what amount you should mix the two. DO NOT exceed 50% vermiculite or perlite in your potting mix or soil. So, what about the rest, 50%? Well, you can always add pet or compost. But hey, don’t forget that these are just soil improvers and not actual soil!
- Suppose you’re using vermiculite or perlite in the ground. In that case, the chances are that it’ll come back onto the surface once it rains heavily. And if that happens, make sure to dig it back to the soil. This becomes the case with bare soil.
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Vermiculite vs. Perlite: FAQs
Do you still have a lot of questions regarding vermiculite and perlite? Yep, we can understand.
And so, we’re here at your rescue, AGAIN!
Following are some frequently asked questions about vermiculite and perlite. Of course, there are answers too! Scroll down.
Ans. Not as such. But hey, spray perlite with water before using it. Why? Well, just because it’s dusty. And as you know, dust can end up in your nose and mouth. Not a good feeling, we know. It can actually be quite irritating. Don’t worry; it’s not dangerous. And it’s nothing that a good mask can’t take care of!
Ans. FOREVER! They’re rocks, remember?
Ans. Yes, they do, in various ways. For healthy plants, proper aeration is important. And vermiculite tends to attract good bugs too. These bugs love the moisture that is retained in the soil by vermiculite. So, in a way, it enhances the ecosystem.
Ans. Yes, you can. However, it doesn’t sound very economical. This holds especially true for small gardens. Just for your information, compared to perlite, vermiculite is used more for outdoor plants.
Ans. Well, there’s no need to do so. Each of them has its own characteristics and is best suited for different situations.
Ans. Yes, you can. That’s because it neither holds onto nutrients nor decomposes. In order to use perlite again, all you have to do is remove plant bits from it if you find any – for example, root segments. Once you do that, rinse the perlite thoroughly with water. If you want, you can sterilize it. For that, you’ll have to use a 10% bleach solution. Dilute the solution with water and soak the perlite in it for about 20 minutes. Give it a good rinse again, and you’re all set to reuse it!
Ans. The answer is “YES.” Both vermiculite and perlite are naturally mined minerals. They indeed go through certain physical processing, but they’re USDA-approved. And you can use them in certified organic agriculture.
Ans. Are you thinking of hydroponics? Don’t worry if you’re alien to the term. Hydroponics is the practice of gardening without making any use of soil. It uses water.
Now let’s get back to vermiculite. It soaks water, remember? Well, it doesn’t float, even though it’s lighter compared to water. So, when it touches water, it soaks the water, gets heavy, and sinks.
Perlite, on the contrary, floats. However, if you’re thinking about using it in hydroponics, know that it can be a little troublesome. Of course, it’s nothing that can’t be taken care of. Use coconut coir, as this will trap the perlite and hold it underwater.
Ans. Vermiculite has an excellent capacity for holding water. And for that, it can work on its own. It provides constant moisture to seedlings that need it. And it does that without being oversaturated.
Ans. Yes, you can. Just make sure to water your plants and give them the required nutrients by making use of fertilizers.
Ans. Yes, you can, in order to improve the structure of the soil. All you need to do is mix the vermiculite or perlite with the soil. Make sure that each ingredient makes up approximately 10%-50% of the soil’s total volume. The percentage will depend upon how much water retention or drainage you need.
Ans. Well, no. Vermiculite doesn’t decompose or break down when you use it in potting soil.
Ans. Perlite is made from heated volcanic rock. Remember? So it doesn’t decompose. When you’re adding perlite to the soil, you’re making a permanent change to its texture – in a good way, of course!
Ans. As told above, vermiculite is used to retain moisture in the soil. This way, the water is always available for your plants to use. So, if you’re looking for some soil additives that can help in water drainage, then go for perlite.
Ans. The dust that vermiculite and perlite create can be considered one of the biggest disadvantages of handling them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has marked it as nuisance dust that is not hazardous. However, don’t work with these materials for long durations and regularly. Otherwise, the chances are that your lungs will become more susceptible to respiratory disease or irritation. You can prevent this problem by wearing a mask. Or, you can cover your mouse and nose with a bandana.
Ans. Yes, you can. This soil additive is a naturally occurring mineral. However, not all vermiculite is organic. They are mined, heated up, and packaged for the use of gardeners. Vermiculite can be organic if the mining, as well as the processing, is done organically. If you want to buy organic vermiculite, look for the term organic on the packaging.
Ans. Yes, you can. Perlite offers excellent air circulation and drainage. This makes it a top choice for gardeners when it comes to choosing soil additives for growing succulents.
Ans. If you want to increase the aeration and drainage of the clay soil, perlite can work wonders. To do that, you need to loosen your clay soil. The depth of the loosened clay soil can range between six and twelve inches. Then take some perlite and spread across the top in a four-inch layer. Now mix the perlite with the loosened soil.
Ans. Perlite does look like Styrofoam; however, it’s not Styrofoam. It is nothing but a naturally occurring volcanic rock. And it’s heated and crushed at high temperatures until there’s a change in its texture and color.
Ans. Vermiculite and perlite are used in other sectors as well, for example, construction. Now, if you look for vermiculite and perlite to buy online, you’ll get two kinds of results. Some are available at higher prices, but the quantity that you get is less. And some are available at low prices but in huge quantities. You may ask, WHY?
Well, the large bags are meant for builders. They buy it and then mix them with other materials such as concrete.
These perlite and vermiculite are not clean. And in most cases, you’ll find different other materials mixed in. Many of these materials can do harm to your plants as they are not inert.
So make sure to buy only horticultural vermiculite and perlite, even if they are pricey. It is for the sake of your garden!
Ans. NO. Just remember to buy only horticultural vermiculite that is available in gardening supply stores.
Now that you know all the nitty-gritty of vermiculite and perlite go get the best one for your needs. Happy gardening!
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