Vermiculite for Plants: Is It Really Effective?

Vermiculite for Plants: Is It Really Effective?
Contributor
Contributor
External Guest Writer
May 11, 2022

Picking the right growing medium is one of the most important elements one can pay attention to improve the quality of plants. Based on the soil quality, farmers can choose to add certain elements in order to boost the benefits to various plants. Vermiculite is one amendment that can be used to improve the overall quality of the growing medium. We discuss the specifics of vermiculite along with its pros and cons in this article.

What is Vermiculite?

Vermiculite is a type of naturally occurring mineral that occurs in the form of glossy flakes. They vary in color and texture, ranging from sandy brown and dark gray. This mica-like mineral works as an excellent soil amendment after it is extracted from the ground, exfoliated, and treated. Treatment of vermiculite occurs using extreme levels of pressure and heat, and this allows the substance to expand to improve its porous properties.

Once this process is complete, the mineral takes a worm-like appearance, and this is why it has been dubbed as vermiculite. The name is derived from the Latin word vermiculus which stands for insect larva.

Vermiculite is mined in numerous countries around the world including the USA and South Africa. It is essentially a non-toxic, lightweight, and sterile substance that has a low deterioration rate over time. It is also found to be neutral on the pH scale. 

How to Use Vermiculite for Plants

Soil Improvement

One of the most important uses of vermiculite is in its ability to improve the overall quality of soil conditions. If the soil in your farm or garden is heavy, sandy, or has poor draining capabilities, vermiculite can be useful to alter these conditions. By changing the volume of the potting soil and adding vermiculite to half the overall volume, it can work wonders for plants. It is important to work the mineral deep into the ground in order to maximize its intended effects.

This can not only help to improve soil aeration, but it also boosts nutrition and moisture retention capabilities.

Seed Germination

Vermiculite can be used for seed germination as this mineral can be helpful in the rapid germination of seeds. When used on its own without combining it with natural soil, it is important to only utilize small volumes of water so as to not overwhelm the seeds.

This is because expanded vermiculite is a material capable of releasing moisture to the seedlings as when it is required by the plant. It is also helpful to add small amounts of a weak fertilizer as soon as leaves crop out of the seedlings. This helps to act as a substitute for nutrients that can be found in natural soil. Once the seedling is ready to be planted elsewhere, it is very easy to separate it from the vermiculite without damaging the plant roots.

Rooting Cuttings

Vermiculite can be useful to root cuttings in gardens and farms. This can be done either using vermiculite on its own or by combining it with the natural soil of the land. It is also possible to combine vermiculite with bark in order to attain a soilless potting mix. 

This technique helps to improve the anchorage provided for new roots and also helps in boosting root growth.

Container Gardening

If someone is engaging in container gardening practices, vermiculite can be an excellent tool to add to their arsenal. Adding this mineral to potting soil will boost the water retention and soil aeration capacity greatly. This has a tremendous impact on the root system of plants and will help to create lush foliage. By using vermiculite in container gardening, plants will require lower levels of water as well which means that farmers and gardeners will have to spend less time watering the plants.

The Pros and Cons of Vermiculite for Plants

Pros

  • Vermiculite offers excellent water retention capabilities and will slowly provide seedlings with moisture as and when it is required
  • This is a highly sterile material and can be used on any crop type
  • It is neutral on the pH scale and is therefore safe to use for sensitive crops
  • Using vermiculite helps to aerate the soil and allows oxygen to penetrate deep into the ground
  • The use of vermiculite can be priceless in boosting root growth in double time
  • Whatever nutrition is supplied to the soil is well retained by the vermiculite
  • It has a long life span and will not rot for long periods of time
  • The use of vermiculite will help prevent the growth of mildew and mold
  • As this mineral helps to boost root growth, it also has a positive impact on the root anchorage capabilities of seedlings
  • Using vermiculite can help in the rapid growth of all plant types
  • Vermiculite can be used on its own or to improve the overall quality of the natural soil in the ground or in pots
  • It is considered to be a more versatile growing medium than natural soil

Cons

  • Vermiculite is relatively a more expensive option than simply using natural soil
  • There are some associated health concerns related to its use that require further research
  • As it is a naturally occurring mineral, it is not a renewable source of nutrition
  • Sometimes, when the volume of natural or garden soil and vermiculite is mixed improperly, it can lead to excessive water retention

A Stellar Alternative

One of the oldest adages in farming states that improving the soil helps to improve the plants in the long run. Natural soil is not stable or consistent in various regions around the world, which is why vermiculite has a major role to play in helping farmers improve their practices regardless of their location. This material can be found in abundance, and when used in the right quantities, can be of tremendous assistance to farmers and their invaluable crops.