Do you want to choose between vermiculite and perlite? Perhaps you already know that one resembles tiny Styrofoam balls while the other appears similar to attic insulation. While you know both help maintain soil, you’re unclear about which one is most suitable for your needs.
Perlite and vermiculite are not interchangeable. For your garden to flourish, you need to understand the differences between the two and determine which is best for your very particular needs.
It’s easy to determine the difference in vermiculite versus perlite by looking at the way they mix in the soil. Vermiculite retains more water, while perlite provides additional drainage. There’s much more to it than that, though, so continue reading for more information.
What is Vermiculite?
This mineral is made from compressed silicate that is mined from rock and heated to 1600°F. Vermiculite is commonly used in the making of ceramics and ceramic flooring. This leaves flakes that are absorbent and spongy, ranging from golden brown to dark brown. Other varieties are yellow, gold, or copper.
Vermiculite interacts with minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium in the soil, and it can also increase the pH level of your plants, even though it has a pH of 7.0.
As the vermiculite flakes expand when water is added, they resemble worm-like structures that absorb water like sponges. Add vermiculite to your potting soil if you’re planting something that loves water. Your plants will be in heaven since vermiculite absorbs three or four times its weight in water!
The mineral vermiculite remains in the soil permanently, which means it does not decompose like compost. If you add water or rain, the mineral vermiculite will hold water until the soil dries out.
Unfortunately, vermiculite is not a renewable resource, it is also mined, so it cannot really be considered eco-friendly.
6 Ways to Use Vermiculite
Vermiculite can be used in your garden in various ways. Here are some suggestions.
- Compost or potted plants can benefit from its moisture-sealing properties.
- The substrate for growing mushrooms should contain it.
- It can be incorporated into soil to reduce its density.
- Use it as a cover layer in order to aid in seed germination.
- By adding it to the soil, you can help cuttings retain moisture and nutrients.
- Peat moss or compost combined with it helps to facilitate faster root growth, providing better stability for the roots.
What is Perlite?
When obsidian and water come into contact, a form of volcanic glass called perlite forms. This form of volcanic glass has a high water content. When heated to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, perlite expands thirteen times its original size, exploding like a corn kernel.
The finished product weighs around six to seven pounds per cubic foot and has a pH level of 6.6 to 7.5. Perlite is lightweight, odorless, and easy to handle.
Perlite, also known as perlite, helps excess water drain quickly since it’s porous. This porousness can be crushed to a powder with your fingers, but you rarely experience that pressure in rock gardens or pots. Aerating the soil, improving drainage, and increasing oxygen availability for plants are among many advantages of perlite.
However, perlite dust has the downside of being “nuisance dust,” which can irritate lungs and throats and worsen existing respiratory conditions. When working with it, wear eye and mouth protection. It is mined using destructive methods, and it is not a renewable resource.
5 Ways to Use Perlite
Perlite’s properties make it a useful material for a variety of applications. Here are a few you can utilize.
- Improve clay soils by eliminating crust and puddles.
- Keep soil temperatures steady.
- Improve the drainage system.
- Make the soil more oxygen-rich.
- Cactus and succulents thrive well in perlite.
The Similarities Between Vermiculite and Perlite
The similarities between vermiculite and perlite will provide some context for understanding how the two minerals differ.
Both of these amendments are mined minerals used for insulation, water filtering, and soil drainage. They are both effective in retaining moisture and improving drainage.
Vermiculite is flat and holds its water like a sponge. Think of how a dry sponge swells up when water is poured over the top of it; that’s vermiculite. Perlite is round and holds water like a glass.
The perlite, on the other hand, comes in round spheres that hold their water like a small cavern. They are made up of tiny rocks that suck up water.
The Differences Between Vermiculite and Perlite
The differences between vermiculite vs perlite are significant, so you have to choose the right one for your project. Ready to learn what the differences are? Let’s talk about them.
Perlite, on the other hand, adds drainage to the soil to reduce how much water is in the soil. Vermiculite mixes with the soil to keep it moist.
In spite of the fact that both of these soil amendments can hold water, perlite is preferred by many gardeners because those balls aid in drainage better than vermiculite.
Using vermiculite in seed starting mixtures was a common practice for gardeners because it protected seedlings against fungus, which destroyed new seedlings. It also retained water in those tiny little pods used to start seeds. Perlite, however, is more effective when used to help start seedlings, as it helps with additional drainage when seedlings are placed in larger pots.
Adding too much perlite can cause nutrient issues, while using too little could also cause major problems. Vermiculite’s pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.2, making it a more neutral additive and therefore better suited to some plants.
Because perlite is permanent, unlike vermiculite, it does not degrade over time. It’s hypoallergenic, odorless, nontoxic, and sterile, and will never mold or rot.
Perlite improves soil aeration by releasing excess water. Vermiculite is an ineffective soil aerator because it absorbs so much water. Not ideal for some plants because it may cause root rot in those plant that don’t like wet roots.
Its vast capacity to retain water makes it ideal for soaking seeds. Perlite increases water retention while increasing drainage. It also raises humidity around plants. However, perlite lets water drain too quickly, making it defective for seedlings that need damp soil.
Vermiculite vs. Perlite: When to Pick Each One
Having learned the similarities and differences between vermiculite and perlite, you may wonder when to use either one. Keep in mind that they both serve different purposes in the garden, so one choice isn’t necessarily better or worse. It just depends on what you want out of it.
Use Perlite When:
- Water your plants only at the end of the day.
- When you separate the seedlings from each other.
- Your garden needs to have clay soil loosen up.
- You want to increase the pH level of your garden soil to bring it closer to an alkaline level.
- It’s necessary for the soil to dry out in a rainy area.
Use Vermiculite When:
- Your plants require moisture.
- You have seed trays that you hope to develop into healthy seedlings.
- In areas with a dry climate, trying to keep the soil moist.
Which is Better for Hydroponics: Vermiculite vs. Perlite?
The hydroponic industry has relied on perlite and vermiculite for years, since both are complementary tools for its successful operation. Hydroponics is a growing method where a growing medium replaces dirt or soil, while water and fertilizer provide nutrients. During their growth, the growing medium supports the weight of the plants, keeping them securely submerged.
The main reason perlite isn’t used with hydroponics is that it is too light. Water percolates around the growing medium during water circulation, and the perlite can’t withstand this motion.
The use of vermiculite alone is also not recommended since it retains a lot of water. If you used only vermiculite, you would lose all of the water, causing your roots to rot.
In most cases, hydroponic gardeners use a 50-50 mixture of the two. Size #3 or #4 large grade perlite works well with a 50-50 mix.
For hydroponic systems, vermiculite and perlite work well together as perlite retains moisture and vermiculite does not. So, by combining the two in a 50-50 ratio, it creates an ebb and flow system.
This combination will retain some of the water, some of the nutrients, and plenty of oxygen, thereby allowing the roots to grow naturally. However, it will not retain all of the water.
What to Remember about Vermiculite vs. Perlite
The two mediums are both capable of improving your soil, but they do so differently. Perlite can assist in draining water from your soil, while vermiculite retains the water. You can choose whichever medium is best for the type of plants you’re growing.
It is used to create a soil-less medium in hydroponics that holds roots in water. Both perlite and vermiculite are used to do this.
Keeping in mind that these amendments are not interchangeable, each is essential to your plants’ growth. Knowing these differences, you can help them flourish.