15 Substitutes For Perlite That You Can Choose

In a rush and can’t do the research yourself? Let me give you the information quickly.

Good Substitutes For Perlite are pumice, horticultural grit, poultry grit, sand, coarse vermiculite, gravel, clay pebbles, crushed shell, cactus mix with pea gravel, calcined clay, coco coir, wood chips, and rice husks.

What is Perlite?

It is neither a type of soil nor a type of fertilizer. It’s an additive for soil that helps to aerate the soil and increase drainage.

Formed from volcanic eruptions, Perlite looks like styrofoam balls. Perlite is very popular in gardening for improving the soil structure.

Now there can be circumstances where you might want to use substitutes for Perlite. For this you would want to know what Perlite offers to you and if the alternative that you are using will give the same.

Features of Perlite used in Gardening

Perlite speeds up the germination and rooting, improves aeration, drainage & insulation in Potting Mixes, and improves the texture of clay soils. Here are benefits that you can see with its use in gardening

  1. Aids in aeration with loosening of soil
  2. Improves drainage
  3. Promotes root initiation and growth 
  4. Retain water but does not become soggy 
  5. Almost neutral pH 
  6. Non-Toxic and does not Decompose 
  7. Free from pests and diseases
  8. Insulates from temperature fluctuations 
  9. Inert 

Good Substitutes For Perlite

1. Pumice

Pumice is a light-colored, extremely porous rock with a foamy appearance. It is the closest substitute to perlite as it is also formed during explosive volcanic eruptions

Unlike other volcanic rock products for gardening like vermiculite and perlite, it is ready to use in its natural form, and no industrial processing is necessary for its use.

Advantages of Pumice over Perlite

  • Minimal damage from mining
  • Minimal processing
  • Heavy enough not to blow away
  • Improves aeration and drainage

Disadvantages of Pumice over Perlite

  • Can be dusty (especially finer grades)
  • Expensive
  • Not available easily
  • Pumice is slightly heavier than perlite, so it won’t float to the surface of your soil over time.
  • It is just as good as perlite for water-sensitive plants like succulents and cacti.
  • Does not retain as much water as vermiculite.
  • It also doesn’t decompose as coir and rice hulls do.

Check out Perlite vs Pumice in detail

Advantages to Adding Pumice to Your Garden

  • Pumice contains very few trace minerals, and does not break down. Instead of adding nutrients, pumice improves soil structure.
  • Loosens heavy soil. It also keeps the soil from compacting, even when laden with water, thereby improving aeration.
  • Improve drainage in any kind of soil, and prevents soil from becoming waterlogged even in heavy rains or excessive irrigation.
  • Fine-grained and retains excess moisture within its porous structure. It acts like a sponge, holding water until the plants need it. Then it releases that water steadily into the soil. Its unique structure can reduce your garden’s watering needs by up to 35%.
  • Pumice is also useful as an attractive, long-lasting, and beneficial mulch.
  • In addition to your compost pile to mitigate odors and regulate moisture, and mixed in your worm bin’s bedding.

2. Granite Gravel

Using Granite gravel as a complete substitute for perlite is not possible due to some different qualities. Although it may fulfill the same purpose. Granite is way heavier than perlite and for this reason, you cannot add too much to your pot, as it becomes too heavy. 

Advantages of Granite Gravel over Perlite

  • Does not wash away like perlite and is an attractive top dressing
  • Improves drainage and water retention
  • Prevents the soil from being compacted
  • Is heavy enough to prevent pots from being blown over by the wind
  • Can help with weed control, when used as a top dressing

Disadvantages of Granite over Perlite

  • It is too heavy to use exclusively in a container pot.
  • Poor choice for germinating plants.
  • Can be hard to source.

Advantages Of Adding Granite To Your Garden

  • Prevents the soil from compacting and keeps the soil aerated. Improves clay or boggy soils in the garden.
  • Does not wash away by heavy rains.
  • Granite contains nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Magnesium, and Calcium, which all benefit plants. 

3. Sand

Sand again shares some of the attributes of perlite. It is pH neutral, facilitates drainage, and is sterile. It is very good to add to your garden soil to avoid waterlogging and increase drainage.

Advantages of Sand Over Perlite

  • The disintegration of sand over time does not occur 
  • Sand is not manufactured and is, therefore, environment friendly
  • The higher the amount of sand in the soil, the fertilizer acts more quickly
  • Having sand in the soil makes tilling or digging in the garden soil easier and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or crops becomes easier

Disadvantages of Sand Over Perlite

  • Sand does make quite a mess and is not as easy to control as perlite
  • Washing away of sand by wind and water is a constant worry
  • Nutrient-wise, and cannot do much for the garden 

Advantages Of Adding Sand To Your Garden

  • Sand is less likely than perlite to be a host for carrying diseases or bacteria.
  • Sand is long-lasting.
  • Incorporating sand in the soil media helps it to heat up faster, which in turn warms up the soil for faster germination.
  • Sandy, loose soil is a better environment for root crops, as it makes it easier for the roots to push through the loose and light soil.

4. Horticultural Grit

Horticultural grit is just gravel that has been crushed. Often a variety of stones are also used to make it. Horticultural grit is bits of small particles measuring 1 to 7 mm, used mainly for plant soil mixes. 

Advantages of Horticultural Grit over Perlite

  • Grit produces less dust than perlite and is environmentally friendly
  • Horticultural grit is cheaper in price than perlite and longer lasting 
  • Being natural, horticultural grit is non-hazardous, perlite though is manufactured and comes with a fine layer of dust that can be a hazard if inhaled
  • Enriches the soil with minerals that perlite does not possess

Disadvantages of Horticultural Grit Over Perlite

  • Is heavier than perlite, making your pot plant quite heavy to carry around
  • Horticultural grit dries out quickly faster than perlite 

Advantages Of Adding Horticultural Grit To Your Garden

  • Loosens up the soil for plant roots to maneuver.  
  • It greatly improves air circulation within the soil. 
  • Better drainage, keeping water away from roots but still providing moisture.

5. Rice Husks

Parboiled rice husks can replace perlite in potting soil mixes. It is nutritious, lightweight, natural, and environment-friendly. It keeps the soil airy, aids drainage, and keeps the soil from becoming too compact.

Advantages of Rice Husks Over Perlite

  • Excellent source of nutrients. Perlite is sterile and is not beneficial to plants or soil, nutrient wise
  • Is a good source of Silicon content that benefits plants. It increases their immunity to fight disease
  • Rice husks improve the texture of the soils

Disadvantages of Rice Husks Over Perlite

  • Rice husks are not as easy to find in large amounts as perlite
  • They are not as long-lasting as perlite as they begin to decompose after a few years
  • As they decompose the soil becomes compact again
  • Rice husks can cause a Nitrogen deficiency in the soil
  • A major drawback to rice husks is that if it rains all your rice husks will float away with the water
  • You have to boil the rice husks to ensure their sterility, or they could become disease carriers

Advantages Of Adding Rice Husks To Your Garden

  • Useable as a mulch, it will discourage weeds too.
  • High in nutritional value.
  • Working with the husks does not pose a hazard to your health, unlike perlite which can give you respiratory issues and eye irritation.
  • It contains Silicon which helps growing media aid in fighting stress and drought. 

6. Vermiculite

This growing medium is outstanding when it comes to water retention. Also, it is sterile and nontoxic. Vermiculite shares some qualities with perlite in that it is lightweight, pH neutral, and does not decompose. Vermiculite has actually greater absorption power than perlite.

Advantages of Vermiculite Over Perlite

  • Does not decompose, and provides aeration necessary for the soil and plants
  • Its low cost, making it popular for growing houseplants, herbs, microgreens, and hydroponics 
  • Vermiculite is better than perlite for water and nutrient retention
  • It is non-toxic and protects seedlings from fungal diseases
  • It can absorb up to 3 to 4 times its weight in water 
  • Due to its moisture-retaining qualities, vermiculite is most suitable for moisture-loving plants like ferns and orchids 

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Disadvantages of Vermiculite Over Perlite

  • Perlite is less expensive than vermiculite
  • Vermiculite can retain too much moisture, which can affect cacti and plants that don’t need too much water
  • Once wet vermiculite can lose its structure and break down or disintegrate

Advantages Of Adding Vermiculite To Your Garden

  • You can add vermiculite to your garden soil to condition and improve the soil quality.
  • Medium-grade vermiculite is suitable to root cuttings.
  • As vermiculite is sterile and is good at retaining water it can be used for seed germination.

7. Bark

Pine bark is one of the main ingredients in commercial potting mixes. It prevents soil from complete compaction. Additionally, it offers good drainage, retains moisture, and releases nutrients into the soil. Pine bark has long been useful as a growth medium for almost all orchids.

Advantages of Bark over Perlite

  • The bark is a natural, nontoxic, and renewable resource, and biodegradable
  • It is suitable for acidic plants like ferns, magnolias, and carnivorous plants
  • Easy to obtain bark and cheap
  • Is lighter than perlite. Your potted plants will not be so heavy to carry

Disadvantages of Bark over Perlite

  • Does not retain as much moisture as perlite
  • Will disintegrate over time
  • Can carry pathogens and diseases, whereas perlite is pest free and sterile
  • If not treated it can attract termites and other bugs
  • Bark has a higher pH level than perlite

Advantages Of Adding Bark To Your Garden

  • Bark added to your garden soil helps to regulate the temperature, and helps against extreme heat.
  • Disintegrating bark improves the soil structure.
  • While disintegrating in the soil essential nutrients and elements are added to the soil.
  • Helps retain moisture for longer periods.
  • Discourages the growth of weeds.
  • Reduces runoff during thunderstorms by absorbing a lot of water.
  • Makes your garden look attractive. 

Want to know how long dried Lavender lasts?

8. Coconut Husks or Coir

Coconut husks or coir is a very good substitute for perlite. Whether you use the coir or husks doesn’t really matter. Both are good at water retention and are porous. It is also a natural and sustainable product. 

Advantages of Coconut Husks/Coir Over Perlite

  • Coconut husks or coir are not a health risk as perlite
  • The coconut soil media is sustainable and simple to use 
  • It has excellent water retaining properties. Coir can retain more water than perlite
  • Coir or husks are airy and offer good air circulation. Perlite does not allow for air circulation 
  • Coconut husks or coir are pH neutral
  • Different sizes to choose from, there are coconut peat, coir, and husks
  • No artificial ingredients are used in this product  

Disadvantages of Coconut Husks/Coir Over Perlite 

  • Can be hard to get your hands on coconut husks or coir. Perlite is more readily available
  • Does not contain any nutrients which mean you have to do your own fertilizing
  • Coconut media is acidic, whereas perlite is neutral
  • The coconut media contains a high salt content
  • Coconut growing media is too light to use in your big container plants as it is very likely to get blown away in strong winds
  • Coconut decomposes over time, perlite does not 

Advantages Of Adding Coconut Husk/Coir To Your Garden

  • Coconut growing mediums are not harmful to the lungs of people, as well as their eyes as perlite is. 
  • Coconut coir and husks are sustainable.
  • Coconut products can contain pathogens if not sterilized. Perlite on the other hand is sterile and contamination free.

9. Cat Litter

It is quite okay to use kitty litter in your plants, as long as it has not been used by your feline!  Most cat litter is porous and well-draining and can be used with other soil mediums like peat, coconut peat, and potting mix from the nursery or your local store. Fresh cat litter is not toxic to plants.

Advantages of Cat Litter Over Perlite

  • Cat litter is a good amendment for soil that is compacted, as it provides aeration to the soil
  • The litter is great at absorbing water
  • Clay-based cat litter contains nutrients such as Iron, Zinc, Calcium, and Copper which can benefit plants. Perlite does not contain any nutrients
  • Clay-based and sand-based litter are relatively cheap to obtain and there is a large variety to choose from 

Disadvantages of Cat Litter Over Perlite

  • Not all cat litter is suitable as a plant-growing media and some can be harmful to the plant
  • You cannot use a litter that has been used by your feline as cat feces contain organisms that are harmful to humans. No such problem with perlite as it is sterile
  • You cannot use a litter that contains chemicals like perfumes and dyes 

Advantages Of Adding Cat Litter To Your Garden

  • It is a good substitute for gardening over perlite. It provides good water retention and drainage.
  • The easy availability of cat litter makes it a suitable backup plant in the garden.
  • It is best to place cat litter in areas where you don’t want much moisture due to its ability to soak up liquids. 

10. Calcined Clay

This is a soil additive trading under the brand name Turface. It is used on sports fields and golf courses as a substitute for perlite. Calcined clay is derived from clay that is heated at temperatures of 1500℉ to expand the clay. 

Advantages of Calcined Clay Over Perlite

  • Calcined clay like perlite is good for water retention, but the clay is more absorbent, in fact, it can hold water equal to its weight
  • Calcined clay is heavier than perlite and therefore less likely to be washed away
  • It aerates the soil and holds enough moisture
  • By mixing it in your potting soil, it can help prevent root rot and other diseases caused by excess moisture

Disadvantages of Calcined Clay Over Perlite

  • Working too much with calcined clay can prove to be unhealthy as it contains Silica which can scar your lung tissue and reduce your breathing capacity
  • Not as popular as other media for use in container plants 

Advantages Of Adding Calcined Clay To Your Garden

  • It is very good at retaining water.
  • Particularly good when used over large areas of lawn as it prevents it from getting waterlogged by improving drainage
  • Good for potted plants like bonsai and cacti 

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11. Poultry Grit

This soil substitute was initially formulated for chickens as it aids the birds in food digestion. It also supplies them with necessary minerals for the formation of healthy egg shells. Made from granite, the grits are pH neutral and completely natural. 

Advantages of Poultry Grit Over Perlite

  • This is a sustainable and organic product
  • It does not contain any additives or chemicals
  • Besides being crushed it does not go through a manufacturing process
  • Just like perlite, it is porous and well-draining while aerating soil
  • It is heavier than perlite. So, it can add weight to your flower pot and stop it from getting blown away by the wind 
  • Poultry grit when used as a top dressing can discourage weeds 
  • Grit aids the soil in balancing the pH and releasing nutrients into the soil 

Disadvantages of Poultry Grit Over Perlite

  • Poultry grit is too heavy to be used exclusively in containers, due to their weight 
  • Grit will be unsuitable for the germination of seeds because the weight of the grit will make it hard for the seedlings to push their way up from the media
  • It helps aerate loamy or clay-like soils

Advantages Of adding Poultry Grit To Your Garden

  • A very good medium to increase aeration and drainage to your garden soil
  • Is non-toxic and contaminant free, making it eco-friendly 
  • Poultry grit will not wash away even in heavy rains
  • The grit imparts minerals to the soil 

12. Clay Pebbles/Leca

Another great substitute for perlite is clay pebbles. They are also known as Leca which is the abbreviated name for Light Expanded Clay Aggregate. 

The clay is formed into small balls and then fired at temperatures of 1200℃. This causes the clay to expand and create small fissures throughout the clay ball. The clay balls are available in various sizes.

Advantages of Clay Pebbles Over Perlite

  • The clay balls provide necessary aeration for plants. Some plants like orchids can be grown entirely in clay balls as they like air circulation
  • Improve drainage
  • The clay balls can be reused many times
  • They can be found online or at garden centers
  • Clay pebbles do not disintegrate
  • They are user-friendly and do not make a mess.
  • They are environment friendly

Disadvantages of Clay Pebbles Over Perlite

  • They take up more space than perlite because of their larger size
  • Can be fragile when dry and of low quality 
  • It may not be as easily available as perlite 
  • Quite expensive when compared to perlite  

Advantages Of Adding Clay Pebbles to Your Garden

  • Can help to overcome extreme drought in potted plants.
  • They are most effective when growing plants that need a lot of air while growing (especially for their roots).
  • You can use them over and over again, this can be very cost-efficient. 
  • Size options make it easier to choose which one is suitable for your garden.

13. Crushed Shell

Anyone who composts would know that egg shells are a great addition to the garden. But, I bet you didn’t know that they can be used as a substitute for perlite in certain scenarios. Well, it may not be the best option but one you can still consider.  

Advantages of Crushed Shell Over Perlite

  • Shell is an excellent calcium substitute 
  • Its lightweight nature leads to less space usage 
  • Cost-efficient and easy to source 
  • Water passes through egg shells rapidly making it ideal for succulents which do well with little moisture 

Disadvantages of Crushed Shell Over Perlite

  • A crushed shell does not do enough to help soil aeration 
  • The eggshells end up sticking together which can inhibit equal distribution of compounds, soil, and even water 
  • Using a lot of shells in the soil can provide too much Calcium 
  • Not long-lived as it disintegrates and breaks down over time 

Advantages Of Adding Crushed Shell to Your Garden

  • Increases fertility of your soil by providing Calcium
  • Broken down in relatively little time meaning you will have to add something else to the soil 
  • Unlike adding fertilizer or concentrated compounds, egg shells are as natural a substitute as you can find 
  • Affordable and naturally created in any household  

14. Cactus Mix with Pea Gravel 

Pea gravel gets its name from the small sizes of the stones and their smooth texture. Apart from being widely used to grow cacti, it also serves as a material useful for paving the driveway and the patio region. 

Advantages of Cactus Mix and Pea Gravel Over Perlite

  • Affordably priced
  • Rodents cannot scratch through pea gravel
  • Inhibits the growth of weeds

Disadvantages of Cactus Mix and Pea Gravel Over Perlite

  • Difficult to remove from the soil if you choose to 
  • Not preferred by everyone as it bets suits succulents not other water-thirsty plants 

Advantages Of Adding Cactus Mix and Pea Gravel to Your Garden

  • Excellent growth media for succulents such as cacti which don’t like much water for long periods of time 
  • Doesn’t hold too much water if you have plants that do not have high water requirements 

15. Peat

Many people will know this by the name Sphagnum moss. In fact, peat comes as a common ingredient in many soil mixes. You can probably find it easily and it can be used to replace soil completely when growing certain plants. 

Advantages of Peat Over Perlite

  • Offer high water retention
  • Does well to avoid soil compaction due to its fibrous nature
  • Works to retain nutrients and minerals 
  • It is biodegradable 

Disadvantages of Peat Over Perlite

  • Not eco-friendly as it has to be mined from the ground which disrupts the environment 
  • Lets off an acidic pH which can be damaging depending on which plants you are growing
  • It may not be as affordable given the recovery process 

Advantages Of Adding Peat to Your Garden

  • Peat has long been great for helping to keep moisture in the soil 
  • Despite the fact that it needs to be mined, peat is actually biodegradable 
  • Greatly improves soil quality by improving fertility 
  • Peat can be added to any soil mix and this, in turn, can be used to grow any plant, vegetable, and fruit 

Can You Use Styrofoam Instead of Perlite? Here’s the Truth!

The question of using styrofoam as a substitute for perlite has long been a debate. Some people approve while others are appalled at the thought!

Styrofoam is not organic, differs in water holding potential, and compacts after time. However, styrofoam does improve drainage and can be long-lasting.

The biggest reason why people are reluctant to use styrofoam is the fact that it is light enough to be blown away. Also, it is literally plastic since it does not decompose and has no way of being recycled. Meaning it is just polluting your soil! 

The choice is yours to use Styrofoam instead of Perlite, but also think of the consequences! 

Conclusion

If you don’t have access to perlite, you may instantly think what’s the next best alternative? There are actually many alternatives, these are 15 alternatives to using perlite for the garden. 

  1. Pumice
  2. Granite gravel
  3. Sand
  4. Horticultural grit
  5. Rice husks
  6. Vermiculite
  7. Bark
  8. Coconut Husks or Coir
  9. Cat litter
  10. Calcined clay
  11. Poultry grit
  12. Clay pebbles
  13. Crushed shell
  14. Cactus mix with pea gravel
  15. Peat

Judging by what you are growing with it, you can weigh the pros and cons and choose which one will suit your garden best.