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February 2008
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Using perlite in the garden

Perlite is a unique volcanic mineral which expands from four to twenty times its original volume when it is quickly heated to a temperature of approximately 1600-1700degrees F. This expansion is due to the presence of two to six percent combined water in the crude perlite rock which causes the perlite to pop in a manner similar to that of popcorn. When expanded, each granular, snow-white particle of perlite is sterile with a neutral pH and contains many tiny, closed cells or bubbles.
These surface cavities trap moisture and make it available to plant roots. In addition, because of the physical shape of each particle or perlite, air passages are formed in the growing media thereby providing excellent aeration.
Perlite is an ideal compost additive as it helps to retain air in the compost which is essential for healthy root development. Horticultural perlite can can help the home gardener solve a multitude of common problems. In addition to promoting drainage and aeration in heavy clay soils, horticultural perlite provides optimum moisture retention for successful plant growth.
When horticultural perlite is added to heavy clay soils, water ponding and surface crusting may be eliminated. In addition, plant roots may more easily penetrate the perlite/soil growing media and develop more fully. Horticultural perlite can be particularly advantageous in modifying the structure of general garden soil, patio plantings, and roofscapes.
Horticultural perlite is an ideal material for patio planting in container boxes, tubs and ornamental containers. Because a perlite soil mix is light in weight, handling headaches are reduced as planters filled with a perlite soil mix may be easily moved to rearrange a patio planting display or to protect plants against adverse weather. A suggested soil mix for patio planters is 1/3 horticultural
perlite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 composted wood product such as bark or shavings. Patio plantings will require more frequent watering than garden plantings as they tend to dry out faster.
For the apartment dweller with a limited outdoor roof garden, perlite can be of enormous benefit. The weight of planting mixes is very important when the strength of the supporting structure must be considered, and a soil mix containing perlite can be much lighter. This enables the rooftop gardener to grow larger trees. shrubs, and plants and to have more extensive gardens.
Overall, the advantages of perlite are:
# Improves aeration and drainage
# Makes moisture and nutrients readily available to plants
# Is inorganic and does not deteriorate.
# Has an essentially neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
# Serves as an insulator to reduce extreme soil temperature fluctuations.
# Is sterile and free of weeds and disease.
# Is clean, odorless, lightweight, and safe to handle.
# Makes for a lighter soil mixture leading to easier handling when the plant is in a container

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