Perlite is a kind of volcanic glass. For those who are curious, it tends to have been created by the hydration of obsidian, though there are other potential ways by which it was created as well. Regardless, the result is a volcanic glass with a very high water content, which is but one of its interesting characteristics.
Another example would be the fact that it is possible to “pop” perlite by exposing it to high temperatures. In short, what happens is that the high temperatures cause the water content of the volcanic glass to vaporize, with the result that it forces the material to expand between 7 and 16 times its original volume. The resulting material is very lightweight, which makes sense considering the countless air compartments that can be found within it.
Regardless, while perlite is very interesting, it has a lot of practical usefulness as well. In fact, it should be mentioned that perlite is produced by a number of countries such as China, Greece, Turkey, and the United States, seeing as how there is a receptive market because of both its low density and its low cost nature. In some cases, people will use perlite to make concrete, mortar, and insulation, which are but some of its potential uses in the field of construction. Meanwhile, other cases will see perlite being used as a filtration aid, which is a role for which it has been becoming more and more popular in recent times. On top of this, perlite even sees use in everything from ceramics to cryogenics and various uses in biotech.
Why Should You Consider Using Perlite?
With that said, for most people, chances are good that perlite is most familiar to them because of its use in gardening. In fact, people who garden might have already seen perlite in bags of commercial potting mix, which should show up as small white specks mixed into the rest of the materials. As for why perlite is included in these commercial potting mixes, well, there are a number of reasons for that.
First, perlite can be used to make a natural drainage system. It will let excessive moisture drain away so that it will be trapped where it can cause serious problem for the roots of plants. However, its cracks and crevices will still enable it to trap a fair amount of the water as well as its nutrients, thus ensuring that the plants will still have a reserve to feed off of. Better still, perlite can help provide this function in a wide range of contexts, which includes the ground, container gardens, and raised beds.
Second, perlite makes for better airflow. This is beneficial for plants because their roots need air for them to flourish. Furthermore, this is beneficial for any worms and other beneficial organisms living in the soil, which need air for much the same reason.
Third, perlite is a volcanic glass, meaning that it is harder than most of the other materials that make up the soil. As such, it can slow down the rate at which the soil becomes compact, thus enabling it to maintain a fluffy and lightweight constitution for superior growth for certain plants than otherwise possible.
With that said, just because perlite is useful, it doesn’t mean that interested individuals will want to toss in whatever perlite they can find into the mix. For example, interested individuals have a choice between perlite of different grades, which can range from coarse to medium to fine. Coarse-grade perlite has the greatest air porosity, thus enabling the roots to breathe well. Due to this, it is popular for people who are growing succulents as well as some other kinds of plants. In contrast, finer-grade perlite tends to see more use in seed starting mixes as well as for sprinkling onto lawns so that it will work its way down into the soil over time. At the end of the day, different grades have different uses, meaning that interested individuals will need to look further into which grades are most suitable for their particular purposes.
Be warned that perlite is considered to be a nuisance dust, meaning that it can cause irritation in the eyes as well as the respiratory system. As such, interested individuals might want to wear eye and mouth protection to protect themselves, which is particularly true if they are planning to make their own mixes incorporating perlite.