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Charcoal has many uses: from starting fires and helping chefs get that perfect smoky flavor to acting as a medium for fine art, to even being a trendy health food accessory. But did you know you can use charcoal for your plants? Follow this quick guide to find out how you can use charcoal to help your succulents thrive:
The type of charcoal we’ll be talking about is activated charcoal, also called activated carbon. The charcoal itself has to be fired at extremely high temperatures to create hundreds of tiny pores in each charcoal particle to make activated charcoal. This makes the activated charcoal highly absorbent since each particle has a large surface area and many pores for liquid to enter.
Activated charcoal plays a role in water purification, emergency detoxification in medicine, waste removal, making cosmetics, and refining precious metals.
Activated charcoal is a general type of charcoal, and it can be made from a few different materials in a few different ways:
This type of activated charcoal is produced by making charcoal from coconut shells and then firing that charcoal again to create activated charcoal. This type of activated charcoal is highly porous and absorbent, has lower dust content than other kinds of activated charcoal, and has very low ash content. Coconut shell-based charcoal is also a renewable resource, as long as you have a supply of dried coconut shells.
Coal-based activated charcoal is made using coal, a fossil fuel composed of condensed carbon materials like peat. This type of activated charcoal is known for its regularly consistent density and low dust content.
Wood-base activated charcoal is a middleman between coal-based and coconut shell-base. Renewable and relatively low dust content, wood-based charcoal has a widely varied set of pores.
When making activated charcoal, there are a couple of ways of doing so, one of which is through creating a class of carbon called “catalytic carbon.” Catalytic carbon is produced by altering the charcoal’s surface structure with gasses while heating the charcoal itself– the most common way to create activated charcoal.
Impregnated charcoal is created by using a variety of chemicals to modify the charcoal’s surface structure. This kind of activated charcoal has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and is often used in small amounts for water purification. Impregnated charcoal can also be treated via gas purification to remove chemicals like formaldehyde and ammonia.
For succulents, activated charcoal has a few uses in the garden, all of which require mixing it into the soil. You don’t need a lot, just a teaspoon or two per pot:
As a pest repellent, activated charcoal is one of the best natural remedies out there. The charcoal is excellent for absorbing bacteria associated with foul smells (just like its use in water purification). Typically, foul odors are associated with root rot, mold growth, and other common side effects of overwatering. Activated charcoal can help repel pests attracted to moist soil and overwater plants like fungal gnats.
Not all types of activated charcoal are effective as fertilizers on their own, but when coconut shell-base activated charcoal powder is mixed with fertilizer, you’ll find it can help rid the soil of impurities and occasionally nourish your plants. When making a potting mix, we recommend adding a tablespoon of activated charcoal alongside your organic substance to help remove any harmful chemicals like ammonia or sulfates.
The most common use for activated charcoal in gardening is to help improve drainage. Since activated charcoal is so porous, it makes an excellent addition to any soil base to increase drainage. Putting activated charcoal near the bottom of your pot or mixing the activated charcoal powder into your soil allows the charcoal to absorb any excess or stagnant water in your pot. While this isn’t a cure for chronic overwatering, it can certainly help reduce the risk. The increase in drainage can also improve soil air circulation.
There are a few ways to go about adding activated charcoal into your plant care routine. For example, you can add activated charcoal powder to your potting mix for improving drainage, or you can place larger chunks of activated charcoal at the bottom of your pot.
When adding powdered activated charcoal to your soil, be sure to only use a small amount (say, a teaspoon per cup of soil) to the mixture. That way, your soil will still contain plenty of nutrients to grow. If you're using powdered activated charcoal as a pest repellent, consider sprinkling some on top of your soil as well.
Activated charcoal is so good for absorbing water and improving drainage because of the many tiny pores in the material. Not every type of charcoal has these kinds of pores, so when you look into buying charcoal for your plants, always look for “activated charcoal” specifically.
The charcoal you use for grilling is not the same as charcoal for plants. Consider visiting a garden center to find the exact type of charcoal you’re looking for.
We also recommend looking into how your activated charcoal is made. This may require some research, but looking into what certain brands use when making their activated charcoal can help you determine which kinds of charcoal your succulents need. Overall, we recommend activated charcoal produced from coconut shells and treated by catalytic reactions. This way, your charcoal remains completely renewable and free of potentially harmful chemicals as impregnated charcoals contain chemicals that may harm your succulents.