Every once in a while a new product comes down the gardening path, something that makes us sit up and take notice. It has to be something novel, something that makes a real difference in the way we garden and can improve how we garden. The time is now and that product is a lightweight soil enhancement/replacement made in this country of recycled glass. It is called Growstones.

On paper Growstones sound nice. That it is a safe and sustainable product and that it is available in four forms is impressive even. And any gardener would agree that the fact that it works to hold 30 percent of its volume in water and 50 percent of that volume as air after irrigation is even more important. But until you actually get a bag of it in your hands you really cannot appreciate what it is and imagine its potential. This stuff is as light as air, and the things it can do mean pure inspiration for gardeners.

Growstones come in four product forms: Coco Mix, Mix This! soil aerator, GrowStones hydroponic growth medium and Gnat Nix! All are made from finely crushed glass that is baked, cooled and broken into different sized “stones” for the various horticultural applications. Unlike soil aerators such as perlite which is mined, and has been linked with health concern issues or beads of styrofoam which are made from petrochemicals and come with obvious environmental issues, Growstones are made from recycled glass.

Gnat Nix!, a decorative top dressing for potted plants that not only looks great, but which also controls pesky fungus gnats — prevents them without chemicals by providing a physical barrier that impedes adult emergence from hatching larvae and deters females from laying eggs in the growing media. It interrupts the lifecycle of fungus gnats. Think about that. Easy peasie, no gnats and no chemicals — all from a product made of recycled glass. The effect of Gnat Nix! on fungus gnats has been studied by Kansas State University researchers working with Growstone products.

Plus Gnat Nix! is also a good choice to use as a top layer when starting seeds. Of course it stops gnats in their tracks, and like all other Growstone products it releases silica over time. And this is where Growstones become interesting, very interesting. Soluble silicon has been found to actually improve plant’s resistance to things such as drought, salinity, heat and — get this — leaf damage from chewing insects. You read that right, chewing insects.

It’s a fairly complex physiological process associated with plants taking up silicon that Dr. Paula Costa, Growstone’s director of research and development described. The role of soluble silicon as a beneficial element to plants has been controversial in the past, she explained. But additional in-depth studies by universities and the USDA have shown its actual benefit in drought and salinity tolerance and a reduction in incidences of certain pests and diseases.

“Because Growstone already contains silica in a form usable by plants, plants grown in Growstones have this built-in protection available right in the medium — without needing to add any extra source of silica,” said Dr. Costa.

In simple terms, soluble silica is taken in by roots and works within the plant and increases the waxy layer of a leaf’s cuticle. The effect on plants varies from plant to plant and species to species. But this is big, really big.

Naturally the first thing that occurred to me when this reaction was described was — slugs! We know the kind of damage slugs can do in no time flat. Alas Dr. Costa said there had not been any research done on how slugs react to Growstones — not yet. (But I think she might be suspecting some additional product use there.)

Also, just imagine seedlings that have been nurtured in the silica-rich environment of the Growstones’ using Gnat Nix! as a germination layer for example. To begin with their leaves would be more resistant to water stress, heat and possibly to pests. But then picture a barrier layer of Gnat Nix! added to the garden when those seedlings go into the ground. The actual texture of this stuff is bound to be abhorrent to slugs. See what I mean about inspiration?

Or imagine using the Growstone Coco Mix in place of soil in potted plants. If you’ve ever struggled to move a large container full of soil and plants from one spot to another, you know how heavy that can be. A blend of washed and buffed coco coir, Growstones, sustainable redwood fiber and Mycorrhizae, this mix could revolutionize container culture. Not only does this product drastically reduce the weight, it can also provide plants with a super-aerated root zone for unimpeded strong growth, no compaction or root rot. This what I am talking about. Something new that does things better and better.

For those who want to create their own growing medium, another Growstone item, Mix This! can be added to any soil mix to provide enhanced aeration while eliminating overwatering, and also protecting against root rot.

Both the hydroponic growth medium Hydro Stones and soil aerator Mix This! can be used for pot drainage layers for all sizes of containers. Growstone claims that no other product delivers and maintains such a balance between moisture and air.

“Plants need air as much as they need water for optimum growth,” said Dr. Costa. “Growstone does both. It holds 30 percent of its volume in water and 50 percent in air after irrigation. That means that when blended with potting soil, Mix This! or Hydro Stones, deliver all the aeration and fast drainage roots need, while providing available water. It’s the best of both worlds.”

And then there are orchids and succulents.

“There have not been any formal trials (on orchids in Growstones),” said Dr. Costa. “But I have quite a few of my orchids in Growstones. The Hydro Stones (the largest pebbles of Growstone ostensibly used for hydroponic growing applications) are the best for orchids, offering an ideal anchor for orchids.” Dr. Costa was referring to the epiphyte orchids, but I’d bet that the terrestrial orchids and the phalaenopsis varieties that prefer their roots to stay moist, would be great in the Coco Mix. Another great advantage is that unlike bark or other orchid growing medium, Growstones do not break down over time.

“Also we did do some formal trials on succulents and they did really well in Growstones,” Dr. Costa added. Growstones can be used in many ways. Are you getting inspired yet? For even more information on Growstones, go to the company website: www.growstone.com.

Let’s review: Growstones are lightweight, versatile, made from recycled glass, release silica over time, strengthen plants, repel insects, reduce disease, hold water and increase root aeration, eliminate root rot and eliminate compaction in blends. Okay, so now you want to know where to get Growstones. First check with your favorite garden center in the hydroponic section. If it does not carry them, ask them to. Or you can find Growstsones on Amazon.com. How will you use Growstones to lighten up your garden?

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.