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Have you ever scrolled through the list on your bag of potting mix, researched hydroponic gardening systems, or browsed through gardening forums? Then you must have seen the word coconut coir.
Now you wonder 🤔 what it is and why you should use it. The simple answer to the questions is that it is a natural fiber that takes the world of horticulture by storm as it is a growing medium for you to use.
Coconut coir uses the term coco coir fiber and works well for container gardening, commercial nurseries, hydroponic growers, and farm growers.
It is a popular growing medium because of how sustainable it is and has a lot of benefits similar to peat moss and soil.
So today, we are going to explore the coconut coir product a bit more in detail.
How is Coconut Fiber Produced?
Most parts like India and Sri Lanka are left with waste known as fibrous coconut husks when they harvest coconut. Hence, that waste is made into different coconut coir products to reduce waste.
So, all parts of the coconut, from the husks to the inner coconut shells, used to be discarded without thinking.
But now brown coir fiber and white fiber found between that shell to the outer husk of the seed are used to make different gardening products for potted plants and soil gardening.
How The Waste Product is Processed Into Coco Coir
First, the coconut husk is soaked in freshwater or even salt water to help soften it. If people use tidal waters, they will absorb the salt and must be flushed later to make horticultural coir.
Now that the husks are soft, they remove the coir from the husk to lay it out and leave it to dry for a long time. It can take up to a year and depends on the location conditions and the coir thickness.
The longer the fibrous material matures, you get the better quality of your final product. The manufacturers will then form the coir into bales for processing in various formats.
You may find that some people sterilize the coir before packaging it, while others do not do this as it kills the beneficial bacteria present.
Different Types of Coir Fiber Products Available
During the manufacturing stage of coco coir, you find different variations that affect the shape and size of your end product that tailors for specific needs. But you do get three common cococoir products as follows:
The coconut pith is the coco peat version and looks like fine coir dust, similar to coconut husks or peat moss. The product must be aged and then rinsed to help prevent the release of salt when used. Coco peat you find mainly in a potting mix or soil conditioner is not recommended as a growing medium as it holds too much water and will drown your plant roots.
After drying the coir, they remove the long fibers from the husks to use without any further processing. You find these fibers as lining in hanging baskets. In the form, the fiber does not provide a lot of moisture retention as your processed coconut coir but can help improve drainage and porosity in a potting mix or garden soil.
The coconut chips are a product between the coco fiber and coir pith and act as natural expandable clay pellets. The pellets are large enough to create air pockets in a growing media or soil to help retain moisture while improving drainage.
What Are The Pros And Cons of Coco Coir?
When you use compressed coconut coir bricks or any other form of coco coir, it has many benefits as it provides excellent water retention and, unlike peat moss, it can absorb ten times its weight when in the water while still providing an open pore space for the oxygen to move.
Benefits of Coconut Soil
There are many benefits when you purchase coconut coir:
Using coco chips has a slower breakdown than other organic fertilizers used in a potting mix or to amend soils. Hence, replacing or regenerating it is done less often.
It is much more economical for shipping as it can be compressed to 1/5 of the size in a coir brick.
In potting mixes, coconut coir provides water retention, aeration, and soil drainage to give plant roots enough room to grow with oxygen.
Coconut coir has a pH level close to neutral, between 5.2 to 6.8, and it will not affect nutrient availability.
Furthermore, coconut coir has antifungal properties to reduce fungal growth or damage seedlings.
Coconut coir also promotes beneficial bacterial growth in the root zone as it has natural lignins. It also promotes root health with the hormones to bio-stimulants present when growing plants.
Some coco coir can contain essential nutrients like iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc for hydroponic systems.
When it dries, you can easily rewet it again, and as it is a renewable resource, it can reduce wastage when processing the coconut seed into husks.
Manufacturers make coco coir into coir brick and need rehydration to bring the fibrous husks back to life.
Drawbacks of Coconut Coir
Still, with all the benefits of purchasing coconut coir, you also have some drawbacks, as seen here:
Regarding plant growth, coconut harvesting to make coco coir does not always provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium, so you must fertilize your plants.
A net negative charge is also known as high cation exchange capacity or CEC on the fiber. While good, it tends to grab iron, magnesium, and calcium and is not always available for your plants.
Growing plants in the coconut coir helps with water retention to drainage in clay soil, but the downside is that it does not form a structure to keep your plants upright, and you will need to stake them.
Depending on the water method used to soak the inner shell fibers, it can contain salt in lower-quality products that can harm your plants.
You may also find some lower quality coco coir products are treated with a chemical agent to help prevent bacterial growth, and you will need to soak them first to remove the harmful chemicals.
How Do You Use Coco Coir
Coco coir works in different ways, making it a multi-function product at home.
You can use coco coir as a soilless potting mix to mix with components like perlite, vermiculite, worm castings, or other organic material in compost to peat moss to create soil.
Use it to amend the garden soil to increase clay or sandy soil drainage.
You can use it as a started mix for seed or propagating roots and cuttings.
Use it as a hydroponic growing medium to help support roots in the system as the pH is neutral and needs no correction before use, while it has a high CEC when you add nutrients to keep it around the root zone in a hydroponic system.
It works well for growing exotic plants like ferns, orchids, etc.
It is environmentally friendly to use in the garden or containers.
How Not to Use Coconut Coir
Well, there are a few recommendations for when you should not use coconut coir. You can use it on its own when starting seeds or rooting plants for hydroponic gardening and exotic plants. But we do not recommend using coconut coir as a growing media on its own, and best mixed with other components like sandy soils, compost, pine bark, and more.
What is Better, Coco Coir or Peat Moss
The popularity of coconut fibers is mainly attributed to using the material found in peat moss.
The main drawback with sphagnum peat moss is that it is non-renewable, and many people, from wetland scientists to botanists, want a complete boycott of peat and its byproducts.
The other is an environmental concern when harvesting the peat bogs across parts of the United States and Canada.
In the bog lands where peats are harvested, you find a significant percentage of carbon, about 10% of the earth’s fixed carbon.
When harvesting peat, it releases carbon into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Hence, the interest is moving toward using coconut coir as its replacement.
The reason is that coco coir is an excellent sustainable alternative and renewable.
Adding hydroponic nutrients provides food to the plants, and in the garden, it helps reduce waste when harvesting a ripe coconut.
Here you have seen many reasons why coco coir makes for an excellent addition to the garden. It has outstanding water retention, ample aeration, good drainage, and is close to a neutral pH. It is naturally antibacterial and so much more.
It is a renewable resource that is slowly taking over the use of peat in a potting mix. So, invest in a coco coir brick next time you want a seed starting mix to propagate plants, or even need it for hydroponic gardening.
It makes for an excellent soil amendment in potting soil. What do you think?
Frequently Asked Questions
Coco coir provides many uses in the garden, and one is soil amendment as it provides soil drainage and is a medium that allows plants to grow. It acts as a natural seed starting potting soil.
Coco peat is high in potassium and sodium, beneficial to certain plants, but too much can cause problems. Adding too much sodium will cause leaf burn while it can also become waterlogged, and you need to mix it with other growing materials like perlite or vermiculite.
Coco coir is the byproduct of fiber and is between the external husk and coconut threads. Most of the coconut is used in different products, but coco coir used to go to waste but is now set aside for use in the garden.
Whether you have sandy to clay soils, you can water them as you see fit, which helps insulate the roots. The main benefit is that coco coir aids in healthy root development and is used as an amendment in potting soils. The coco coir provides air pockets allowing for space for the roots to grow.
The husk of the coconut goes through different processes to create coco coir to use in your existing soil to help retain moisture and drainage.
It is versatile to use in the ground to help with natural drainage and moisture retention, as it can loosen the clay texture to sand.