What is Coco Coir and Why is it Useful for Your Garden?

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Coco coir is a sustainably sourced growing medium derived from coconut fibers.

It’s a superior growing media to peat moss. It also has a nearly neutral pH as well as many other properties that promote healthy plant growth.

It’s not just for hydroponic setups either. You can use it in the garden, potted plants, and hangers.

Read along to learn more about this unique growing medium and its many forms.

What is Coco Coir?

Coco coir is a natural fiber derived from dense coconut husks. Once harvested, coco coir is used to create gardening products, including coir fiber, chips, and pith.

Its strong growing capabilities make it a popular soil additive as well as a rich hydroponic growing base. Even if you are not familiar with coco coir, you may have already come across it in potting soil or other growing mediums.

Coco fibers provide plants with proper aeration and drainage. They also retain water well. Many hydroponic growers choose coco coir because of its bacteria- and mildew-resistant properties.

Coco coir also contains many beneficial nutrients. Many growers choose coir because it stimulates plant growth and promotes healthy harvests.

What are the Benefits of Using Coco Coir?

In the section below, you’ll find the pros of this unique growing medium.

Water Retention

Coco coir is capable of holding an average of 10 times its weight in water. Its ability to retain water makes it a popular additive for a hanging basket, container plants, potting soils.

It’s also capable of being a standalone growing medium in hydroponic growing setups. It can hold almost 30% more water than peat moss.

Aeration and Drainage

Coco coir is also a popular soil amendment used to stimulate aeration. When added to the soil, it is responsible for creating small air pockets.

These pockets provide roots with access to air, water, and essential nutrients. In doing so, the air pockets promote healthy root growth and, therefore, more vibrant plants.

Air pockets are also responsible for promoting proper water drainage. If a plant cannot drain properly, its roots may drown. What’s more, the soil may erode or compact.

Neutral pH

Unlike many soil additives, coco coir has a nearly neutral pH. Coco coir has a pH that ranges from 6.7 to 7.

Meanwhile, peat moss, which is a popular alternative in hydroponics, has a pH that ranges between 3 and 4. A pH of 7 is neutral.

Anything lower is acidic, while anything higher is alkaline. The pH of soil impacts the availability of essential nutrients. It is worth noting that each plant has an ideal pH level.

Nutrients

Coco coir contains a rich assortment of essential plant growth nutrients. It contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

With that said, coco coir often holds onto nutrients. As such, most growers opt to amend their soil with a blend of coco coir nutrients.

Sustainable

Many growers choose coco coir because it is a renewable resource. Coconut trees generate as many as 150 coconuts per year. Coconut palms are not damaged during harvests. Since coco coir is a byproduct of these harvests, it prevents the waste of otherwise unwanted materials.

Many hydroponic growers use peat moss instead of coco coir. With that said, peat moss breaks down faster. What’s more, it is derived from vulnerable peat bogs. Unfortunately, it can take up to 25 years to completely restore a peat bog.

Minimized Bacteria and Mold Growth

Coconut fibers are resistant to the growth of harmful bacteria, rot, and fungus. Coco coir’s neutral pH makes it a less-than-ideal home base for harmful microorganisms.

The material’s lignin content wards off inhibitors. Lignin is a naturally occurring polymer that is rigid and rot-resistant.

Reusable

Some gardeners opt to save money by reusing their coconut peat. While reused coir is more susceptible to disease, it’s also environmentally friendly and easy to use.

While coco coir is compostable, it takes nearly 25 years for it to break down. As such, it’s helpful to get two or three uses out of it before sending it to your food waste pile.

What are the Drawbacks of Using Coco Coir?

While it is helpful in many ways, there are some drawbacks to using coco coir.

Lack of Nutrients:

While coco coir does contain some nutrients, it lacks the nutrient-rich profile of traditional soil. As such, it’s almost always necessary to amend your coco coir with supplements.

Many gardeners automatically opt for a blend of calcium and magnesium. It’s also essential to supplement your soil with iron.

Expensive:

High-quality coco coir is expensive. Many growers purchase raw coco coir and use it to create their potting soils.

Amending your soil is easy and extremely cost-effective.

High Salt Content:

Manufacturers may use salt to preserve and age coco coir. While high-quality coco coir is rinsed with fresh water before distribution, some is drenched in saltwater.

Rinse your coco coir before using it. This will help release any salt or chemical agents used to treat the coco coir.

Keep in mind that there are inferior versions of every type of growing medium. You can avoid common issues by purchasing from a reliable manufacturer.

How is Coco Coir Made?

As we mentioned before, coco coir is a byproduct of coconuts. The fibers, which are pulled from the outermost part of the coconut, are often pulverized into a pulp or condensed into a brick.

Harvesting

It takes nearly an entire year for coconuts to fully mature. Still, each coconut palm tree produces an average of 50 to 100 coconuts per year. These coconuts are available monthly. However, they are typically harvested every 45 to 90 days.

Harvesting methods vary dramatically depending on the plantation. Some farmers use a long scythe to cut coconut bunches from the tops of trees.

Meanwhile, others use a time-honored climbing method to scale the trees and cut off the high fruits. Some plantations simply wait for the ripe fruits to naturally fall to the ground.

Coconut trees range in height from 50 to 100 feet. Hand-harvesting coconuts can be a time-consuming process.

If the coconuts are ripe, they are immediately sent for processing. If they are young, they are often left on-site to dry and mature.

It is important that coconuts are laid out in a dry area.

Husking

Husking is the process used to strip pulp from the husk. The insides of coconuts are used to make oil and plant milk.

The remaining husk is processed to create coir and other natural fibers. Most palm plantations use highly product husking machines to mechanically divide and peel harvested coconuts.

Retting

Retting is the process used to cure coconut husks. Freshwater is used for retting mature coconuts. Whereas, saltwater is used for retting immature coconuts.

Retting involves the use of moisture and microorganisms to separate coconut fibers, or coir, from coconut shells.

During the retting process, coconuts are submerged in cement tanks or natural bodies of water. They are weighed down and left for days or even weeks. During this time, the husk breaks away from the coconut’s outer skin.

Fiber Removal

After the coco coir undergoes the retting process, it must be defibered. The coir is sent through a spiked machine that separates the fibers from the other parts of the coconut. Traditionally, this process would be completed by skilled workers.

After the fibers have been extracted, they are often compressed into small bricks. The remaining dust, or coconut coir pith, is also collected and used to create growing mediums.

What are the different types of Coco Coir?

There are several varieties of coco coir products to choose from. Each coir variety of functions as a unique growing medium.

It’s important to yield knowledge of all of the different types of coco coir before heading to your local garden supplier.

Coco Peat:

Coco peat is not peat. However, it looks and performs a lot like peat moss, hence its name.

Coco peat is made from dried, hulled coconut husk fibers. It is often sold in bricks, pellets, and loose bags. It’s ground-up, dusty consistency makes it a great alternative to traditional potting soils. Another name for this popular growing medium is coir pith.

Coco Fiber

Coco fibers are stringy fibers that have been separated from the rest of the coconut coir. Coco fiber is often added to garden beds and plant pots to increase airflow and drainage.

While regular water exposure causes coco fiber to break down, high-quality coco fibers can be reused for several years.

Coco Chips

Coco chips are compressed pieces of coconut fibers. These chunky elements can be added to potting soils to optimize airflow and water drainage.

Many hydroponic growers see coco chips biodegradable alternatives to clay pellets. They create natural air pockets while simultaneously retaining water.

White Coir

White coir is harvested from unripe coconuts. It may be white or light brown, as opposed to the rich chocolate color of brown coir.

White coir is often used to create woven materials, including mats and brushes. It is rarely used in agricultural applications.

Brown Coir

Brown coir is a rich material harvested from mature coconuts. Brown coir is used to create a wide range of planting mediums, including dust, bricks, planters, pellets, and more.

Bricks

Coir is often sold in solid bricks. Bricks are made up of highly condensed coconut fibers. Coir bricks are soaked in water, allowed to expand, and then broken up. When properly prepared, they have the consistency of dried tobacco. Once reconstituted, they can be mixed into the soil to improve aeration and drainage.

Loose Coir

Loose coir is simply a ready-to-use alternative to coco coir bricks and pellets. Since it has not been compressed, you can toss it into potting soil for an immediate amendment.

How to Choose the Best Quality Coco Coir?

In the section below, we have highlighted the most important considerations you need to make when selecting a coco coir supplier.

Harvest and Preparation

Some countries, including India and Sri Lanka, are known for producing nutrient-rich coco coir. Every part of the preparation process affects the quality of a coco coir harvest.

Ask the manufacturer if the product was soaked in salt or freshwater during the retting process. Inquire whether or not the excess salt (a naturally occurring phenomenon)was removed from the coir before distribution.

Read the ingredient list to ensure that the coir does not contain chemical additives or binding agents.

Many manufacturers also steam their coco coir to sterilize it. Steaming kills colonies of both harmful and beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Steaming also changes the consistency of coco coir. After coir has been steamed, it binds together. As such, it retains far more water.

Excess water retention has the potential to drown roots. Finally, steamed coco coir is stripped of beneficial nutrients.

Coconut coir is often placed in storage for years before hitting the retail market. As such, many manufacturers sterilize or preserve their coir to ensure its longevity.

Chemical preservatives are often added to coir to stop the growth of harmful pathogens and mold. However, they can also create plant-killing nitrates. Even seawater, which is often used in the retting process, is lethal to plants.

Always opt for a coir manufacturer that is straightforward and honest about how they harvest and prep their coir.

Another marker of high-quality coco coir is consistency. Low-grade coir often contains seeds and other additives. Coco coir should have a uniform feel and appearance.

Processing and Packaging

Premium packaging prevents coir from being contaminated. While sealed plastic bags and vacuum-sealed pouches aren’t very environmentally friendly, they ensure that coir hasn’t been exposed to any liquids or pathogens during the distribution process.

Top Brands

There are plenty of coir manufacturers to choose from. Make sure that the manufacturer you choose is transparent about the origin and processing of their coir products. The information should be accessible and unquestionable.

How to use Coco Coir in the Garden?

While coco coir is often used in the liners of hanging baskets and potted plants, it can also be utilized as a direct growing medium. Read along to discover the many uses for coco coir.

Garden Soil Additive

Many gardeners use coco coir as a soil amendment. Coir improves the moisture retention, porosity, and drainage of otherwise coarse, rocky, or sandy soils.

While many premixed soils contain coco coir, you can easily make your mixture at home. We recommend blending loose coir to your garden soil.

When doing this, combine equal parts of coir and soil. After that, supplement it with the appropriate amount of fertilizer and plant nutrients.

Soil and Potting Mix Amendment

Coir can also be added to potting soil. It can be used to alter the porosity and water retention of your container plants.

Potted plants can benefit from a one-to-one ratio of coconut coir and organic soil. You may also add a small amount of perlite, or volcanic glass, to improve drainage.

Alternative to Peat Moss

Coco coir is also an alternative to peat moss. While coir pith has a similar consistency and function to peat moss, it has a more neutral pH.

Not only does it foster healthy plant growth, but it is also a more environmentally friendly option. The harvesting of peat moss releases a large number of greenhouse gases. It also destroys rich, bio-dynamic parts of the earth.

Since it takes nearly 25 years to restore a peat bog, it’s easy to see why the fruitful and sustainable coconut industry is preferred by earth-loving gardeners.

Hydroponic Setups

Rockwool, clay pellets, and peat moss have long dominated the hydroponic world. Nevertheless, coco coir is a fresh new alternative.

You must always use coir-specific nutrients with coco coir. Keep in mind that coir contains a few nutrients. You need to consider these naturally occurring elements when adding supplementary nutrients.

Another option is to rinse the nutrients from the coir before use. When you do this, you don’t need to worry about the exchange of added and naturally occurring plant nutrients.

The fibrous texture of coco coir makes it the perfect medium for water-based roots. Its natural abilities to create air pockets and retain water also make it a preferred hydroponic planting media.

It even decomposes slower than peat moss. As such, growers don’t need to concern themselves with sudden drops in pH and nutrient levels.

Final Thoughts

I like that coco coir is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

It can help keep your carbon footprint down while boosting the vibrancy and yield of your indoor and outdoor garden.

It’s affordable and easy to work with too. And you can make your own potting soil mix with coco coir.

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