Coconut Coir: How to Use It And The Best Type To Get
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If you consider yourself a hydroponic gardener, you’ve probably heard of coconut coir. Coconut coir is a byproduct of coconut processing that was traditionally used as lining material in hanging baskets. Over time, it made its way to hydroponic gardening, and more recently as a replacement for sphagnum peat moss in houseplant potting mix.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about coco coir, what it is, how to use it in hydroponics and for your houseplants, and review the best varieties of coco coir out there.
What is Coconut Coir?
Coconut coir is produced from the coconut husk inside of coconut shells. When you break open a coconut, you’ll see coconut flesh. After scraping the flesh away, the meaty part in between the inner and outer, hairy coating of the coconut, is the coconut coir.
Instead of creating a food waste product, over time, we discovered that there can be many uses for coconut coir from making furniture to lining pots and hanging baskets. The process to take coconut coir and process it for use in gardening, houseplants, and hydroponics is very extensive.
Most coconuts produced for coconut coir come from Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Coconut coir and husks are first soaked until softened and dried for many months.
What does Coconut Coir do?
Coconut coir is used as a typically hydroponic growing medium or a soil amendment to growing mediums such as houseplant potting mix.
- Increases water retention: Coconut coir carries impressive moisture retention characteristics being able to hold 73-80% of its volume in water, slightly exceeding peat moss's 60-68% according to the University of Arkansas. Its water retention capabilities are impressive which is why coco coir growers will substitute it for peat moss.
- More sustainable than peat moss: Beyond its impressive ability to absorb moisture, coconut coir is a much more environmentally friendly substitute for peat moss. As a byproduct of the food industry, re-using this waste product allows a regenerative approach to the agricultural industry.
- Easier to hydrate than peat moss: Coconut coir is much easier to hydrate than peat moss making watering easier. Once peat moss dries up, it's harder to rehydrate and saturate the soil because it becomes hydrophobic.
For these reasons, they are often used as growing media hydroponically. The main caveat here is that if you’re using coconut coir only to grow plants, you’ll need to supplement your water with proper nutrition since most plants will get nutrients from other substrates in the soil mix outside of coco coir.
Types of Coconut Coir
Coco Peat or Coco Pith
Coconut pith or coconut peat is a very fine-grained coconut coir powder. Cocopeat is most commonly used as a substitute in peat moss one for one in houseplantpotting soil mixes and container garden soil. Coco pith can be shipped as a straight powder or is oftentimes compressed into coco coir blocks for shipping.
Coco Coir FIber
Coconut coir fibers are another byproduct of creating coconut coir. Coconut fibers can add aeration to your soil by enabling air pockets. However, keep in mind that coconut coir fiber breaks down quickly and air pockets will disappear over time.
Coco chips offer the best of both coconut peat and coco fiber. They provide the same moisture retention, while allowing for air pockets due to their large size. Their function can be thought of as similar to orchid bark, except with higher water retention properties.
Picking the Right Coco Coir Type For You
No matter the type of coco coir you purchase, you’ll want to select a high-quality producer. The best-experienced manufacturers will focus on addressing the riskiest parts of the end-to-end coco coir production process.
High-Quality Producers Will
- Depending on whether coconut coir is soaked in saltwater or freshwater, producers will need to flush their coconut fully to rid of the salts which can stunt growth.
- Since coconut coir is stored to dry for months, if not years, it needs a sterile environment to prevent the build-up of pathogens. High-quality producers will sterilize their spaces continuously and maintain a neutral pH of their coco coir.
With so many coconut coir products out there, how do you select the most high-quality option for your needs?
First, consider what type of coconut coir fits your needs best. If you’re looking to create a houseplant growing medium or amend your garden soil to add more moisture, we recommend coco coir blocks and cocopeat.
If you’re looking to add some aeration, opt for coco fiber. If you’re looking for both, then opt for coco chips.
What is the difference between coconut coir and peat moss?
Sphagnum peat moss has been the standard amendment or soil-less growth medium for decades until coconut coir was discovered.
Peat moss, similar to coconut coir, is used as a moisture-retentive substrate that allows the soil to stay moist while keeping the soil light.
The main difference between coconut coir and peat moss is that peat moss is actually less absorbent than coconut coir. Once peat moss is dry, it’s much harder to rehydrate peat moss as opposed to coconut coir. This is why coconut coir is a great option for hydroponic gardens.
The second key difference is sustainability. While coconut coir comes from a renewable resource, strip mining peat moss causes massive environmental and cultural resource damage.
Peat moss also tends to be more acidic making it a bad option for some variety of plants, meanwhile, coconut coir has a neutral pH making it a more versatile option for outdoor and indoor plants.
Why is peat moss unsustainable?
The process of attaining peat bogs is very energy intensive and believed to be a non renewable resource at the rate we’re harvesting. Peat moss is harvested from peat bogs. Us based peat moss typically comes from Canadian peat bogs. Peat bogs are living ecosystems. Although it’s believed that we don’t harvest more peat moss than what peat bogs are able to produce, it’s not a given and it takes time to rejuvenate. If sustainability is a priority, then coconut coir is a great horticulture alternative.
How to Use Coconut Coir
Coconut coir is an incredible option to use for hydroponic growing, indoor houseplants, and even outdoor or container gardening.
The key to proper coconut coir use is really understanding the moisture needs of the plants that you are growing as well as the type of soil, if any, you'll be amending with coconut coir.
Below, we'll cover the most common ways cocopeat and coco coir get used to create optimal growth.
Preparing and Hydrating Coconut Coir
If you've gotten a hold of coco coir, you've likely gotten your hands on a coco coir block/brick. In order to use coco coir, you must soak it first before planting. This applies no matter if you're using it hydroponically, for houseplants, or in your home garden.
Before using coco coir, soak your brick in lukewarm water for at least 30-60 minutes. You'll know your coco coir is ready to be used when it has a moist, soil-like consistency.
If you've bought a version of coco coir that's not already amended with proper nutrients, now would be a good time to also add any essential fertilizer or food to get started.
Using Coconut Coir in Hydroponics
Coconut coir is a fantastic option to use as a growing medium in hydroponics due to its slightly acidic to natural pH levels and moisture-retentive nature.
Hydroponically, coconut coir can be used as a growing media for seedlings, mature plants, cuttings, and more. The key to getting started with coco coir is giving it a good soak before planting.
If you’re starting cuttings or seeds, you can consider adding some aeration by amending with perlite, and vermiculite.
If you’re starting cuttings or seeds, you can consider adding some aeration by amending with perlite, and vermiculite.
Because coconut coir lacks any nutrition, you will need to supplement with specific, hydroponic nutrient solutions as well as pH-balancing solutions. Make sure to use a nutrient solution specifically designed for use with coconut coir.
You may need to supplement your coco medium with Ca, Mg, and Fe.
Since coconut coir has a high cation exchange capacity, coco coir is able to release nutrients in a slow manner, but with this, it can lock out calcium, magnesium, and iron which are all needed nutrients for plants. If you’re growing hydroponically, you’ll need to make sure you’re amending your coco medium with these nutrients.
Using Coconut Coir For Plants
Coconut coir is a great option to use for plants that require well-draining, but moist soils. It’s often used as a more sustainable alternative to peat moss. If you’re growing tropical plants, coconut coir is a great option for your soil. If you’re mixing coconut coir with sandy soil, it’ll also improve water retention.
Some commercial houseplant mixes will already contain coconut coir. If you’d like to amend your existing potting mix with coconut coir, we recommend you opt for smaller coconut coir bricks as you don’t need as much as you would for an outdoor garden. You can substitute coco coir or cocopeat one-to-one for sphagnum peat moss in a standard houseplant soil mixture.
DYI Houseplant Soil Mix
A DYI potting mix for well-draining, moisture-retentive soil includes 1 Part coconut coir, 1 Part aerating soil amendments such as perlite, vermiculite, or sand, 1 part compost or worm castings.
Using Coconut Coir For Gardening
If you’re considering using coco coir in your garden, it’s a great option for naturally arid regions.
Consider your current soil type: Before amending your home garden’s soil with coconut coir, you’ll need to consider the type of soil you have. If you’re growing in sandy soil, adding coconut coir will greatly improve moisture retention without weighing the soil down.
If you’re growing in clay soil which tends to be extremely dense, adding coco coir will add lightness and aeration of the soil opening up new opportunities to grow vegetables, fruits, and more.
Supplement with proper nutrition: As always, remember that coconut coir doesn’t naturally carry any nutrients, so you’ll want to amend your mixture with organic matter like compost, manure, mulch, or orchid bark.
Use as a mulch substitute: When growing outdoors, coconut coir can be a great substitute for mulch, albeit more expensive than wood chips. Coconut coir retains about 30% more water than peat moss and is more sustainable.
Can you use coconut coir for seed starting?
Yes, coconut coir makes for a great seed-starting growing media! Its water-holding capacity makes it a perfect fit for start seeds which require consistent moisture to sprout. For some seeds that may require more drainage, you can amend your seed starting media with perlite for extra aeration.
When to not use Coconut Coir?
Salt content used to be a major concern from growers using coconut coir. Salt build-up happened in processing coconut husks and coir and letting them soak in saline water instead of fresh water and without a proper flush later.
However, this is less of a concern today as most producers either don’t use salt water or flush it away during their process.
Coconut coir doesn’t have nutrition and has neutral pH. While having a neutral pH makes coconut coir a great foundation for building a soilless or a soil-based medium, the lack of nutrition means you’ll need to supplement your growing medium with the macronutrients required for your plant.
Some plants prefer organic-rich soils and will grow best only if coconut coir is amended into proper potting or garden soil with proper fertilizer.
If you’re using coconut coir to grow hydroponically, you’ll need to supplement your medium with appropriate nutrition and pH control as required by the plants that you are growing.
We caution using coconut coir as the only growing medium for succulents, cacti, or other plants that require well-draining soils. Coconut coir is extremely moisture retentive which can provide way more water than your succulents need.
In these cases, we recommend that you amend it with other aerating substances such as perlite, sand, and vermiculite. However, you can use coconut coir for succulents that often sit in scorching heat or more tropical succulents such as the string of pearls.
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