Coconut coir or coco coir is becoming increasingly popular among many gardeners. If you’ve scrolled down of any recent potting mix or even done some research on the new and more advanced hydroponic gardening systems you’ve come across this term.
So this begs the question, what is coconut coir, and why should you adopt it for your gardening needs? The simple answer to this question is that coconut coir is a natural fiber extracted from coconut and one which has changed how the horticultural sector does its gardening.
What Is Coconut Coir?
Coconut coir refers to that fibrous husk that resembles pithy dust and makes up the outer layer of any ripe coconut. The entire part between the outer layer of the coconut seed and the shell is considered coconut coir.
However, it’s important to note that there are two types of fibers that make up coconut coir; white and brown. The white fiber is extracted from the pre-ripe coconuts and is often less strong but very flexible to use.
On the other hand, the brown fiber is very strong but lacks the flexibility of the white fiber. Although most people don’t get to see this part of the coconut because it’s removed before it ever reaches the grocery stores, it has proven to be a very valuable nutrient in gardening.
Years back, when farmers harvested coconuts for their delicious white meat and juice, the coconut husks were thrown away as they were considered waste products.
However, years later, researchers learned that these husks could have useful applications in gardening and other home products. They learned that coconut coir could be used for other uses such as hydroponic gardening, commercial nurseries, and for general indoor gardening.
The coconut coir fiber used for these activities is usually brown. This is because it undergoes extensive processing after harvesting. One of the things that make coconut coir so appealing to gardeners and farmers is that it has many benefits related to using soil and peat moss.
How Is Coconut Coir Produced?
During the extraction process of coconut coir, the husk has to be soaked in water to soften and loosen it. This can either be done using salty water or freshwater. However, in most cases, when the husk is dipped in salty water, it ends up taking much salt.
The manufacturers of coconut coir have to flush out this salt at a later stage during processing. After the coconut coir has been soaked in water for a significant amount of time, it’s later dried in the sun. It could normally take a year for the coconut coir to dry to the required texture.
This depends on the weather conditions of the area or the thickness of the coir. It’s important to note that the longer the coconut coir is allowed to dry up, the better the final product will be.
After drying, the coconut coir is organized into bales and chopped into different sizes as either chips or croutons to grounded coir. Some of the manufacturers are known to sterilize the final product, while others don’t.
The unsterilized coconut coir is better since it contains some beneficial bacteria needed in gardening that would have been destroyed.
Common Types of Coconut Coir
When you purchase any coconut coir product, it usually contains three main types of coir, namely, coco chips, coco fiber, and coco pith (coco peat).
When these three products are used together, they provide a powerful growing medium with lots of nutrients. However, when used individually, these three products bear their benefits.
1. Coco Pith (Coco Peat)
The peat version of coconut coir is simply the finely grounded husk or even peat moss. This coconut coir product is so tiny that it might end up drowning all your plants if you decide to use it as the sole growing media.
This is why you’ll find coco pith being used only as a soil conditioner or as one of the components in potting mixes. To be used as a growing media in your garden, it has to be thoroughly dried.
This is to ensure that all those harmful salts that could end up killing your plants are dried out and eliminated.
2. Coco Fiber
You obtain this version of coconut coir when you remove all those long fibers from the husks after they have been thoroughly dried. This is before they undergo any further manufacturing processing.
Coco fiber doesn’t usually contain the same level of water retention as processed coir. However, it’s very useful for increasing the drainage and porosity of your gardening soil or potting mixes.
This is because, unlike processed coconut coir, coco fiber increases air pockets into your growing media, and also, it’s not as absorbent.
It’s also important to note that coco fibers do not break down very easily, meaning that the air pockets they add might end up decreasing over time.
3. Coco Chips
This is generally regarded as the hybrid between coco fibers and coco pith. They are used in gardening media to help increase the air pockets for the plants while also ensuring that they don’t lose water easily.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Coconut Coir
There are several advantages associated with using coconut coir for your gardening needs. However, like any other product, coconut coir does have its disadvantages.
Advantages of Coconut Coir
High moisture retention
One of the main reasons why coconut coir has become increasingly popular among gardeners is its water retention abilities. Coconut coir products are believed to absorb moisture up to 10× their size. This ensures that your plant’s roots will never lose water at any point.
This is very important because water retention in plants’ roots boosts their development and makes them even more productive.
Almost neutral pH
One of the best things about using coco coir for your gardening needs is that it has a very close pH to neutral conditions. Coconut coir has a Ph between 5.2-6.8, which means; you do not need to worry about increasing acidity levels in your soil.
Your garden’s neutral availability is likely to remain unchanged even after adding coconut coir products.
Another benefit that you get from adding coconut coir to your garden is that insects and pests do not prefer settling in it. This makes it one less thing to worry about and improves your pest and insect control measures for your garden.
Less complex to adopt
If you’re a beginner in hydroponic gardening, you might find some of the traditional hydroponics a bit complex to follow. This is not the case with coconut coir products.
This is because coconut coir is very easy to set up as it doesn’t require building a more advanced hydroponic system. This makes it a very convenient starting point if you want to keep learning the basics of hydroponic gardening.
Using coconut coir for your gardening has no adverse effects on the environment as than using peat moss. This is because peat moss ends up breaking down with time and releases very carbon dioxide into the air.
This makes it one of the least renewable substances you can use in your garden. Coconut coir, on the other hand, doesn’t bear the same implications. You can use it more than once in your garden, and also, it is a recycled product of a renewable substance.
On top of manufacturers obtaining coconut coir from coconut husks which are regarded as waste products, its shipping process is also very economical.
This is because coconut coir can be compressed to nearly a fifth of its initial size, making its shipping more economical than other inert substances.
Contains important nutrients
Some of the main sources for coconut coir contain some very important nutrients required in healthy plant growth and development. These nutrients include zinc, copper, manganese, iron, and potassium.
Slower breakdown process
Unlike other gardening organic substances such as peat moss which break down more easily, coconut coir takes time. This means that you’ll need to replace coconut coir less often in your garden than other organic materials.
Disadvantages of Coconut Coir
It doesn’t contain specific nutrients
One of the biggest drawbacks of coconut coir is that it doesn’t contain some of the specific nutrients needed for plant growth and development. Coconut coir lacks important nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen.
This means that after adding coconut coir to your garden, you’ll also need to add fertilizers to the plants to supplement these nutrients.
High cation exchange capacity
Most coconut coir fibers contain a negative charge that can contribute to a very high cation exchange capacity (CEC). At lower levels, CEC might prove beneficial to plants’ health and growth.
However, higher levels of CEC could end up denying your plants much-needed intake of important nutrients such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.
While high porosity might be good for soil drainage and aeration, it does have a drawback. High porosity in coconut coir could end up affecting the upright posture of your plants.
This means that as your plants keep growing, you’ll need to employ new means to support them and keep them in an upright posture.
High salt content
If the coconut coir fibers are not rinsed and dried well during the manufacturing process, they might end up containing very high salt levels. High salt levels are in these fibers might end up poisoning your plants and killing them.
Most manufacturers are known to dry and compress coconut coir bricks and fibers to save on shipping costs. While this is beneficial to their end, it’s not the same for you as the gardener.
This is because you’ll need to rehydrate the coconut coir fibers before using them in your garden. This process might prove to be time-consuming for some people and simple for others.
How Do You Choose the Best Quality Coconut Coir for Your Garden?
To get the best coconut coir products for your garden, you need to purchase them from manufactures that do the following;
If you’re new to gardening and want to try an organic material that is both easy to use and is good for your plants, try out coconut coir products.
The best thing about coconut coir is that you can use it for various purposes. You can use it for your commercial nurseries, in your potting soils, or even in hydroponic gardening.