Coconut palms, Cocos nucifera, grow in tropical regions and produce the distinctively large, hard fruit that generates edible flesh, milk, and oil. Commercial coconut products include dried grated coconut, coconut milk, thicker coconut cream, and coconut oil, all of which are used in the food industry. Fiber from coconut shells is also used for products like rope and mats, coco coir netting, plant liners, and even natural coconut fiber coir mattresses.
Coconut coir is the fibrous material that forms between the outer husk and internal shell of the coconut fruit. After coconuts have been harvested, the fibers are treated so that they can be used in various manufacturing processes. This coconut fiber, or coco coir, retains water and is resistant to fungi and rot, making it ideal for greenhouse and hydroponic uses.
What is coconut coir?
Coconut coir, also called coco coir, has been used for centuries to make various items, including coir mattresses and as a stuffing for automobile seats. But the production of coco fibers and coco peat for gardening is relatively recent.
There are reports that fibrous coco coir and the dust from the coconut fiber were used as a growing medium from the mid-20th century. However, it was only in the 1990s that it was first used as a potting mix in the Netherlands.
Coir fiber is now commonly used to line hanging planters or to make biodegradable plant pots. It is also a popular growing medium for hydroponic systems.
Coco peat is used as a potting mix or to amend the soil. A by-product of the husked coconut, it is the processed coir fiber that was previously regarded as waste.
How is coco coir Made?
Coco coir is a waste product of the coconut industry. So, it’s not surprising that manufacturers of garden products like coco peat are still experimenting with processing options.
But typically, after the coconut husks have been harvested, they are soaked in water for a few days. This gets rid of the high sodium (salt) content and helps to break down the tough fibers, making them more pliable.
They are then literally beaten to separate the usable short, soft fiber from the longer, tougher coir coconut fiber. Chemicals are mixed with hot water when the coconut fiber is processed for coco peat.
After this, the material is screened and graded. Available grades include fine coco dust, coarse coco coir that has a high fiber content, and coarse coco chips.
It’s worth mentioning that the more fiber coco coir products contain, the longer they will last. Very fine coco coir, like coco dust, will decompose very quickly.
Where do you use coconut coir?
In a gardening environment, we use coconut coir most commonly as a growing medium for plants. It is also used instead of rock wool in the hydroponic production of roses.
It can also be used on the surface of the soil, like mulch. In this application, also controls algae growth and fungus gnats.
Additionally, coconut coir is used worldwide for erosion control in the form of soil stabilization mats. These prevent surface soil particles from being blown away in the wind, or washed away in heavy rain.
Types of Coco Coir
The three most common types of coco coir are the dust, coarse, high-fiber mix, and even coarser, almost bark-like chips. You can also buy compressed coco coir bricks, which are easy to ship and store.
The Benefits of using coconut coir
The top benefit for anyone who appreciates sustainability is that coconut coir is 100% sustainable. It also has a neutral pH that suits most plants in our gardens.
Coconut coir readily absorbs and retains water. So, when it is processed, manufacturers don’t have to add a wetting agent as they do with peat moss.
It also has high oxygen levels that result in superior aeration. This is particularly beneficial when it is used as a growing medium.
The coir contains a high percentage of woody lignin, which is the key support tissue of most plants, particularly wood and bark. This means that it will decompose slowly, particularly when it is still fibrous.
When it is pre-composted, the coir coconut will last about four years without any compaction or shrinkage. This improves aeration and encourages the growth of good, healthy roots.
Risks of using coconut coir
Coir has a very high natural salt content. A common problem with low-grade coco coir is that it may not be thoroughly washed and so the salt can be detrimental to plants.
Another caution is that coir tends to get a bit lumpy.
One of the significant risks of coco coir production is the significant water pollution created during production. But this doesn’t affect its use as such.
Where can you get coconut coir?
Coconut coir growing medium is widely available from garden centers and online stores. Amazon is just one option.
Is Coconut Coir A Natural Alternative to Peat moss?
Both coco peat, made from coconut coir, and peat moss are natural products that we use for growing plants. Peat moss is generally acidic while the coconut coir product has a neutral pH that most plants prefer.
We’ve talked about what coconut coir is, but what is peat moss? As its name suggests, it’s peat, which is decayed vegetable matter, that forms from mosses.
Gardeners have been using peat moss since the mid-20th century. It improves the consistency and texture of soil and is an important component of many potting soil mixes.
Not surprisingly, it retains nutrients and moisture and doesn’t contain harmful microorganisms. And it also aerates the soil extremely well.
It retains nutrients and moisture and doesn’t contain harmful microorganisms. It also aerates the soil extremely well.
However, once coco coir has dried out, it absorbs water much better than peat moss. It also maintains the water better than peat moss.
We find peat moss in wet, spongy bogs where mosses and other vegetation have decayed very slowly over time. This takes millions of years, and so it stands to reason that peat moss isn’t a renewable resource like coconut coir.
Most of the peat moss we buy in the U.S. is mined from remote bogs in Canada. But it’s become a controversial product because when it is mined, enormous amounts of carbon are released into the air.
So, while peat moss is a natural product, the coco peat derived from coconut coir is a readily renewable natural product. This makes it considerably more environmentally friendly than peat moss.
Perhaps ironically, coco coir is sometimes mixed with peat moss to improve its water retention qualities. At the same time, the peat can improve the consistency of coir products like coco peat.
Coco coir has become increasingly popular for garden use in the past 30 years. It is hugely sustainable, has unique benefits, and is remarkably similar to soil and peat moss.
If you care about sustainability, it’s going to be a good choice for you.