Why coconut coir?

goldenbarrelMarch 25, 2012

Hello Friends,

I have recently moved to UK and started buying plants this year, with start of spring now.

However I am so disappointed to see all the plants being sold were grown in coconut-coir medium. ( I did some reading about this on internet.. hydroponics and all that crap came out)

The coconut mass that comes along with the plant must obviously have been enriched artificially with nutrients when it started from the supplier and obviously that nutrition will deplete soon.

What should I do after that? I am sure I cannot use manures with that coconut mass. Where are the microbes that will decompose the manure?

Friends, Please tell me weather I am wrong in what I have said and also share your opinion on this please?

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Where have you moved from, that soil based potting mixes are the norm? Soil-less medium are 'the norm' in the states.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 11:26PM
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Hey Rhizo,

I have moved in from India.

My question is, Is coconut coir as good as soil? Can I add manure to to this? I do not use chemical fertilizers.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 2:52AM
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Many years ago the Royal Horticultural Society agred with the horticulturist that had met in Iran where in 1974 they determined that peat moss was a non renewable resource. The RHS asked that the UK use of peat moss be stopped.
Coir, the hulls of coconuts, grow yearly and so are a renewable resource even though shipping uses large amounts of non renewable resources to get it from where it grows to where it is used. The coir is essentially the same thing as peat moss, organic matter that plants will grow in.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 6:25AM
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Hey Friends,

My question and concern is totally different.

I think popularising/forcing usage of coir is nothing but a corporate strategy. Why should anyone BUY (coir) when he can get FREE (Soil)?

In what way is coir better than soil? Dont tell me it is light, neutral, free of pathogens etc. All these are just minor advantages that can be achieved with soil as well. The advantages of soil will far outweigh that of coir. All that needs to be done is to put manure and the soils comes live with all the micro flora and fauna. No?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 1:59AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

My homemade mix is coconut coir, perlite and a little sieved compost. If I add anything over a tiny amount of actual soil, it tends to become compacted and the plants don't thrive.
Growing seedlings in pots isn't a natural situation and as far as I know, soil microorganisms are pretty much inactive in such a small environment.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 4:36AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

Are you keeping the plants in pots or are you planting them in the ground?
If you're keeping them in pots then the obvious thing to do is use a soluable fertilizer rather than manures that need the soil food web, which doesn't exist in a container as it does in the ground.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 10:27AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

The reason to use coconut coir in a plant the store is selling in a container is you can't use a soil mix in a container. You can but the plant won't do well. Once you get it home you will plant it in soil. Also there are soil borne pathogens that the nurseries are trying to prevent the spread of. The coconut coir is merely the washed fiber of coconuts husks and will not do any harm to your garden or soil. I use it on my for my frog cage and then I add it to my soil or I put it in the compost bin. If you look it up on Wikipedia you will read it is bad for the environment, but so is peat. Nurseries use peat because a wood based medium will rob nitrogen from the plant. I would not say right off the bat that peat is horrible, but there is some debate on it that you may want to read up on. I don't have time to go over the points. Coconut coir is renewable but pollutes the water when it made.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 10:51AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

tropical thought, wood based potting mediums are composed of BARK, not 'wood'. Bark, unlike uncomposted inner wood, will not tie up N in the soil. Bark mixes have been used successfully for many, many years...first in the professional arena, but now available to homeowners.

Golden, most garden soils evolve into something pretty awful when removed from the soil SYSTEM and tossed into a container. Even the best garden loam will become very unsatisfactory after a few weeks in 'confinement'. It's the fine particles. Of course, you can amend your soil so that doesn't compact so quickly. Oxygen is every bit as important to a plant than is water, so it's important to provide a planting medium with plenty of porosity.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 12:34PM
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Goldenbarrel - soil and coir are completely different things and serve different purposes. The reason coir is used for seed starting is because it is light, drains freely, and is easily made sterile. None of these is true of most soil. If you are growing in containers, native soils will eventually cease to function as they do outside, because the biota that create and sustain it can't survive removed from the larger ecosystem. One uses modified fertilizers in containers because manures have the same limitations, and things like salt build-up and nutrient imbalance will eventually make the growing medium toxic. For growing outside, you simply put the coir-based plant into the native soil and the activity of the native soil inhabitants will gradually incorporate the coir into the soil and the plant will extend its roots out to whatever soil and manure make up the garden.

Coir is not a corporate strategy, it is a commercial response to the perception by some that peat is an unsustainable resource. It is better than soil for some purposes, at far less cost than changing the characteristics of soil would be. "light, neutral, free of pathogens" are not "minor advantages," they are crucial to good seedling development, and for that purpose coir is far superior to most native soils.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 1:57PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I do use wood based things in my soil all the time, but the question is why they are not using wood in this case. I was unhappy with the wood based potting soil, I bought a while back, it was supersoil and it was horrible. This is does not mean I think wood products are bad for the soil, they are just bad for containers.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:02PM
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Manure tea would certainly freely enter the coir "soil" as would well-decomposed fine grained composted manure, perhaps pushed in a bit with squirted water.

Bacteria should grow just fine in coir, possibly better than in peat (some peats slightly inhibit microbial growth).

If anyone had much field experience in the wet marginal tropics or full tropics and saw the nooks and crannies with this or that type of debris that support large healthy growth I think he would be a bit less frightened by "non-perfect" soil conditions, even in containers.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Hey Buddies,

Thanks for your responses.

But you know what, when I used to do gardening and even now people in India use soil in containers. Just to let you know, I never changed the soil in pots for say well over 10 years and my plants would very well. Off course I used to add manure ( the popular fertilizers in India are cow dung and oil cakes ). The roses for example are perennials and all I would do is annual pruning and put crushed castor oil cake for roses. Mustard oil cake for Crysthanemum and Daliah.

Think about it once again. We are being unnecessarily pessimistic about soil. Using coir makes sense for germinating seedlings, plants developed from tissue cluture that are fragile and need a pathogen free medium.

However I do not quite agree that soil microbes do not exist in container soil. Give it a try. Even a small ball of soil has all the flora in it. Havent you seen plants growing up on the wall and window sills and they look all healthy. How does that plant manage it. Defenitely no genetics there. We should realise that we are unnecessarily fascinated by something fancy like coir. Its good for some purpose but not all. You can use them on annual flowers and needless to say that one is constrained to buy liquid fertilizers. Thats yet another expense and hassle as well. If it was soil, I could just put oil cakes around the periphery of pots on the top. Thats it. In a matter of 15 days the manure will decompose and job done. With a liquid fertilizer, you have to learn which brand is good enough, prepare the solution and may be much more.

Coir is nothing but just something of benefit to corporates and loss to masses. Isnt the cost of coir more than that of soil. Isn't having no option but to use liquid fertilizers a hassle and lost freedom.

I think we need to think about it.

Soil has always been our friend. No? We cant be unfair to it, just because we don't want to give a second thought.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Many of the organic soils in my area have coco fiber as the base, with many organic additives.

So I would think you can just transplant the whole thing into your medium of choice and let it grow.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 3:33PM
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coir fiber any good for sowing seed instead of using seed sowing compost.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2015 at 10:07AM
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Coir is made from the husks of the coconut and is used to make many products ranging from soilless planting media to floor mats.
Coir, as a planting media, is a little better then peat moss if only because of the pH, that is closer to neutral then peat moss, but like peat moss Coir has no nutrients so those must be added.
I have found compost to be a very good media for growing plants in containers. although many have other ideas about that.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2015 at 6:49AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sphagnum peat and coir have nearly identical water retention curves. They both retain about 90-95% of their volume in water at saturation and release it over approximately the same curve until they both lock water up so tightly it's unavailable for plant uptake at about 30-33% saturation. Coir actually has less loft than sphagnum peat, and therefore, less aeration. Because of this propensity, coir should be used in mixes at lower %s than peat. Because of the tendency to compact, in the greenhouse industry coir is primarily used in containers in sub-irrigation (bottom-watering) situations. Many sources produce coir that is high in soluble salts, so this can also be an issue.

Using coir as the primary component of container media virtually eliminates lime or dolomitic lime as a possible Ca source because of coir's high pH (6+). Gypsum should be used as a Ca source, which eliminates coir's low S content. All coir products are very high in K, very low in Ca, and have a potentially high Mn content, which can interfere with the uptake of Fe. Several studies have also shown that the significant presence of phenolic allelochemicals in fresh coir can be very problematic for a high % of plants, causing poor growth and reduced yields.

I haven't tested coir thoroughly, but I have done some testing of CHCs (coconut husk chips) with some loose controls in place. After very thoroughly leaching and rinsing the chips, I made a 5:1:1 soil of pine bark:peat:perlite (which I know to be very productive) and a 5:1:1 mix of CHCs:peat:perlite. I planted 6 cuttings of snapdragon and 6 cuttings of Coleus (each from the same plant to help reduce genetic influences) in containers (same size/shape) of the different soils. I added dolomitic lime to the bark soil and gypsum to the CHC soil. After the cuttings struck, I eliminated all but the three strongest in each of the 4 containers. I watered each container with a weak solution of MG 12-4-8 with STEM added at each watering, and watered on an 'as needed basis', not on a schedule. The only difference in the fertilizer regimen was the fact that I included a small amount of MgSO4 (Epsom salts) to provide MG (the dolomitic lime in the bark soil contained the MG, while the gypsum (CaSO4) in the CHC soil did not. This difference was necessary because or the high pH of CHCs and coir.) for the CHC soil.

The results were startling. In both cases, the cuttings grown in the CHC's exhibited I just find it very difficult for a solid case to be made (besides "It works for me") for the use of coir or CHC's. They're more expensive and more difficult to use effectively. The fact that some believe peat is in short supply (no where near true, btw) is easily offset by the effect of the carbon footprint of coir in its trek to the US from Sri Lanka or other exotic locales.

That's the view from here. YMMV

Coir Study: https://sites.google.com/site/plantandsoildigest/usu-crop-physiology-laboratory/coconut-coir-studies


    Bookmark   January 16, 2015 at 1:02PM
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"coir fiber any good for sowing seed instead of using seed sowing compost"

That's possibly a hot topic, but the reality is that people sprout seeds in every possible medium, from fiberglass to rock wool, from sand to compost, from peat to coir, from Miracle Gro potting soil to Kellogg's topsoil, from vermiculite to perlite, from ground pine bark to pea gravel. Even ground glass would work.

What I think happens is that people try different things and eventually settle on the one medium what seems to work better than the others she/he tried. Then they're sold on that one medium and will dis the others, forgetting that their results are also influenced by weather, humidity, their house's exposure to the sun, where they keep their thermostat set at, fertilizing methods, watering habits, political activism levels, and on and on.

So, if'n you want to know if one medium is better than another, try them both. There's certainly room enough for three separate square feet of seedlings in a two thousand square foot house. In the end it's mostly about what stuff fits your methods and inclinations, and experimentation seems to work really well.

(for me, sedentary level -1)

    Bookmark   January 16, 2015 at 1:27PM
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