Takeaway: If you care about the environment and your soil, coconut coir (coco coir ) will give you big, healthy plants while helping enrich the soil by providing a platform for nutrient assimilation. It is a very popular choice as a hydroponic growing medium too.
Coconut coir is a renewable, sustainable medium for your organic and hydroponic gardens. Like the name suggests, it comes from coconut. It has gained a huge market in the horticultural industry, popular not only for its sustainability as a hydroponic growing medium but as as a soil amendment in organic gardening.
Thanks to the worldwide demand for coconuts as a food source, coconut coir is readily available as an environmentally sound product that is, essentially, the waste from the coconut farming industry.
It has natural pest-deterrent qualities, is easy to work with, and has many other great qualities as you’ll find out below.
Recommended Nutrients for adding to coco peat growing mediums:
- Canna Coco A & B 1L Set of 2
- Advanced Nutrients pH Perfect A+B Soil Amendments, 1 L
- Blue Planet Nutrients Cal-Mag 1 Gallon
After this stage the coir is removed from the water and dried for at least 10 months, followed by organization into bales. These bales are chopped and processed into many forms:
- Coco Peat
- Bricks – compressed
- Fiber – not compressed
Best Selling Brands of Coconut Coir Products:
Chips : Grow!T Organic Coco Coir Planting Chips – Best Selling Product for Organic Grower
Fiber in Bags: Canna Organic Coco Substrate , 50L
Croûtons: Grow!T Coco-Can Croûtons, 28L
Best Coco Bricks:
- Nature’s Footprint Coir Block, 5kg
- Kempf Compressed Coco Fiber Growing Potting Mix 10 Pound Block
- MagJo Compressed Naturals Coco Fiber Peat 11 Pound Block
- Coco Coir Grow Pellets/Grow Media 42 mm - Coco Coir not Coco Peat
- Planters’ Pride Coconut Coir Refill, 1000 Pellets
Coco Peat Soil: SpongEase Potting Soil – Pro Coco Coir Potting Soil
What is Coconut Coir and Where Does It Come From?
Coconut coir is the fibrous husk from the coconut seed. It is found between the outer and inner shells of the coconut. This husk is made up of 1/3fibre and 2/3 pith or dust.
The fiber can present in two types, brown coir and white coir. The brown fiber is harvested from fully mature /ripe coconuts and the white from the unripened ones. The white fibers are more flexible. The brown fibers are stronger.
The pith is what we know as coco peat.
In the past, countries used the leftover fiber to make many products, from mats and brushes to twine. Its salt resistant properties made it a good choice for marine applications. More recently it has been used in the geotextile industry, for controlling soil erosion and stabilizing slopes. It is favored for its ability to biodegrade, turn into humus and enrich soil.
Once the coconuts were hulled and the fiber used for other products, the pith was always discarded and left in huge piles. It was only in the late 1980’s and 1990’s that it began to be used extensively as a growing medium
The century old stockpiles have now been used up and coco peat has to be processed from fresh stock. Most of the world’s coconut coir comes from South East Asia. Countries like India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Indonesia produce 90%of the worldwide supply.
How Is Coir Produced?
Do you just shred up a coconut and that’s it? Not quite. It goes through quite a bit of processing.
Harvesting and Husking: First the coconuts are picked and dehusked or hulled. The ripe ones are done immediately but the green ones are spread out and left to dry before being hulled.
Retting: This is a process where the husks are cured and prepared for separating into fiber and pith. Once the husks have been separated they are soaked. The retting of white fiber is done in saltwater and the brown fiber is soaked and rinsed in freshwater.
With the coco peat you are left with a high salt content so buffering is most times introduced.
This is done by treating the pith in a calcium nitrate solution. Buffering like this removes high sodium nitrate levels. Coir is naturally high in potassium so calcium and magnesium has to be added to growing media.
Benefits of Coco Coir
Coco coir has many benefits in both soil gardens and hydroponic systems. Coconut coir is great for the environment as it is 100% natural and makes an excellent alternative to the controversial, yet remarkable, peat moss.
Here are a list of the many benefits of using coconut coir for growing plants:
- High water holding capacity
- Slow to break down thanks to high lignin to cellulose ratio
- Good drainage
- Good aeration
This means that there will be less shrinkage which will increase the shelf life of plants in pots as well as reducing the amount of times you would have to water. Which in turn decreases maintenance and running costs for both home growers and commercial nurserymen.
- Excellent wetability, even more so than peat moss. Rewets easily so wetting agents are eliminated.
- 100% natural
- Disease, pest and weed free thanks to being inert and sterile
- Highly absorbent, expanding up to 10 times its weight
- Renewable resource
This means it is ideal as a soil amendment or soil conditioner in organic gardens.
- Ability to retain nutrients
- Promotes strong root development
- High porosity
- Acceptable EC and neutral pH
- Uniform in composition (make up of fibers) ensuring consistency is achieved in plant sizes.
- High Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) meaning it absorbs and releases nutrients as needed.
This makes it well suited to hydroponics, it is an especially good starter medium for the beginner hydroponic gardener and for hydro growers using run to waste systems. It works well in active or passive hydroponic systems.
Downsides to Coco Coir
The advantages of coco coir far outweigh the disadvantages. Some considerations when using coir are listed below.
A high demand for coir has meant a lot of poor quality coir has made its way into the market. So do yourself a favor and find a few good brands and stick with those.
Commercially prepared coir has got a neutral pH but salts can buildup and the potassium levels will be too high. This means you will need to add specific nutrients designed for coco coir. Fortunately there are brands that have developed really good nutrients.
Coir breaks down eventually which is great as a soil amendment but it does mean you will need to replace it once a year in a hydroponic system. Also, it can clog up in these systems so precautions need to be taken to prevent bits from ending up in pipes and nozzles.
Different Forms of Coco Coir
This type of coco coir comes in a finely ground form or peat moss. It’s small and absorbent. Therefore, it cannot be used alone or it will drown the roots of your plants. Also, it can let out salts that can kill your plants, unless you age them correctly where the salt and potassium can be displaced for calcium to be held in place to nourish plants. The texture is spongy and looks like loose tea leaves. It’s very woody and it decomposes slowly .
Pith is regarded as better than peat for your plants. First of all, it’s renewable and better for the environment. Peat comes from decomposed plant matter, but it’s not easily renewed because it takes centuries to re-create. It is also pH neutral which makes it more friendly to plants and easier for them to use nutrients.
Coco fiber adds air pockets which is fantastic for roots because it provides oxygen to them. However, this medium does decay pretty quickly so their air pockets will decrease over time.
Coconut chips are a natural form of clay pellet made from plant matter. They are a form that is in between fiber and peat. They create air pockets but do absorb water so that your plants will not become dehydrated.
Landscapers use chips to finish off beds by covering any open spaces with. Not only does it act as a mulch but also lends aesthetic appeal.
Using Coconut Coir In Hydroponic Gardening
To use coconut coir, you’ll have to start by understanding the importance of adding nutrients to it. Coir has manganese, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. It is pH neutral so not all your plants will love it if they prefer acidic soil. For those plants, peat moss may be a better option. There are nutrient products specific for coconut coir that have all the nutrients your plants will need.
In hydroponic gardening, coir makes the transition from soil to hydroponics easier. For this purpose, use brown coir because it acts as better support and poses less risk of introducing bad organisms to your hydroponic plants.
If your coir has been prepared with saltwater, make sure to wash out the salt before use because low salt is better for your setup. Your coir should wash through clear. Once you think it’s okay, test the water for EC and pH then adjust as necessary.
To test, collect some of this coconut coir from different parts of your block, about a cups worth. Add around six ounces of distilled water. Allow it to sit in there for several hours then strain it, and keep the water. Measure the EC and pH of the water where the EC should be around 1.0-1.3, and pH should be between 5.3 and 6.2.
How to Select The Best Coconut Coir
You have to understand the process of making coconut coir to find the best one. Consider how it was harvested, stored, prepared, processed, packaged, and shipped.
Harvesting and Preparation
Pith holds the husk of the coconut together. These husks must be soaked, as mentioned earlier. After this, the fiber must be washed and dried for over 12 months. You get it in a dehydrated form. Rather than buying the machine-dried stuff, buy the coir that has been sun dried because the machine preparation breaks the fiber down which will lead to early decomposition of your coconut coir.
Processing and Packaging
After drying, the fibers are typically sorted and baled or piled for storage. This storage typically lasts many years to make it so that it cannot take up pathogens. These bales or piles are chopped up then processed for usage. Eventually, some producers will sterilize the coir with chemicals to prevent pathogen contamination. Sadly, this causes breakdown of fibers and converts nitrogen to nitrates which will kill your plants.
Other companies will sterilize their coir with steam which is natural and deals with the pathogens.
For packaging, look for good quality packaging that wouldn’t have allowed in any contaminants or fluids.
My Brands of Choice and Why
With so many forms of coconut coir out there you can get really confused. I have compiled a simple list for you. These brands of coir come highly recommended and are good value for money.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to take a cheaper, lesser known brand because you may be left with a product with high salt levels that needs to be soaked and buffered again. I have also added a list of tried and tested nutrients that are specifically suited for adding to coconut coir growing mediums.
All Purpose Coir Brands:
Best Coconut Coir for Hydroponics
Perfect Nutrients for Coco Coir
All 4 brands listed; Kempf, Nature’s Footprint, Canna and CocoTek, sell a clean, 100% natural coir product. They guarantee that the product has either been buffered or has a low sodium content. This means it is ready to use and does not have to be soaked and rinsed to remove excess salt.They all have superior water holding capacity and adding them to soil will increase aeration, improve the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and improve drainage in compacted and clayey soils.
Canna Organic Coco Substrate Bag,50 L - Best for organic grower
Canna Organic Coco comes in a bag, it is not compressed. This means it is quicker to apply but is bulkier to store. It makes an excellent mulch and is great for adding to soil.
It is great to use as a soil amendment, guaranteed to condition compacted soil and improve drainage. Free of pathogens and weed seed.
CocoTek Bale Coco Growing Media - Best For Hydroponics Grower
CocoTek is fantastic for hydroponic growing mediums and it has been OMRI listed which means it is certified as an organic material and organic farmers can state with confidence their produce is 100 % organic.
This brand really works well for both soil and soil less growing.
Nature's Footprint Coir Block - Pocket Friendly
Nature’s Footprint promotes replacing perlite and Rockwool with their product. Unlike peat moss it has a neutral pH. This means it is easier to control your nutrient supply in hydroponic systems. It is a sustainable alternative to peat moss.
It has a superior water holding capacity and will aerate soil when used as a soil conditioner as an amendment to soil. 100% natural and great for organic gardening.
Kempf Compressed Coco Fiber Growing Potting Mix- My Personal Choice
Kempf coir is rich in humus, making it a great choice for worm beds and indoor gardening. It comes in block form and is compressed making it easy to store if buying in bulk. It is disease and weed free, resisting mold and bugs.
Kempf has an amazing water retaining capacity and the 10 pound blocks expand to 17 gallons, which is more than 60L!
Nutrients and Coco coir
Adding nutrients has never been easier than now. With the popularity of hydroponic gardening the list of brands is overwhelming but I have my favorites.
Canna Coco A & B 1L Set of 2 is great for beginners.
But if you are a hydroponic grower with a Run to Waste system, I would suggest going for Canna 5 L Coco Part A & B-Veg & Bloom Nutrient-Developed For Run to Waste in Coco Mediums-CANNA 9410005 . It works out way cheaper and is still good quality.
My other choice is Advanced Nutrients pH Perfect A+B Soil Amendments. They have added iron to their nutrient solution which gives them an edge over other solutions when it comes to coir growing medium.
Don’t forget your Cal-Mag supply. It is a crucial component to your coir mix as it has the propensity to absorb calcium and prevent even distribution. Cal-Mag sorts this out. Try Blue Planet Nutrients Cal-Mag 1 Gallon.
If a renewable media for your hydroponic or organic garden is what you’re looking for, coconut coir may be for you. It comes in a variety of forms to give you options. Choose what works best for you, and don’t forget to pick some supplements. This growing medium gives you a lot of options and will provide you with strong, healthy plants. Give it a shot and let us know below, how it worked out for you!
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Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.