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How to Use Coconut Coir

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Heralded as a sustainable alternative to peat moss, coconut coir is quickly becoming a mainstay for gardeners who want to improve soil structure and water retention in an environmentally-friendly way.

What is coconut coir?

Coconut coir is a byproduct of the food processing industry. It is the fibrous inner shell of the coconut, which is discarded by producers when coconut is processed. As an up-cycled and renewable resource, coconut coir is an attractive alternative to peat moss, which can take millennia to regenerate and is considered a non-renewable resource.

organic coconut coir
Sustain™ shredded coconut coir

Why use coconut coir?

As mentioned above, coconut coir is a renewable byproduct of the coconut processing industry. In garden applications, it can be used as an environmentally-sustainable alternative to peat moss. Peat is created when sphagnum moss decomposes, a process that takes millions of years. Harvesting peat moss results in the destruction of local habitats, massive greenhouse gas emissions, and the depletion of valuable carbon sinks that help to absorb and regulate harmful compounds in the Earth's atmosphere. Peat is used by gardeners to improve soil structure and moisture retention. Like peat moss, coconut coir can hold up to 10 times its weight in water. Like peat moss, it has a light and porous structure that can improve both sandy and clay soil friability. Unlike peat moss, it is a recycled and renewable resource.

Coconut coir has been shown to reduce fungal and algae buildup in growing media. It contains a polymer called lignin, which has been shown to inhibit fungal growth and root rot. Coconut coir's anti-fungal properties also make it a natural deterrent for the common greenhouse pest, fungus gnats. It wicks moisture, keeping the surface area of potted arrangements dry. This in turn discourages the growth of algae and fungi that harbor pests and disease.

Coconut coir's neutral pH means that you can use it in a wide range of applications without affecting soil acidity. Coconut coir is also biodegradable, unlike perlite and vermiculite, which are often used to lighten potting mixes.

organic coconut coir
Coconut coir can be used to lighten and improve moisture retention in any potting material. This planter is also lined with a coconut husk liner, which is biodegradable. Photo: Southern Gardens Landscapes

How to use coconut coir

Coconut coir can be added to potting mediums and native soil to increase water absorption while maintaining a loose soil structure. See below for four ways that coconut coir can be used in gardening applications.

Improve clay soils:

In dense clay soils, coconut coir can be incorporated to improve drainage and soil structure. The fibrous husks create space within the heavy clay particles, allowing plant roots to expand more easily. To add coconut coir to an existing garden bed, spread about 1-2" of it into an existing, un-mulched garden bed. Using a garden fork, incorporate the coconut coir into the first 6" of the soil, carefully avoiding plants and plant roots.

When creating new garden beds or digging a hole for a plant, add about 1:3 coconut coir with native soil and compost. Incorporate the coconut coir and native soil together to create a clumpy friable structure.

Improve sandy soils:

Coconut coir can do it all! It can be used in light, sandy soils to add organic matter and improve moisture and nutrient retention. Follow the same procedure as above to incorporate into new plantings or existing garden beds.

organic coconut coir
EarthMix® Sustain™ coconut coir can be used with EarthMix® Landscape™ when installing new garden beds to lighten soil and to add organic matter to native soils.
organic Coconut coir
A shrub planted in a mix of Sustain™ coconut coir and Landscape™ premium soil conditioner.

Create your own potting mix:

Mix equal parts coir and soil. Add fertilizer or compost and mix well. Here is a recipe for a make-at-home potting mix. Simply replace the peat in this recipe with coconut coir for a more environmentally-friendly blend.

Coconut coir can also be used to lighten standard potting mixes for orchids, cacti, and other plants that prefer lighter and airier soil. Simply incorporate about 1:1 Sustain™ coconut coir with a standard indoor potting mix to create a chunkier blend.

organic coconut coir
Sustain™ coconut coir can be used to lighten potting mixes for epiphytes like orchids.

Propagate succulents:

Are you a succulent enthusiast? Coconut coir is an excellent media for propagating succulents. It is both moist and light, exactly the texture needed for successful propagation. As a bonus, the lignin compounds are resistant to fungal growth, creating ideal conditions for rooting succulents. Simply place the succulent leaf or stem that you wish to propagate on the coconut coir, and watch the roots grow.

Organic coconut coir
Consistent moisture and fungal-resistant properties make Sustain™ coconut coir an excellent medium for propagating succulents.

EarthMix® Sustain™ coconut coir is a sustainably-derived alternative to peat moss. Sourced from environmentally-friendly suppliers and carefully cleaned and packaged in Nashville, TN, Sustain™ is any gardener’s go-to as an environmentally-friendly alternative to peat moss.

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