Look for bales of coir in your local garden center or order it online. Photo credit: Graybeard Flickr
Coir, or coconut husks, have many uses but are becoming popular as a soil enhancer. Traditionally, the long, fibrous material is important for products such as ropes and fishing nets; rugs and mats; brushes; textiles and upholstery stuffing; and more. Craftspeople use it in many projects including art, doll making, and similar works. Gardeners use it for hanging basket liners, soil retention fabrics, orchid cultivation, and other projects.
Why Use Coir?
Gardeners mix ground or finely shredded coir with their potting soil. The fibrous material improves both sandy soil and clay soil by increasing the air porosity, retaining moisture, and improving the texture. Coir can absorb water up to seven times its weight, which is 30 percent more water than peat moss can hold. It helps sandy soil hold moisture for the plants. In heavy soil, it loosens the clay and allows the plant to extend its roots easier.
Soak the Coir
Coir needs to soak at least 15 minutes in a water bath before you can use it effectively. Since it expands greatly – about six times its volume, you should soak it in a large container like a storage tote or 5-gallon bucket. A bale may require a 55-gallon barrel, a garbage can, or a child’s swimming pool. If the coir does not absorb water easily and expand, return it to the garden center for a refund or use it as mulch. Do not use it as a soil amender.
You can substitute coir for peat in potting soil or garden soil recipes. Experts recommend using no more than 40 percent coir or peat when making soil. For a garden soil recipe, see my list of articles below.
Plants need air in the soil. Highly compacted or dense soil does not allow the roots to grow. Air pockets keep the soil loose enough for healthy root growth. Often, gardeners use the term “tilth” to refer to soil that has gaps for air infiltration and water travel. Coir gives clay soil tilth.
PH Balance and Mineral Content
Coir has other advantages for the gardener. It generally has almost a perfect pH balance, which is important to soil conditioning. The fibers are also a good source of potassium (K), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), and zinc (Zn). Most gardeners adjust their fertilizer when using coir. Choose a fertilizer with lower potassium content.
Disadvantages of Using Coir
This medium does have a few disadvantages. It can have a high level of salt, which can be detrimental to some garden and flower plants. Reputable companies test for excessive salt content but cheaper brands may skip this process. Coir’s low pH level cannot supply the proper pH requirements for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, blueberries, lily of the valley, rhododendron, and others.
Coir is a tough material that resists cutting. Do not attempt to cut bales of coir. People have even tried to use chain saws without success. Pull the shreds apart. For easier use, buy finely shredded or coir dust.
Store any unused coir in a covered container. This eco-friendly material is good for years, even as long as a decade. Unlike some products, it will not rot or break down over time. Coir is a
Coir Is a Sustainable Product
One of the greatest advantages of coir is that it is a sustainable product. It is a byproduct of the coconut industry. Many environmentalists advise that it is better to use coir instead of peat moss or vermiculite. Coir is lightweight and easy to ship, which lowers fuel waste.
Where to Find Coir
Look for coir at gardening centers or large home improvement stores. Many gardeners buy the product online. Some stores offer different consistencies, ranging from shredded to ground. For the best soil consistency, the finely shredded or ground products build better soil texture.
Resources for More Info on Coir:
Future Fibres at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Terrie writes for print magazines, including "Cricket" and Dell puzzle magazines, and Internet sites. Her repertoire covers camping, writing, Life's Experiences, and more. As a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, she often writes about family issues.