When amending your plant’s soil, coco coir or coco fiber is a great option, but what exactly is Coco Coir? I’ll answer that question ahead and tell you exactly what each one does so you’ll know which type you need.
What is coco coir and what does it do for plants? Coco coir is a type of natural coconut fiber sourced from the coconut’s husk. Benefits include soil aeration, especially in heavier soils like clay-based soils. In sandy soil, coco coir retains water so a plant doesn’t dry out too fast.
This guide to coco coir will explain further what it is, how it’s made, what it does for plants, and which types you can select from. Whether you’re completely new to soil amendments or you have experience with using other amendments, but not coco fiber for plants, make sure you keep reading!
What Is Coco Coir?
Coco coir is short for coconut coir and is sometimes known as coconut fiber.
The fibrous substance known as coir is found in a coconut between the tough interior shell and the outer layer.
The fiber is a natural byproduct of coconuts that’s taken from the outer shell or husk. Depending on whether the coir is sourced from unripe or ripe coconuts, it’s used in different ways.
For instance, unripe coco coir or white coir goes into fishing nets and rope while ripe or brown coir is used to make sacking, floor mats, and mattresses.
The most common way plant lovers are familiar with using coco fiber is most likely the coconut fiber and the Coco Coir poles that are used to support climbing plants like the Monstera Deliciosa.
Coco coir can be harvested from all over the world, but the bricks or blocks that most indoor gardeners purchase usually come from Southeast Asia and India.
According to a 2019 article published in Technology Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship Information Service, that year, India produced 12 million tons of coconuts, which is standard in that country.
How Is Coco Coir Made?
What does the coco coir production process look like? While I want to make clear that it can vary by manufacturer, here are the general steps so you have an overview of how coir is made.
Step 1 – Harvesting Coconuts
Coconuts will grow and mature on the tree for upwards of eight years, then they’re harvested.
Step 2 – Softening Coconuts and Harvesting Coir
If you’ve ever bought a whole coconut from the grocery store, then you’re well aware that they’re not exactly easy to break open.
To assist in the process, coconut harvesters will soak the coconuts in either saltwater or freshwater.
Using saltwater does add an extra step to the production process, as the salt must be flushed out, but saltwater is used, nevertheless.
When the coconut is adequately softened, its coir is taken out. The coir is between the outer coat and the inner shell of the coconut.
Step 3 – Drying Coir
The coir, like the rest of the coconut, is pretty moist at this point, so next, it’s given time to dry out.
The drying process goes on for far longer than you might expect and can sometimes last for months and other times, up to a year or more!
It all depends on how thick the coir is and its conditions.
While giving the coir a year for drying might seem extraneous, more than drying is occurring. The coir is maturing as well, which improves its quality and makes the end product better.
Step 4 – Baling and Sterilizing Coir
Once the coir is deemed to be in usable condition, it’s shaped into bales.
The coir might be sterilized at this time as well, but not all manufacturers do this.
Others leave the bacteria in the coir intentionally, as it’s sometimes beneficial.
Step 5 – Processing and Packaging Coir
Finally, the coco coir will be processed into whatever its end product is, packaged, and shipped to retailers such as garden supply stores that sell coconut coir to indoor gardeners like myself and you!
Types of Coco Coir and Which is Best for Your Needs
You’ll find coco coir in several formats when you browse around your favorite garden supply store. Let’s go over the types now to determine which type of coco coir suits your needs best.
You know what the fibers of coconut husks look like if you’ve ever drunk a fruity, tropical beverage in a shaved-out coconut, or again if you’ve purchased a whole coconut from the grocery store.
Those fibers can go into hanging basket liners but can also be used as a soil amendment in their own right.
The unprocessed fibers are stringy and often bundled together. The space between fibers allows for aeration when used in soil.
Since it’s not quite coir, coco fibers aren’t so great at water retention, but they will allow for the soil to drain well and remain exceptionally porous, creating naturally well-draining soil.
For more information on the importance of soil that drains well and helps prevent root rot I recommend reading my related article, Well-Draining Soil for Indoor Plants (Ultimate Guide)
Coco fiber can degrade the longer it’s in the soil, thus reducing its capabilities of doing the above.
When it comes to using Coco Fiber and your plants I’d recommend any plants you’d find in hanging soil and coco fiber baskets.
Here are a few plants I’ve grown in a mixture of Coco Fiber and potting mix over the years and had good luck with.
- Snake Plants
- Christmas cactus
- String of pearls
Coco Pith or Coco Peat
This coconut byproduct is coco pith, which is sometimes called coco peat.
Coco peat is ground very finely and compacted tightly together.
So why is it nicknamed coco peat? The resulting product does bear a resemblance to peat moss.
Making coco pith requires an extensive rinsing, drying, and aging period.
The pith is quite dense, has a high volume, and will reduce rather than increase air pockets in a plant’s soil.
Coco pith is also capable of absorbing water in mass quantities due to its density, sometimes more water than an indoor gardener would prefer.
You should only use coco pith for plants that like consistently moist soil to prevent creating waterlogged conditions.
Here are a few plants that love moisture and can handle wet soil well, making coco pith or coco peat a great type of coco coir to use.
- Alocasia Polly
- Spider Plants
- Calathea Triostar and Calathea Ornata
I’d also like to point out that another use for coco pith or coco peat is as a soil conditioner.
Coco chips are a cross between coco fiber and pith.
If the word chips calls to mind thin pieces of coir in mostly uniform sizes, that’s pretty much what coir chips are. They have a sizable surface area and rough edges.
The thickness of coir chips is enough that when introduced into plant soil, the chips can create pockets of air.
When wet, coir chips will expand. The chips can hold onto water for a long time due to their surface area. While they are a mix between the two previous types of coco coir they aren’t necessarily the perfect mix.
The type of plants I’ve found that work best with Coco Chips are:
- Air Plants
- Holiday Cactuses such as the Christmas and Easter Cactus as well as other epiphytes
- Also works well as outdoor mulch as a bark alternative.
The Benefits of Coco Coir
Before we wrap up, I want to go over the advantages of coco coir.
I’m not saying it’s the right soil amendment for every plant species in your indoor garden, but for the ones it works for, it works exceptionally well!
Aerates the Soil
Primarily, coco coir’s job is that of a soil aerator. It works best in this fashion when added to the soil in chip form rather than in spindles such as coco fiber.
The coco fibers are decent at aeration, as you’ll recall, but nothing beats coir chips for this job.
Air pockets throughout the soil are beneficial for your plants in a variety of ways.
For one, you don’t have to stress about compaction, a natural phenomenon in which the soil begins pushing down on itself over time.
Aerated soil also encourages good water drainage. The coir opens up those air pockets where water would usually have nowhere to go and allows the fluid to drain all the way out of the pot.
Has Good Water Retention
In some scenarios, as discussed, you may want to maintain moister conditions for an indoor plant. This is another area where coco coir excels, especially coco pith.
The water retention of coco pith will prevent you from having to water your plants too frequently.
Maintaining an indoor garden can be pricier than you might have thought, especially if you have an eye for rare, expensive plants.
You also have to buy pots, fertilizer, grow lights, and the whole nine. The money adds up!
Well, amending your soil doesn’t have to be so costly, at least. Coco coir is quite economical, making it a great value for the money.
Renewable and Organic
These days, it’s all about doing what’s right for our planet.
When you choose coco coir for your indoor garden, you’re making a green decision you can be proud of.
While a coconut cannot regrow its husk or the coir once it’s harvested, coir is renewable in that new coconuts are always available.
The product is all-natural and completely organic as well!
Indoor gardening will never be an odor-free process, even though I’m sure we all wish some days it could be.
At least when you choose coco coir as a soil amendment for your plants, that’s one less smell to contend with. It’s odorless.
The fruity coconut odor is from the fruit itself, not the husk!