Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

The Garden Dilemma: To Use Coco Coir Or Not

A few weeks back, I attended a ladies’ night at a local hardware store. A couple of vendors came out to talk about their products. Even after years of growing and making my own soil, I learned something new. That was highly troubling to me.

Fox Farm products, both soil and fertilizers.

Fox Farm’s rep was a lively man who knew his stuff and was more than willing to talk about soil building.

I asked him about what was in their soils (we avoid certain ingredients that some companies use, so Alistaire won’t have an allergic reaction, as he often fills pots for me and mixes soil blends). Out of this conversation, we talked about the use of coco (coconut) coir, which has become a popular alternative to peat moss. Coco Coir is sustainable as it is a by-product of the coconut industry, whereas peat moss is carved out of the ground and won’t soon be replaced by Mother Nature.

A few years ago, I started using coco coir in my soil mixes, thinking I was making a better choice.


Coco coir
I am not calling out this company, but rather just an example of the brand our local store carries at $22.99 a brick.

He stopped and told me about the dark side of cococoir if you are not careful about using it. And suddenly, some of my issues in past years made so much sense.

Coco coir can be high in salt. To lower the salt, it must be soaked and rinsed multiple times.

Their company triple washes it before using it in their products, but many brands don’t with the solid bricks. (For example, Fox Farm Bush Doctor mix uses washed coir.)

Coco Coir can be attractive because it is so compressed that 2.5 cubic feet is a tiny brick with a carry handle. It’s easy to shop for and get out of your car.

Thankfully, I had been rinsing it without knowing I was supposed to. To get it to expand, we have a huge stock tank our ducks used to swim in; we toss the brick in and hose it well; slowly, the water soaks in, and you can hack it up with a shovel, adding in more water. Often, I forget about it in late winter and just let the rain soften it. I’ll come out and drain it, then mix it up and later, it gets rained on again. So, this year, I wasn’t having issues with it. But a few years ago, I broke it up and didn’t rinse it, and my seedlings struggled mighty.

I had no idea I was salting my plants. Yikes.

Lesson learned. And I wondered how many other gardeners have no idea how salt-infused coco coir is. The issue is that the coir is processed using salt water because the processing is often done right at the beach, where the seawater is free and plentiful.

It doesn’t mean you should not use it; know you have an extra step (or three steps) to take before using it.