What Advice Do You Have When Switching From Dirt to Coco Coir?

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Q:

I am thinking of switching from dirt to coco coir and am looking for advice on watering, and whether or not you can you still transplant to larger containers when using coco. Also, are the yields any better? Thanks!

A:

There are several grow media options out there gardeners can choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Dirt, soilless mixes and straight coco are just three choices among many. True dirt (soil) is commonly used in fields and backyards, but rarely in containers used indoors. True dirt is what covers much of the land on Earth, and is mostly comprised of weathered mineral particles with just a little bit (10% or so) of organic material mixed in. It is plentiful and cheap, but it is heavy and tends to compact. It is rarely used in modern, small container gardening, and it is not what most indoor gardeners mean when they use the terms “dirt” or “soil.”

Potting mixes, on the other hand, are an improved alternative to soil. They generally have a higher organic content, which makes them lighter and better able to retain moisture. Peat moss, coco peat (coir), compost and perlite are common ingredients in potting mixes, but there are many different ingredients that can be added. Some potting mixes may or may not contain additives such as additional nutrient sources, fungal inoculates or other beneficial materials. Even though in the academic world these mixes are referred to as soilless, the slang terms dirt and soil are often used to describe them, which is where the confusion sets in.

Using coco peat alone is similar to using pure peat moss or pure perlite; it is a slightly different experience, but still much the same idea. Coco is made from shredded and prepared coconut husks. It has little-to-no nutritional value by itself. If you are accustomed to using a potting mix that has a starting nutrient value, the nutrient schedule for coco peat alone should be altered to accommodate the difference. Many gardeners will add a bit more calcium and magnesium to their nutrient schedule when adjusting for coco. The quality of the coco will also have an impact, as poor quality coco may be salty or incompletely composted, which may require rinsing or additional nitrogen to offset these qualities. As for watering, keep the coco a bit wetter than you would a potting mix—don’t let the top dry out! Go ahead and transplant as normal.

The yields you get from using coco alone may or may not be better than what you get from other mediums, depending on your gardening style. Coco peat would be a better choice over a high compost potting mix if you adhere to a strong, synthetic nutrient regimen. But under a mild, organic regimen, a potting mix may have a slight edge due to its included additives. As to your implied question of which is better overall, I’d suggest you try both and decide which you like better, and go with that.

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Maximum Yield is a print and online magazine published by Maximum Yield Inc. that covers topics such as hydroponics and organics, as well as greenhouse, container, urban, and vertical growing. Each issue is focused on showing you how to reach your Maximum Yield by providing informative articles on the latest technologies, and plenty of tips and tricks from modern growing experts.  Full Bio