Ditch Peat and Embrace Coco Coir - A Greener Choice

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Nov 8
7 min read
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hands scooping coco coir
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

In recent years, the gardening world has faced a major challenge - the scarcity of peat moss, a widely used component in soil mixes. With growing concerns about the environmental impact of peat harvesting and its depleting availability, gardeners need to consider alternative options. Coco coir emerges as an eco-friendly, sustainable, and effective substitute for peat. In this blog post, we'll discuss why peat is becoming scarcer, the environmental consequences of peat harvesting, and what options gardeners have for transitioning away from peat.

The Environmental Issues with Peat

Peat, often used in gardening as a soil amendment and for seed germination, presents a range of significant environmental issues, making its continued use a subject of concern for conservationists and eco-conscious individuals. Here are some of the most pressing problems associated with peat:

  • Long Regeneration Time: Peat bogs take thousands of years to form and regenerate naturally. As a result, the peat moss that is extracted is non-renewable on human timescales. Once a peat bog is depleted, it may not recover for generations, if ever.
  • Habitat Destruction: Peat bogs are unique and sensitive ecosystems that support a diverse range of plant and animal species. The extraction of peat moss destroys these habitats, displacing wildlife and altering the delicate balance of these environments. Carnivorous plants, berries like cranberries, amphibians, and mammals such as moose, beavers, and otters rely on peat bogs for their survival.
  • Water Disruption: Peat bogs play a crucial role in regulating water in local ecosystems. The destruction of these bogs can disrupt water flow, contributing to issues such as flooding, loss of local waterways, and changes in watersheds. This disruption can harm both local wildlife and human populations.
  • Loss of Biodiversity: Peat bogs are home to a unique set of flora and fauna, many of which are specially adapted to these environments. The loss of peat bogs contributes to the decline of these species, impacting overall biodiversity.
  • Erosion and Soil Degradation: Peat plays a role in preventing soil erosion and maintaining the health of surrounding ecosystems. The removal of peat from an area can lead to soil degradation and increased vulnerability to erosion.
  • Waste of a Valuable Resource: Peat, with its slow growth rate, is a non-renewable resource. The extensive use of peat for gardening and horticultural purposes can be seen as a waste of this valuable natural resource.
  • Carbon Emissions: Peat bogs act as carbon sinks, storing large amounts of carbon over thousands of years. When peat is harvested, it releases this stored carbon back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The release of these gases contributes to global warming and climate change, exacerbating environmental problems.

In light of these environmental issues, it becomes evident that peat moss extraction is not a sustainable practice. While sustainable practices have been introduced, including the restoration of harvested peat bogs, this doesn't change the fact that peat is a finite resource. A significant part of the world's wetlands is comprised of peatlands, and it's essential to preserve them for future generations.

peat digging in Scotland bog

Restoration and Responsibility

The horticulture industry has been proactive in managing and restoring peat bogs sustainably. Partnerships with universities, best management practices, and environmental stewardship have been at the forefront of these efforts. The goal is to preserve as much of the peatlands as possible, minimize environmental impact, and reduce carbon emissions.

Certification programs like Veriflora's Responsible Peatland Management provide assurance of good management practices and sustainable development. Moreover, the Global Peatlands Initiative aims to reduce the historical non-restored areas by 30% within five years and achieve a 100% reduction after 15 years.

The Real Threat to Peat

The threat to North American peatlands is not primarily overharvesting, but climate change. Extreme weather events, shifts in weather patterns, and rising sea levels pose significant challenges to peatland restoration and sustainability.

Seeking Sustainable Alternatives

As responsible gardeners, we must look beyond peat and seek sustainable alternatives. Coco coir, derived from the shredded husks of coconuts, stands out as a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to peat moss in gardening and horticulture. Here's why coco coir is a responsible choice and some of the key benefits it offers:

1. Waste Product of an Established Industry: Coconut coir is a byproduct of the coconut industry. It's derived from coconut husks that would otherwise go to waste. Using coconut coir repurposes this material, reducing environmental waste and making efficient use of existing resources.

2. Renewable and Abundant: Coconut trees are highly renewable, and coconuts are available in abundance in many tropical regions. This ensures a consistent supply of coconut coir without depleting finite resources, making it an attractive choice for sustainable gardening.

3. Low Carbon Footprint: While there is a carbon footprint associated with the transportation of coconut coir, it's generally lower than that of peat, which often comes from remote peat bogs. The shorter supply chain and the use of a waste product contribute to the lower environmental impact of coconut coir.

4. Improved Water Retention and Aeration: Coco coir has excellent water retention properties, allowing it to hold moisture for longer periods. This feature reduces the need for frequent watering, which not only conserves water but also saves time and effort for gardeners. Simultaneously, coconut coir promotes proper soil aeration, preventing soil compaction and enhancing root development.

5. Resistance to Root Rot: The water-retaining capacity of coco coir is balanced, preventing over-saturation. This characteristic reduces the risk of root rot, a common problem in soil mixes with poor drainage. Healthy plant roots result in better growth and vitality.

6. Suitable for Organic Gardening: Coconut coir is often organic and free from contaminants, chemicals, or pathogens. This makes it a suitable choice for organic gardening, where maintaining soil health and avoiding synthetic substances is a top priority.

7. Versatility: Coco coir can be used in a variety of gardening applications, including potting mixes, seed germination, and as a soil conditioner. Its versatility and adaptability make it an excellent choice for a wide range of plants, from indoor houseplants to outdoor garden beds.

8. Neutral pH: Unlike peat, which tends to be acidic, coconut coir typically has a neutral pH. This makes it easier to adjust the pH of your soil as needed, providing more flexibility for different types of plants.

9. Resilient in Various Climates: Coconut coir can perform well in a variety of climates and conditions. It's adaptable to different growing environments, making it a practical choice for gardeners with diverse needs.


Gardening and plant-tending are tangible actions in the fight against climate change. By embracing peat-free gardening and adopting alternatives like coconut coir, we can significantly reduce our impact on the environment. Peat's depletion and environmental consequences necessitate a shift toward more sustainable practices. It's time for gardeners, regardless of the scale of their gardens, to take the important step of going peat-free and choosing eco-friendly alternatives like coconut coir. Together, we can make a difference and contribute to a greener future for our planet.

Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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2 comments

Walt

Coco coir has a disadvantage that it has a high salinity and must be washed three times before use in gardening, hug! Too mush salt for the soil and plants. Is there something that could be done for this? Your thoughts please.


Elyse

What about salt content


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