Peat moss and coco are both popular choices when it comes to plant cultivation. Both have great moisture holding capacity, and both are readily available throughout the UK. Despite this, their are some fundamental differences between the two, and there has been a lot of debate lately among growers regarding which is the best option to use for your grow.
What Is Coco?
Coco is the shorter name for coco coir, which basically means coconut husks. That is the tough fibrous outer portion of the coconut. This fibrous material is mostly inert, but over long periods of time will break down and release the nutrition locked up inside the fibers.
Coco makes a great medium for growing plants, and is in the middle between hydroponics and soil. This is because it acts (and looks) like soil, but is treated like hydroponics. Coco is a mostly inert growing medium, consisting mainly of strong, long lasting fibers. This means it contains very little nutrients that are available to the plant, which allows you to add whatever nutrients you want. It also means the nutrients you add will find their way into your plants roots much quicker, resulting in faster growth, more control, and higher yield.
What is peat moss?
Peat moss, is a type of slow growing moss found in large amounts across what are called peat bogs. This moss is extracted, pasteurized, and dried to then be sold as a growing medium and soil conditioner. Many large scale farms use peat as an addition to their soil in an attempt to increase the moisture holding capacity of their soil. It can turn clay or sandy dirt into light and fluffy soil, perfect for growing most crops.
Coco vs Peat
Peat moss has long been a popular choice among growers for its high availability, and great moisture holding capacity. Coconut has only recently come to the mainstream agricultural scene within the past 10 years or so, but boasts the same low cost, and high availability as peat.
There are several major downsides with using peat however which has lead to the increase in the use of coco as a substrate for growers.
1. Peat moss is non-renewable
Peat moss comes from the incredibly slow growing moss species from the genus Sphagnum. With the high rate that this moss is being extracted, and slow rates of growth, peat moss is considered one of the least environmentally friendly products in the entire agricultural industry.
The bogs that peat moss grow in, is home to many different organisms, and forms an entire ecosystem. As these bogs are destroyed to harvest their peat, these ecosystems are lost will all of the life that once called it home.
Peat harvesting has a profound impact on the carbon levels of the earth at large as well. This is because peat serves as a reservoir for carbon storage, and as it is harvested and destroyed, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere in large amounts.
2. Peat moss is highly flammable
Dried peat moss is so flammable it has been known to combust from the exposure of direct sunlight alone. Many peat moss retailers dampen the moss regularily in order to reduce the chances of a peat fire, the problem however is that most people are not aware of the risks involved with peat fires, and after placing their peat into pots, if they allow them to dry out completely, fires can become a high risk.
3. Peat moss can contain plant diseases and viruses
Peat moss come from highly humid bogs and marshes which are home to an incredible variety of plant eating bacteria, fungi, and viruses. When peat is harvested, it is often pasteurized or cleaned, however the spores and endospores of this bacteria and fungi can survive high heats. This means that when you begin growing plants out of this peat, there is a decent chance that the bacteria or fungus will have the opportunity of attacking your plants, and growing into more of a problem than it's really worth.
4. Peat moss requires additional soil additives to be used successfully
Peat moss has great moisture holding capacity, but over time can become impacted and actually end up locking water out. This is not good for your plants, especially when they are watered on an automated system. In this case you may or may not be watching the success of each watering, and impacted soil may result in the death of your plants before you even notice.
The benefits of coco coir
Coco offers solutions to many of these problems:
1. It is a renewable resource
Coco coir is a byproduct of the coconut industry, which is a sustainable and worldwide industry. This means there is a nearly endless supply of coco coir. In fact, using coco coir has a beneficial impact on the environment, because it provides a use for this product which has few other uses aside from the textile industry. Coconut farms produce massive amounts of this product each year.
2. Coco coir resists pests and disease
The coconut plant is one of the best for resisting pest and disease. Their husk contains many different natural chemicals that make them unattractive for pests and disease. This is why coconut coir lasts so long before breaking down as well. There are very few things out there that like to eat it.
3. It does not need to be mixed with anything to be a great growing media
Unlike peat moss, coco does not compress overtime to lock out water from your plants roots. The large fibers making up coco coirs structure prevents it from easily stacking and compressing the way peat does. This means that not only can you use is alone without any additives, but it actually works better in this way! This keeps cost down and makes growing with coco straightforward and simple.
Peat and coco both make great growing mediums, but with the negatives that come along with peat, it is likely that coco is the superior option in the long run. Its simplicity to use, low risk of soil compression, low flammability, and renewable resource status push it ahead of peat in the modern age of plant cultivation.