Monday, 10 May 2010

Coir Blimey!



When not sorting out who runs it, the Government of the United Kingdom has been busy encouraging gardeners to go 'peat-free' by 2020. Garden Centres and other stores will be asked to stop selling any products containing peat (or peatmoss) within ten years.

A report in the latest issue of The Garden (May 2010), the magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, announced that the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn launched the peat-free initiative as part of its 'Act on CO2' campaign. As I summarised in September, harvesting of peat is generally unsustainable.

It seems the initiative has been well received by industry which has already begun to replace peat with products such as coir and wood fibre. 54% of the market is said to be peat-free. However there are some concerns about the availability and size of the environmental footprint for the alternatives.

When I wrote on this topic last year, Jim Croft (from the Australian National Botanic Gardens) commented that he favoured composted pine bark and similar produts over coir. The latter, he said, was too 'strong' for seedlings and young plants. He had read that the sodium content of coir was high, which would be toxic to quite a few species. For succulents, coir's water holding capacity was just too high.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK would support these comments it seems. They note that "alternative media for specialist plants such as carnivorous and ericaceous subjects [acid-loving plants] might be more difficult to develop".

The Royal Horticultural Society has posted some further advice and background information on its website.

Jim Croft concluded in his comment that while coir is a useful substitute for peatmoss (which he doesn't use for ideological reasons) we shouldn't "get too carried away with a good idea" and he too warns us to take care with more "delicate things". So don't use peat, do use coir, but be careful with any potentially sensitive plants.

Which reminds me of a remark made by an overseas colleague when I responsed indignantly to his criticism of something I had written - he said I had always been a 'sensitive plant'. While I would dispute this as well, it's a nice line!

Image: Coconut Husk Chips for sale at the Bilpin Collectors Plant Fair this year. This is just one of a variety of coir-related products available - coir fibre is the usual peat substitute.

4 comments:

Jim said...

Need to declare that I am not a trained or qualified horticulturist. Just grow a few plants in my front yard, backyard, nature strip, veranda, patio, lounge room, dining room, kitchen, laundry, bathroom, toilet, bedroom, study, rumpus room, spare room, corridor, garage and on my driveway. All without peat and all without coir.

Alistair Hay said...

Must say I think coir is useless muck! Never use peat either, and never have in 25 years gardening in Australia: just not necessary for 99% of things. I don't understand the British gardeners' obsession with peat.... unless you want to grow acid-loving things on chalk soils, and who would have the appallingly bad taste to do that???? They always look AWFUL in the wrong context!!

Tim Entwisle said...

Thanks Alistair! I've used the chippy stuff for orchids in pots and just put a bit (coir chips) into some carnivorous plant repottings - but mostly because I was desparately looking around the house for something other than 'dirt'! Gardeners do try to grow odd things in odd places, you should know that...

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