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Coir and applications of coir in stormwater management


This page provides information on coir. While providing extensive information on coir, there is a section focused specifically on stormwater applications for coir.

Overview and description

image of coir fiber
A close-up view of coir fibre, by Fotokannan, licensed under CC CC BY-NC-SA

Coconut (Cocus nucifera L.) pith or coir, the mesocarp of the fruit, is a waste product that has potential benefits in growth media. Coir dust is peat-like and consists of short fibres (< 2 cm). Coir has a large surface area per unit volume, is hydrophilic, and therefore has the ability to absorb water.

There are three basic types of coir material.

  1. Coco pith is a rich, brown color and has a high water retention capacity.
  2. Coco fibers are stringy bundles that does not readily retain water and will break down over time.
  3. Coco chips are small chunks of coir that combine the properties of the peat and fiber. Coco chips retain water well and also allow for air pockets.

Coir production involves separating the husk from the shelled nut and soaking the husk in water. The fibers are then separated from the pith and the resulting material is screened to create a uniform particle size. A dust is created during this process and the dust may be air dried and packaged.

Coir benefits may include but are not limited to the following.

  • Coir has a neutral pH
  • Coir improves water holding capacity of soil
  • Coir may improve drainage in fine-textured soils by creating pore spaces as it degrades
  • Coir increases the organic matter content of soil, which can improve soil structure and aggregation
  • Coir production is sustainable and therefore does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Properties of coir

This section includes a discussion of chemical and physical properties of coir, and potential contaminants in coir,

Chemical-physical properties of coir

The physical and chemical properties of coir vary with particle size. Noguera et al. (2003) varied particle size of coir dust, studying the properties of coir passing through sieves 0.125, 0.25, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 mm in diameter. They observed the following.

  • As particle diameter increases, air content increased and water holding capacity decreased
  • Electrical conductivity and micro-element concentrations were greatest in the smallest diameter coir
  • Bulk density decreased from 0.122 to 0.041 g/cm3 as particle size increased from <0.125 to >2 mm
  • Pore space increased from 92.3% to 97.3% as particle size increased from <0.125 to >2 mm
  • Water holding capacity (ml/l) decreased from 855 to 165, with the greatest change occurring with 0.5-1 mm particles
  • Shrinkage (volume loss on drying) decreased as particle size increased (38% to 15% as particle size increased from <0.125 to >2 mm)
  • Nutrient availability decreased with increasing particle size, but there were no significant differences between 0.125 and 2 mm. There was a large increase for the smallest particle size.

Based on generally recommended plant specifications, the researchers concluded the 0.25-0.5 mm size appears most suited for plant growth, with some addition of larger particles recommended. Abad et al. (2005) similarly concluded that a mix of particle sizes is likely to be optimum for use of coir as a plant medium.

Another factor affecting chemical properties of coir are the conditions under which it is prepared. In particular, if soaking in a saline solution is used in the preparation of coir, concentrations of potassium, sodium, chloride can be very high and may interfere with plant growth.

The following table summarizes data from the literature on physical and chemical properties of coir. Some general conclusions include the following.

  • Coir is slightly acidic but not as acidic as peat
  • Available nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc are low, while phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and potassium are high, particularly if the coir was prepared in a saline solution
  • Coir has a very high water holding capacity
  • Coir has a high germination index compared to compost (Lodolini et al., 2017)
  • Coir dust does not collapse when wet or shrink excessively as it dries (Cresswell)

Chemical and physical properties of coir.
Link to this table

Property Range found in literature1 Median value from literature
Total phosphorus (% dry wt) 0.036 - 0.41 0.036
Total nitrogen (% dry wt) 0.24 - 0.5 0.45
Total potassium (% dry wt) 0.4 - 2.39 0.819
Total carbon (%) 42 - 49 47.1
Total hydrogen (%) 4.4
pH 4.9 - 6.9 5.9
Cation exchange capacity (cmol/kg) 31.7 - 130 50
Electrical conductivity (ds/m) 39 - 2900 582
Total calcium (%) 0.18-0.47 0.40
Total magnesium (%) 0.11-0.47 0.36
Total copper (mg/kg) 3.1-10.3 4.2
Total zinc (mg/kg) 4.0-9.8 7.5
Total manganese (mg/kg) 12.5-92 17
Bulk density (g/cm3) 0.025 - 0.132 0.06
Water holding capacity (% by wt) 137 - 1100 566
Total pore space (%) 85.5 - 98.3 95.2

Primary references for this data:

  • Cresswell
  • Abad et al., 2002
  • Abad et al., 2005
  • Asiah et al., 2004
  • Kumar et al., 2010
  • Lodolini et al., 2017
  • Shrestha et al., 2019

Potential contaminants in coir

There are few concerns with contaminants in coir, with the possible exception of sodium and chloride in coir prepared using saline solutions. Levels of the elements may be at levels that negatively impact plant growth.

Metal concentrations are well below Tier 1 Soil Reference Values. Organic contaminants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are not a concern.

Effects of coir on physical and chemical properties of soil and bioretention media

In this section we provide information on effects of coir on pollutant attenuation and the physical properties of soil and bioretention media.

Effects of coir on retention and fate of phosphorus

Effects of coir on retention and fate of other pollutants

Effects of coir on soil physical and hydraulic properties

Effects of coir on soil fertility, plant growth, and microbial function

Standards, classification, testing, and distributors

Coir standards


Test methods

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