Exactly what is organic coconut mulch? Is it any different than other more conventional mulches?
Organic coconut mulch is made from the fibrous center layer of coconuts. This fiber is called coir. Both the fibers and the dust are natural byproducts of coconut processing. For years it was either thrown away or left to pile up in processing plants. During the 1990's gardeners began experimenting with coconut shell refuse while searching for better alternatives to detrimental materials such as peat moss. They discovered that this renewable resource is not only environmentally friendly, but it is also a reliable, efficient mulch material.
Practical Benefits of Coconut Mulch
Coconut mulch is a viable alternative to other materials, but how does it compare to other products in use? Coir fiber allows for great water drainage, and it is effective for holding excess water. When tested against wood-based mulch it was shown to significantly reduce both moisture and temperature fluctuation. Just like other materials, from newspapers to straw, it blocks weed growth. It tends to last longer than other more biodegradable organic mulches such as lawn clippings or pine needles because it has a slow rate of decomposition. This is because the fibers contain lignin, which takes a long time to decay. Coir is also relatively porous, allowing for good air and water flow.
One of the most unique benefits of coconut mulch is weight. Unlike other products, which come in heavy twenty-five pound bags, coir is packaged in compact, lightweight bricks. These bricks can be used right away — simply add water and the mulch will expand in size. The coir is then ready to apply to the ground. You can also lay the bricks on the ground and water them where you want to spread the mulch. You can also store coconut mulch for long periods of time without any worry over fungal growth.
Coconut and Plant Health
Is coconut mulch better than other mulches for plant life? It is slightly acidic in nature, which is great for acid-loving flowers, but not for most vegetables. To address this issue, test soil acidity to find out if it is necessary to change pH levels with lime. Coir mulch is a good source of nutrients, especially potassium. It can reduce nitrogen levels, although the presence of other organic materials such as compost (compost made with used coffee grounds works really well) will help balance nitrogen levels.
Element 6 Products offers several different varieties of organic coconut mulch. It is sold in most hardware stores across the country. Blocks of coir mulch are also available online from the Gardener's Supply Company. There are a number of great, eco-friendly mulches, and coir fiber is no exception. It is made from a renewable resource, is extremely efficient, inexpensive, and easy to use. Also, unlike many effective materials, coconut looks great. It is a rich, brown color, that remains dark even after months in the sunlight.
"Compare Mulch Products." (Element 6 Products) <http://www.originalmulchblock.com/comparemulchproducts.html>
"Organic Mulch." (High Plains Gardening) <http://www.highplainsgardening.com/?q=content/organic-mulch>
photo by Maria Keays (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/maria_keays/4447270185/>