Problems with plants grown in coconut fiber pots

ifraser25(z11 Brazil)May 2, 2007

About 18 months ago the Brazilian government banned the sale of tree fern fiber pots ( my favorite medium) as so many plants were being destroyed from the wild and recommended growers switching to coconut fiber. Since then I have been repotting most of my orchids into the latter. I have noted however a substantial number of them failing to thrive. I discussed this with a fellow grower who also uses coconut fiber pots and she reported similar problems.

Subsequently I discussed this with a well-known plant nutritionist. He informed me that coconut fiber contains a large amount of taurine, a substance not common in plant fibers. Although this was capable of being removed by thorough washing, he thought that probably many producers failed to do this. As he regarded the presence of taurine in orchid compost as suspicious he recommended me no longer to use coconut fiber.

I now face a considerable dilemma. I'm very reluctant to go back to using plastic or clay but feel there is no viable organic alternative. I would like to know what experiences other growers have had with using coconut fiber. I don't regard it as a proven guilty case just yet. If it is to be regarded with suspicion, however, what alternatives are there? I have found an (illegal) supplier of tree fern pots but supplies are very limited and this will not be a long term answer.

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orchidguyftl(z11 FTL FL)

try using the plastic vanda baskets with either sphagnum moss or osmunda fiber
I used to love potting into osmunda. Coconut also starts a quick, though microscopic deterioration the minute you start regular watering. Various fungi start to attack the fibers, such as snow mold, and sour the coconut fiber. They are usually not sen until it is way too late to do anything about it and then your plants are in jeopardy. Those in dryer climates, up north or desert conditions, arent as much at risk, but that is one of the reasons why we dont pot in coconut here in Florida, Hawaii growers dont do it much either, and seeing that you are from Brazil, I would imagine that the humidity is probably too much to pot that way there too.
plants that I do not pot into sphagnum moss, my Catts for instance and evergreen dens, I pot into aliflor. You might try and hopefully you'll have very good success.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 10:57AM
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richardol(Santa Royale CA)

Everything can be grown in teak baskets. For some plants I use a shade-cloth liner. Cut 2 pieces that are the width of the inside and as long as the length of the bottom plus twice the depth of the basket. Then cross them so that the bottom is double thick and the sides are single. Works well for everything from bark to sand.

If you are using sphagnum then the liner is not needed.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 12:52PM
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wetfeet101b(z9 Riverside - So Cal- USA)

I used "home made" coconut fiber pots in the past. Actually, we just split the old (brown) coconuts in half, remove the inner shell and drill some dain holes so each coconut fruit produced two pots.
Another fancy way is to break up the coconut outer shells into strips and then re-assemble them into the desired pot shape.

Coconuts were plentiful in the Philippines where I used the coco fiber pots so they were virtually free. But it took some preparation before they were "orchid-friendly".
1. Leave the coconut halves under direct sun for a few days to completely dry them out.
2. Soak them in a barrel of water to leach out all tannins and whatever chemicals there could be leftover. This process is repeated several times until we feel that the coco-fibers are "clean" enough.
3. Dry the coco husks again and give them a final rinse prior to use.

If you have to use coco-fiber (or coco husk chips), make sure that you wash them thoroughly. These days, it is hard to assume that the sellers/manufacturers actually clean them.

Another significant difference between fern fiber and coconut fiber is that coco-fiber holds water longer than fern. So you have to make adjustments to your watering routine, or make sure that the coco-pots have adequate ventilation to dry them out faster.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 4:06PM
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Have you thought about using EpiWeb?
I haven't used it, but I understand that the opinions
are very positive. I'm very seriously considering using some in my next palludarium project. :~)
First Rays is the distributor for the States and Canada. It's originally from Sweden.
I couldn't say who a distributor would be in your area. (If there is one.)
An additional benefit is that it wouldn't have to be replaced like treefern does!


    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 4:01AM
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norbert1(Southern France)

I've read that coconut fiber naturally holds significant levels of sodium ion, which orchids don't like that much either. It was recommended to pretreat the fiber by soaking in a concentrated solution of calcium chloride. This is to replace Na+ with the more plant-friendly Ca++ ions. I guess you can use Epsom salts (source of Mg++) or dolomitic lime (Ca++ and Mg++) instead.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 4:08AM
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wetfeet101b(z9 Riverside - So Cal- USA)

Considering that the coconut itself is a seed, its natural tendency will be to store as much nutrients as it can during its development.
Way too much nutrients to be used as an orchid medium unless the tedious preparation process is performed.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 12:31PM
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zzyzzyx(Lower MI)

I bought an orchid at Trader Joe's once, potted in a coconut shell. Once the coconut began to decay, though, repotting killed the plant, as it was not possible to remove the roots from the very tight fibers. Drainage was an issue, which led to the decay and subsequent rot setting in, which led to the repotting, which led to the root massacre, which led to severe trauma for the already distressed plant, and ultimately to its death. I do not recommend coconut shells, but I will say that chips are not so bad if used with things that have larger roots, like phals and catts. They drain well and don't entangle impossibly with the roots.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2007 at 4:51PM
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In India coconut husk is used as a cheap alternative to pot large numbers of orchids. The shell of the coconut is rarely used though. The outer fibrous husk is separated from the nut which leaves 3-4 crescent-shaped pieces of husk. These are left out in the sun for some days to dry, soaked in water and later in pesticide and fungicide. The orchid plant is tied onto this with jute strings or fibres of banana plants which would decompose later after the plant has established roots in the husk.
If done carefully, the husk doesnt separate all the way through . Which leaves a cocoon like contraption into which the orchid roots are placed with the cane rising out of the whole coconut husk. This is sometimes used as a natural 'hanging-basket'.
I personally dont use much of this because the place where I live is overrun with termites and they just love coconut husk. I suppose a good dose of pesticide would solve that but I'm still wary of using them especially since my orchids are outdoors year-round.
I do use the fibre of the coconut leaves (the net-like contraption that holds the coconut leaf in place on the tree) to hold orchid plants on the tree like a hair-net when they're mounted on trees. They're fantastic and I dont treat them in any way. I just pick up a piece thats fallen off a tree, cut it to the size I want and wrap it around the roots of the plant which is placed against the bark of the tree. Tie it off and forget about it.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 4:08PM
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xmpraedicta(3b Saskatoon)

Wow sunita - sounds like paradise! I can't imagine just being able to find mounting materials like that lying around and using it..that's really resourceful.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 5:07PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

Gee ,i would think in Brazil you could just attach to the trees?? is it too dry in your particular area??
I've tried Sunita's method but the neighbors get angry when i strip their palms lol Another problem is that ferns will over run the entire setup. gary

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 7:19PM
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haha well, not everybody in Brazil has a backyard with trees to attach orchids :)

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 3:35AM
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Calvin, I'm just lucky I live on a coconut farm. Now just remind me of this statement when crashlanding coconuts and coconut leaves chop off more dend. canes and spikes than I dare to count : o

Gary, we managed to finally get mangoes through to you... maybe next on the list should be coconut products ; ) BTW, I havent faced that problem with ferns.They get barbequed in our Indian sizzle before they even stretch a toe towards the mounted orchids!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2007 at 2:57PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

The most invasive for me are nephrolepis or Boston ferns.
.Almost any media i use is an ideal spore bed for the ferns so they sprout directly on them.Another is the polypodiums
which form very tough stems . The main problem is ,i think they are so pretty until they over run the whole planting lol But then I'm a big fan of epi ferns.
Would think you would have hundred of species of epi as well as terrestrial ferns in India.
I'm experimenting with using totaly artificial mounts such as PVC pipe and expanding foam but I'd be willing to bet if the orchids like it the ferns will too lol

    Bookmark   May 9, 2007 at 7:31AM
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I've never had good results from coconut fibers/chunks/chips etc. If they have been before, they have to be soaked and washed completely. Plus the fibers tend to hold salts and burn the orchid roots. Here in California, we still grow with fir bark, though the quality of it has gone down through the years. Some friends of mine are growing in red cedar chips. The old Stewart's mix was 3/4 white fir bark, 1/4 redwood chips plus perlite. I use fir bark plus some ground peat and perlite in plastic pots. I grow in a greenhouse.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 10:26PM
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ifraser25(z11 Brazil)

Thank you for your many comments. There seems to be some confusion, however, about what I mean by coconut fiber pots. I don't mean coconut shells split in half, although I have seen them used. I mean the removal of the fiber from the shell,then compacting and molding it in the shape of a pot by an industrial process. The general consensus seems to be that the latter should be avoided. Some of my tougher semi-terrestrial orchids such as Epidendrums seem to do OK however, so I will leave them.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 1:24PM
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orchiddude(+7b ALabama)

Interesting thread. I grow phrags in the coconut chips and dont have a problem with them, I dont think. I use RO water and they plants grow excellant root systems.

I am trying a new medium using cypress mulch/perlite/peat. I just started so it will be a year before I know if I like it. Seems to be working.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 5:44PM
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dirtmonkey(z8 OR)

I know the kind you're referring to ifraser25; your post is interesting to me.

I've stopped using the coconut fiber pots too. I wasn't using them for any orchids (except Ludisia discolor which doesn't count), but I have taken all the other kinds of plants I had in them back out. They didn't thrive, and I don't really know why.

Most of the plants were Brazilian and Central American gesneriads.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 4:12PM
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My mother in the Philippines has orchids mostly on tree stumps which are supported by steel legs, she also sticks them to the garden wall, to treefern fiber and in pots whether clay pots or in coco shells, however, I wonder if I have missed out in the thread that no one has mentioned using big chunks of charcoal aside from the moss?

Now I am trying in Jordan and am unsuccessful in 2 attempts once indoors and once outdoors, any suggestions? I think a solution would be a greenhouse, but I can't do that at the moment.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2008 at 6:50PM
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arthurm(Sydney, NSW AUST)

Hi Arabnp,
You might be do better by asking your question in a new thread rather than here at the end of a long old thread which has nothing much to do with your question.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2008 at 7:15PM
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thanks to you all for the info on this thread. i have had some problems with black roots, etc, on some of my orchids: i had just thought it was due to over fertilizing, or poor culture - i never thought that it could be due to coconut fibers. i have take away all the coconut fibers. now i will know for sure if it is me...

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 9:16PM
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I grow MANY catts, oncidums, encyclia, psycopsis, stanhopeas, and many other varieties with some form of coco fiber involved. I mainly use the coco liner type that I buy in 4 ft x 30 ft rolls and it's thickness varies from 1/2 to close to 1 inch. I cut it in pieces of various sizes, and sit the plants on top of it and secure the bundle to the wooden basket with tie wraps. I also use it on wood branch mounted plants, I place a small piece between the plant and the wood, as well as on naturalized orchids mounted on my trees. The fiber is pre-washed and I've had zero problems with it. It does the job that I intended it to do, that is to hold moisture for the plants. I'm sure it will eventually break down, by that time the plants are so well established that it makes no difference, or plant needs to be repotted anyway. I also see many big growers sell to garden center dendrobiums potted in big coco chunks, basically it's half of a whole coconut husk. They get good usage from it also. I have also used small coconut pieces mixed in with lava rock and aliflor for potted cattleays, again mostly to retain moisture. If you're unsure about your coco material not being washed, I would certainly soak it in 24 hours cycles at least 2-3 times, to leech out any minerals. Get a new plastic garbage can for the job and if possible use rain water. I have been thinking of using ONLY coco fiber to mount plants and thusly use only the renewable material.

Long live the renewable resource that is the coconut husk!!!

Kudos to Brazil for stopping the sale of tree fern, I've used it many times and it is a great product for orchid growers. We must understand that we are using many of the products from the rain forest and then complain that the rain forest is being cut down. Time for me to step down from the soap box now....

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 8:32PM
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I am successfully growing Dendrobium Kingianum keikis (plantlets) in a mix of coconut husk chips and fibres, fir bark and what I believe to be Bigelow's Porotrichum Moss. I did make preparation: I soaked the chips in hot water for a few hours than drained them and let them dry out completely in the sun and repeated this exercise one more time. My dendrobium plantlets seem to enjoy themselves in this mix of medium for I have witnessed unexpectedly rapid root growth as well as vegetative growth, more than that, new offshoots have also appeared. My plantlets do fair much better then I could have ever expected.

I still need to devise the right proportions of the various components of the medium for my Cattleya hybrids though, for I fear the mix I potted my Dendrbiums in do not seem to be optimal for them. Perhaps they would prefer more husks and less bark or the other way round.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 10:12AM
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I grow dendrobium keikis in small, clay pots with a mix of fine bark and a little perlite. They grow very well with little fuss. I fertilize with the same frequency as my larger plants and they make good growth over the warm months. I don't think it necessary to use a special potting media as long as it is open and well-drained.

I no longer use CHC as I see little benefit and too much risk.


    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 9:41PM
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Hi Jane,

I quite agree, probably the most important factor is the medium being open so that the roots get adequate airation. The mix I used for my keikis is very open so probably that contributes for the largest part to the vigorous growth of my dendrobium plantlets. I plan to repot them and grow them on rocks covered with a thin layer of fine bark and moss, and I have high hopes for it to work out as well.

As far as the original topic of cocobut fibers and husk is concerned, with proper preparation, it seems to serve its purpose quite well, with this particular dendrobium hybrid at least.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 3:30AM
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