Coir Liners: The pros and cons of using coconut fibres in planters

A client recently challenged me to bring two old planters hanging by her front door back to life. They had become quite tatty over the year, and she presented me with a small mountain of coir fibre to help with my restoration mission.

Fortunately, I’d come across coir a few times before. Made from the tough fibres surrounding the inner shell of the coconut, coir is a very popular material for hanging baskets, pots, and soil improvement. But it seemed so unwieldy, with the texture of thick knotted hair. I was really skeptical that coir, in all its loose coarseness, could help me recreate the bygone beauty of these planters.

Are coir liners really the answer?

From the looks of last year’s planters, it was clear that the coir fibres had been pulled apart in all directions. At first, I thought it might have been the natural result of these planters being subjected to rains and winds. But I found that these liners can also start to look tatty when birds take bits away to make their nests. Very clever, and I wouldn’t blame them. It does come apart quite easily!

I began to empty the old compost and hadn’t dug too deeply before coming across a few nappies. Nappies maintain moisture levels so well that they have often been the answer when looking after coir-lined planters. The coir does have a tendency to dry out quickly, especially in warmer climates. So nappies at the bottom lock some of the moisture in, similarly to water-retaining granules. But once watered, coir does reabsorb water easily.

I decided to skip the nappies in this year’s planter design. I didn’t have any on me anyway! Instead, I used some stones at the bottom for drainage.

The old coir had started to come apart and hung through the wire mesh of the planter. I removed it completely and positioned the new coir liner, forming it gently to the shape of the container. It was surprisingly easy to shape it, and I could tuck away any loose bits by pushing them up from below.

Pre-formed coconut liners could have been more tricky, because you must find exactly the right match for the size and shape of your planter. In that sense, I found the loose fibre coir much more versatile and malleable.

Coir has its advantages

I filled the planters with fresh compost, mixing in some of the remnant coir. Coir is a perfect soil amendment, used often as a sustainable alternative to peat. Although peat itself is sustainable in that it regenerates over many years, high demand depletes peat bogs much quicker than they can regenerate. On the other hand, coconuts are ready for harvesting within one year, making it an ideal alternative to peat. The coir has a near-neutral pH, as opposed to more acidic peat, so it doesn’t change the soil environment as much. Coconut fibres also break up the soil giving it extra air pockets.

To finish off the display, I planted an arrangement of hardy plants to last through this dicey winter: cordyline, primroses, trailing ivy, and two lemon cypresses. An added bonus of coir-lined planters is that once the plants grow too large for the planter, you can pop them out with the liner and plant directly into the ground. Since coir is a natural organic fibre, it will simply decompose over time. In fact, sustainable plant nurseries are using coir plant pots to replace the more standard plastic pots.

Does it look better?

I really enjoyed the final look of the planters — natural and aesthetically pleasing. They will bring joy to the family for many months to come. I think the coir really tied the display together.

Coir is also naturally durable and resists rotting. It stores well in a dry covered place for years. I will be monitoring the display over time to see just how long it will last, and I will certainly be using more coir lining in the near future.


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