Peat Moss vs Coir (Coconut Fiber)

Both products are used as soil amendments to improve soil structure by lightening the soil and holding moisture; neither adds nutrients to the soil.

COIR

Coir

Peat moss is harvested from peat bogs which are areas of decomposed sphagnum moss in swamps and marshes. Wetland ecologists consider peat moss a non-sustainable material because its harvesting rate is greater than its replenishing rate. Plus, it is harvested from delicate endangered habitats.

Coconut fiber (Coir) is a byproduct of coconut processing; therefore it is always available and sustainable. Coir is made from fibrous coconut husks which are water processed, ground up or decomposed, then made into Coir bricks. Most COIR comes from India, or Sri Lanka.

Differences: pH and water absorption

Product pH – Peat moss is acidic with a pH of 3.3 to 4.0. Therefore, it is used in potting soils for acid loving plants, or it’s used to acidify garden soils with high alkalinity.  A neutral pH is more desirable in most planting situations, so lime is added to peat moss to bring its pH closer to neutral.  Most commercially made peat-moss based potting mixes have added lime. In contrast, Coir has a pH range of 5.2 to 6.6, which makes it more suitable for a wider range of plants.

Water absorption –While proponents of Coir state its water retention is equal to peat moss; peat moss typically retains much more water than Coir.  Peat moss holds 10 to 20 times its dry weight in water, while Coir holds 8 to 9 times its dry weight in water.  Coir does saturate faster than peat moss, thereby using less water to “activate”.  To be fair, Coir comes in various textures and coarseness, which may increase its overall water-holding abilities, but they are not equal.

When given a choice, consider Coir for its closer to neutral pH and its environmental sustainability.

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Christmas Cactus

 Scientific Name: Schlumbergera

A Christmas Cactus in full bloom makes an extraordinary gift for gardeners, and non-gardeners, alike.  With proper care a Christmas Cactus is very long lived. The one shown here is over forty years old and still provides an amazing display of flowers every Christmas season.

Christmas Cactus Care:

Light/Temperature:  Prefers a warm location with bright indirect sunlight. Shade it from intense sun and keep the plant away from heater vents, fireplaces and cold drafts.

Soil:  Plant in well draining potting mix made for succulent plants. Its ideal soil is composed of equal parts of garden loam, leaf mold or peat, and clean course sand.

Water:  A Christmas Cactus is a tropical succulent, it is NOT a true cactus, therefore it requires more water than a true cactus. Its watering needs vary with air temperature and humidity, but in general keep the soil just barely moist throughout the year. But, do not over water or the stems will get flabby and droop,  and don’t under water either or the stems will be shriveled and limp. Note: if your plant tends to dry out and/or wilt frequently, then it’s time to re-pot it into a slightly larger container.

Fertilizing: Supply plant with a weak solution of houseplant fertilizer every two weeks.

Flowering:  The secret to good bud production is cool temperatures and extended darkness.

Cool temps: The best temperature for bud development is 55F-61F degrees for a period of 6 weeks.  Start providing cool temps in November for Christmas blooming.

Extended Darkness: The plant also needs 12 hours of darkness every night for 6 weeks.  You can accomplish darkness by covering the plant with a cloth each night or move it into a dark area overnight.  For cactus to bloom at Christmas time, darkness treatment should start in early October. Then, when buds start to appear increase its light exposure.  Do not move the plant when it starts blooming, because it is sensitive to location during this time.

Color:  Flower colors ranges from pink, white, yellow, salmon, fuchsia, red and any combination of these.

Rest time:  In February, after it has bloomed, the plant should have a rest period, so during this month water it sparingly and stop fertilizing.

Re-potting:  A Christmas Cactus blooms better if slightly pot-bound, so re-pot only when needed every 3-4 years.  Re-pot the plant into a slightly bigger pot in the spring when it is not in bloom.

Propagation:  Propagating Christmas cactus is easy. Cut a y-shaped segment off the tip of the plant, this cutting should have 2-3 joined segments.  Allow the cutting to dry for a few hours and then plant it in moist peat & sand soil mix, insert about a quarter of its length below the soil surface. Place it in a well-lit area, avoid direct sunlight and water it sparingly to prevent rotting.  In two or three weeks the cutting should show signs of growth at the tips of its leaves, these are usually reddish in color. Once it has rooted transplant it into a pot.

submitted by Carlotta Lucas

 

Gardening Tips: Soil Conservation

This is the time of year when those giant paper bags full of fallen leaves start appearing on sidewalks around the country. This is also the time of year I drive around my neighborhood picking up those bags of leaves in my truck and spreading them throughout my garden beds.

The practice of removing our yard waste to landfills is enormously unsustainable:

  • We spend endless hours raking, blowing, and bagging the leaves that fall every year.
  • The use of leaf blowers is a source of noise pollution and air pollution, and uses large amounts of non-renewable fossil fuel.
  • These huge piles are hauled away by truck, using more gasoline and causing more air pollution.
  • Often this organic yard material is dumped into landfills, which destroys wildlife habitat.
  • Then we have mulch trucked in to replace the benefits of the leaves we just hauled away.
  • And we replace the nutrients that were freely available from the decomposition of those leaves with synthetic fertilizers, which are another petroleum product.

This cycle cannot be sustained without causing increasing damage to our environment. It is much more sustainable to manage this yard waste on our own properties.

Fortunately, this is very easy to do and also returns nutrients to the soil, provides habitat for many organisms, and ensures healthy plants.

I pile up these leaves in every one of my flower beds, sometimes it is more than two feet deep. In the spring I take a hand rake and loosen the leaves around my emerging plants, which hide the leaves during the growing season. By the time the next leaves fall, the old leaves have completely decomposed and the soil is ready for a new blanket.

Why do I do this?

  • There is a cycle of life contained in the leaf litter and we destroy many forms of wildlife every time we remove these leaves.
  • Many butterflies find shelter in the leaf litter, either in egg, pupal, or adult form, to safely wait out the winter and emerge in the spring.
  • Leaf litter provides food and shelter to an amazing variety of invertebrates who break down the leaves, which feeds the soil and other wildlife.
  • Healthy plants are dependent on healthy soil.
  • The deeper the leaf litter, the more spiders are supported. Spiders are an essential element in keeping pest insects in balance.
  • Leaf litter is also home to ladybugs, salamanders, toads, and other predators of pest insects. It is no wonder that pests like aphids thrive when we continue to destroy the habitat of the predators that would keep them under control.
  • Every spring these leaves are covered with birds who pick through the leaves in search of a tasty meal.
  • Trucked in mulch is not necessary when the leaves are left to cover the soil because the leaf litter acts as a natural blanket of mulch, controlling soil moisture and temperature.

I know there are many gardeners who cannot bear the thought of even one leaf creating a “mess” in their pristine garden beds. But it’s easy to tuck the leaves under your shrubs or in a back corner where they can work their magic and leave your sense of tidyness intact.

Or the leaves can be composted and then spread over your soil so at least the natural nutrients can be returned to the soil.

The benefits to your local wildlife far outweigh any need for neatness.