Myths and Benefits of Coconut Husk Substrate

Coconut husk substrate has been part of my life for the last 25 years, and it is amazing to see its evolution. I remember the summer holiday of 1994, visiting my brother in the city of Colima, Mexico having some good discussions about life. The conversation then moved to the challenges I was having in the nursery industry. Namely, I was having problems successfully reproducing a new patented plant known as “Flower Carpet”. I was interested in looking for alternatives of substrate material. My brother then suggested I visit one of his friends in the neighboring city of Tecoman to check out the use of coconut husk as a substrate. I was fascinated by the properties and the ease of which it worked. This is where my adventure in the coconut industry began.

The following fall, on October 12, 1994, our first order of coconut substrate arrived at our facility in Irvine, California. The bales were approximately 5 cu. ft. of dust-like material, with a compaction ratio of 3 to 1, and a retention property of more than 9 times its dry weight. The conductivity is 5.4 dS/m due to the high levels of potassium. At the time, the substrate was primarily dust as a result of being the waste
product from the automotive and mattress industries.

After a long learning process involving lots of trial and error with the coconut dust substrate, we began to see positive results. The first thing that drew my attention was the root growth. We were seeing extremely aggressive and healthy roots even without the use of fungicides. Secondly, I was seeing positive thermal benefits. In the winter, the substrate saved us from freezing a large batch of “Flower Carpet” roses. And in the summer, we noticed that if used as a 30% aggregate in the soilless mix the temperature in the root ball was, in some cases, -18°F. These were the two main reasons that convinced me to use coconut substrate with my plant production. I knew when I used the substrate by itself, I had to be careful with the high levels of potassium, but when used as an aggregate in the soilless mixes, it worked great.

In 2000, I partnered with my vendors from Tecoman, and we invested a large amount of money, time, and expertise to revolutionize the coconut substrate. This partnership lasted until 2011.

Following that venture, I decided to start my own facility from scratch in Guerrero, Mexico in partnership with Jorge Pena Soberanis who I met in Mexico City while he was working as Secretary of Economic Development for the State of Guerrero. We connected instantly as we share many common values including honesty and transparency in business. The advantage of starting from scratch was that the plant was designed with the mentality of maximizing our productivity and quality of the final product. Guerrero was the beginning of many incredibly positive things and I consider it one of the best decisions I have ever made.


  • For Pet Supply – The substrate is great in absorbing liquids and encapsulating bad smells from pets such as rabbits, chickens, cats, reptiles, etc. And, it does not attract flies.
    • COCONUT COWBOY – This is one of our products that is used a lot in the world of equine, where the most important advantages are:   reduction of flies in the stable, reduction of diseases in the hooves, dry surfaces, and even comfy bed support for animals. A bed of coconut substrate can last up to 5 months! When you are done using it as a pet bed, it can be used as a substrate in the garden or for the production of potted plants.
  • For Absorption of Spills
    • COCO ABSORB – This product is ideal for absorbing spills from the hydrocarbon family, it is used both in the oil industry and in mechanical workshops or gas stations to clean spills or keep the garage cement clean.
  • For Germination and Propagation – Without buffering, the results will be a great root ball with very little vegetative growth. This can be an advantage for growing vegetable liners as some propagators take advantage of this deficiency to control vegetative growth without the use of chemical growth regulators. At the end of the propagation or germination cycle, they make strong applications of nutrients to give it the color and nutrition needed.
  • As an Aggregate with Other Soilless Mixes. – If you want to see good results when using coconut husk substrate, my recommendation is that the mixture must carry a minimum of 25% of the coconut husk substrate. If growing hanging potted plants or plants prone to root diseases, my recommendation is to use a minimum of 35% coconut husk substrate.
    • Important points to know when coconut husk substrate is used with other aggregates
      • The structure of the coconut husk substrate is considered one of the most durable, this means that the other organic aggregates in the mixture collapse very quickly. For a short-cycle production, this will not be a problem. However, if you intend to make a mix for potted plants in which the cycle is longer than 6 months, consider increasing the percentage of coconut husk substrate and pay very close attention to your irrigation cycles. As the organic wood base aggregates break down the substrate in the pot, the density will change and more water will be retained generating ideal conditions for disease reproduction at the root.
      • If you use peat-moss (peat) you will have to take care of the weed as the peat brings weed seeds and if you neglect your nursery, it will be flooded with weeds.
      • For the production of short cycles, you will have an ideal mix for cycle production of 6 months or less by using 25% coconut husk substrate and 75% of the recycled product or good quality compost.


  •  “Hydroponics” – In this mode of production, it is a world of variants, but it is particularly important that certain critical points be considered before making the decision of what granulometry to use.


  • Other Grades in the Market; Chips-dust-fiber percentage blends (70/30, 80/20, 60/40) – Substrate producers who promote them with these percentage descriptions must have a very complex system to achieve those fiber/dust percentages. Our company uses another simpler system that produces consistency without all the complexity. All producers of coconut substrate start with the same raw material, no matter where in the world it is processed. We can consistently maintain the percentages of 70% fiber and 30% dust or peat that are found naturally from the coconut when separating the long fiber from the dust. We rely on moisture retention. We have discovered that there are too many things that can affect drainage or moisture retention, including granulometry, but more importantly, the age of the husk and how it is processed.
    • Germination Grade – They say that Mother Nature is very wise, at PATROMEX we take this concept very seriously when we analyze the best way to process the husk. We believe that Mother Nature made the coconut husk the perfect substrate and we believe it is particularly important to maintain that PERFECT mixture when we process the husk. In each of our grades, we maintain that same concept and that is why our Germination Grade does not require any other mixture (Perlite). It has very good drainage and moisture retention since we maintain the same percentage of fiber/dust as the composition of the husk. The coconut substrate has very low levels of nitrogen and high levels of potassium. If you are going to use it for the first time, I recommend that you consult with an expert on nutrition especially PPM since the coconut substrate retains the vast majority of the nutrient that is applied.
    • Fine Grade – This product is widely used in the propagation of cuttings in trays with less than 120 cavities, or production of small 4″ to 1 gal. containers. It is great for hanging pots where greater moisture retention is important. It is also a favorite for cannabis growers for use in their blends.
    • Medium Grade – This grade is the grade for all purposes. You can propagate in tray cavities that are > 2 ¼”. The grade is widely used as a mixture in different types of berry production: blueberry, raspberry, strawberry. Additionally, it can be used in the hydroponic production of tomatoes, cucumbers, and many other vegetables, or as an aggregate for potted plants.
    • Coarse Grade – This grade is becoming the preferred one for hydroponic production of bell peppers, eggplants, figs, and avocado trees, and can be used in soilless mixtures or incorporated into the soil.
  • Shelf Life – The coconut substrate structure is one of the most resistant, with long shelf life. However, no matter the Grade you use, after 2 years you will begin to notice changes in the structure and behavior in the absorption of nutrients as well as the moisture retention. The shelf life can be extended by simply adding more substrate on top of the pot or, even better, transplanting the plant into a larger pot by adding new coconut substrate.
  • Another important point to consider when choosing your provider and the granulometry.
    • Compare the different producers, do a simple test, check how well it works in retaining moisture. Also, check the amount of fine dust accumulated at the bottom of the pot or bag after 4 saturated waterings. Fine dust is indicative of poor quality in the physical properties of the substrate. The chemical properties can be adjusted, but the physical properties are almost impossible to adjust.

The future of agriculture will be done in a controlled environment and the substrate of choice will be coconut husk. In my almost 25 years of using the coconut husk, I have learned a lot both as a plant producer and propagator and as a processor of the coconut husk. There are many myths regarding this substrate and at the same time a lot of bad information. It is important to do your homework and compare different suppliers and consult with coconut substrate experts or people who have had several years of experience using the product. Remember, it is a big investment that can make the difference between a successful production with very good margins or something mediocre that leaves you losing some investment and with a poor product.


Written by Erandy Rizo

Article translated from Productores de Hortalizas Magazine

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