Coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a palm that flourishes in tropical and subtropical areas, the fruit of which has many uses; it has been a major ingredient in the diets of many people living on tropical islands, creating a very lucrative industry worldwide.
In recent years, the demand for coconut product has increased exponentially. It was reported that from 2008 to 2014 alone the demand for coconut products increased 700%, especially for water, milk, oil, fibres, and cosmetics. Such hasty growth has increased the demand for establishing plantations that can supply the high worldwide demand for coconuts. In Belize this opportunity has encouraged the establishment of acres of coconuts in new plantations. Here are some factors to be considered and recommendations for establishing a coconut plantation:
• Coconut is a long term crop. A coconut plant takes 2 to 5 years to enter in production, and can be in production from 35 to 50 years, depending on the variety planted. Therefore, it is important to plant at an adequate distance apart so plants can grow healthy and not compete for light and nutrients. Recommended spacing and patterns are shown to the right.
• Coconut variety vs hybrids. In Belize the more popular varieties are, Malayan Dwarf and local tall; while the hybrids are Maypan and Chactemal. In general the Malayan Dwarf is recommended for the production of coconut water, while local tall is excellent for oil production. The hybrids are the recommended crosses of tall and dwarf varieties to make the plant tolerant to lethal yellowing disease that devastated the coconut industry in the 1980’s in Belize. They also are good producers of water and oil. The Ministry of Agriculture and CARDI are working to characterise those varieties of interest in the local industry.
Best climatic conditions to grow coconuts: The coconut palm supports temperature ranges from 27˚ Celsius to 36˚ Celsius and needs sunlight but also needs a day and night temperature variation at 5˚ Celsius. The trees grow well under the conditions of rainfall level from 1000 mm to 3000 mm, 2000 ft. height from mean sea level, and 70% air moisture. They also require a good draining facility, sandy soil rich in humus content, in a depth of 3 meters and a soil pH from 6 to 7.
Best time to transplant a coconut to the field: For most varieties after approximately 9 months in the nursery bed, coconut seedlings are ready for planting out in the field. This transplanting should generally coincide with the onset of rains. Proper selection of seedlings in the main nursery alone can ensure a 10% improvement in yield. Seedlings should be removed with a spade and the roots carefully cut. They should not be lifted by pulling the leaves or stem. They should be kept out of the sun and planted as early as possible after removal from the nursery.
Best plants to transplant: Coconut seedlings that are selected from the main nursery bed should have the following characteristics:
1. Shoots should have a girth of 10 – 12 cm at the collar.
2. Seedlings should have a minimum of six leaves with the youngest leaf already differentiated into leaflets.
3. The leaf stalk should be short and thick.
4. Seedlings should have a healthy appearance and be free from pests and diseases.
Planting in the field
Using the following five-step guide, coconuts trees can be planted in the field at a recommended spacing of 20 feet for dwarf varieties and 25 feet for tall varieties and hybrids.
Step 1: Prepare a well-drained, full-sun site for the coconut palm. Coconut palms thrive in a wide variety of soils as long as the soil isn’t soggy or prone to standing water. Work peat moss, wood chips or compost into the planting area to improve drainage if necessary.
Step 2: Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the palm’s nursery pot/bag and twice as wide. Space the trees approximately 20 feet apart to allow proper light filtration between the palms.
Step 3: Lift the palm out of the nursery pot and set it in the planting hole. Add or remove soil from under the palm until it is sitting in the hole at the same depth as it was in the pot. Fill in the hole around the root with soil, firming it into place with your feet.
Step 4: Water immediately after planting, thoroughly soaking the area to at least an 8-inch depth. Water once weekly when rainfall during the week is less than 1 inch.
Step 5: Spread 2 to 3 inches of an organic mulch, such as wood chips, over the ground around the palm to help preserve soil moisture. Apply the mulch over the entire area above the root ball.
Finally when planting coconuts, as a commercial enterprise or for house landscaping, it is important to keep records and the records file should include: the names of the varieties, the dates when the seedlings were planted, the nursery source and if possible the source of the seed nuts from the nursery.
– Chan, Edward and Craig R. Elevitch. April 2006. Cocos nucifera (coconuts) (version 2.1). In C.R. Elevitch (Ed.) Species profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry Holualoa, Hawaii: Permanaent Agriculture Resources (PAR).
– Compton Paul and Evans Ramkhelawan 2016. Coconut Production Technology. CARDI
– Compton Paul and Evans Ramkhelawan 2016. Gaps for Coconut Production. CARDI