How to raise healthy cacao seedlings


by Maria Rowena Briones

Raising cacao in nurseries is one way of raising healthy planting materials. Not only will cacao become pest-free, it will grow robustly. Like maintenance of a healthy body through proper diet and exercise, maintenance of cacao under nursery is through proper site and seed selection (stock and scion), and planting techniques.

cacao seedlingsThe site of the nursery must be situated in an area near the source of water, with an excellent drainage system. A more ideal site is in a shaded area because cacao grows well in shades especially during its first two months. In the absence of coconut frond, black plastic nets attached on two-meter bamboo poles will do. Fortunately, cacao needs less and less shade as it grows prior to planting. Healthy plants grow from healthy seeds. Thus, only healthy and big seed varieties-the UIT1, UIT2, ICS 20 and UF42, of cacao are grown in nurseries. Unhealthy seedlings are removed as soon as detected.

As soon as cacao seeds mature or removed from the pods, it starts to germinate within one week. Thus, it should immediately be planted into the prepared polybags with sieved fertile topsoil. Some organic fertilizer is mixed in the medium to insure sound root and stem development of seedlings. If pH of the soil is low, ground magnesium limestone can be added to improve the pH to 5-6 level.

The size of the polybags depend on the length of time cacao will be kept in the nurseries-- the longer the time, the larger are the polybags. For instance, for seedlings kept from five to six months, a polybag measuring 12.5 cm x 15 cm with .003 thickness is an ideal size.

Systematic arrangement of the polybags inside the nursery leads to a more efficient maintenance and grafting of cacao plants as they mature. The arrangement can be in four rows with 50 cm spacing between each rows. After two months, seedlings should be lifted manually to avoid root penetration to the nursery soil. Aside from proper spacing, there should be constant weeding to prevent the weeds from competing with the growing seedlings in the absorption of soil nutrients. While it is tedious, weeding should be done manually because the use of herbicides is not advisable. However, occasional application of fertilizer, such as urea (46-0-0), is encouraged to achieve speedy growth.

Only seedlings with hardened leaves are planted out to the field. Field planting is ideal at the start of the rainy season, not during dry season unless irrigation is available in the field. The transplanting of the cacao seedlings from nursery to the field is a good start. Since the seedlings are healthy, with correct and constant care of the crop, the harvest is as healthy.

Source: Maintenance of Cacao under Nursery. Cacao RDE Sub-network. University of Southern Mindanao

(For more information, contact Cacao RDE Sub-network University of Southern Mindanao Kabacan North Cotabato Tel. No. (062) 248 2323)

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