Here’s How to Care for Oil Palm Seedlings
Usually, oil palm plantation owners and small holders don’t germinate their own oil palm seeds. This process of seed germination takes a very long time, up to 80 days. This tedious process is left to specialized nurseries that focus on germinating and growing seeds. Planters will buy seedlings when they are about 3-6 months old and in polybags.
If you’re a planter who regularly buys seedlings, here are some tips on how you should care for these seedlings so that they grow to full productive age:
Water is Most Important
Seedlings, unlike fully grown oil palms, have to be watered every day. This includes weekends and holidays too. Since it would be near impossible to water all the seedlings manually by hand every single day, a sprinkler system is the best. If possible, this sprinkler system should be automated to water the plants at least twice a day. Each watering session should last about 45 minutes each time.
Whatever sprinkler system you use, make sure you provide at least 9 mm of water a day for seedlings aged 0-4 months and at least 16 mm if your palms are 4-8 months old. This daily watering should continue until the palms are at least 9 months old to a year.
To ensure that you don’t over-water your seedlings, especially during the rainy season, a rain gauge should be used to ascertain the real amount of water your palms are getting.
Cleaning before Transplanting
Before transplanting the seedlings, you have to ensure that the land has been cleared of all types of wild undergrowth and weeds. The roots of any previous oil palms or trees have to be removed completely. This is important to prevent the spread of White Rot fungus which usually thrives on rotting wood.
Through weeding has to be carried out as well, so that weeds don’t take the nutrients from the soil away from the young oil palms.
The Transplanting Process
There are two patterns in which oil palm seedlings are planted. One is in straight lines and the other, a diagonal pattern. If you’re planting in straight lines, there should be at least a distance of 4.5 m between palms in the front and back, and 7.8m distance at the sides. If planting diagonally, there should be at least 9 m distance between palms in all directions. Mark each planting site with a peg.
One month before transplanting, dig holes that are 60cm wide and 80 cm deep. The best time for transplanting is at the beginning of the rainy season which happens around October to November each year.
Fertilizers should be applied a few months after transplanting. About 15-30 grams /palm/month of compound fertilizers can be applied when the oil palm has reached 7 months old. Start with a low amount for 2 months and then double it after 3 months. Nitrogen is the most important element for young palms as they need it to grow leaves. Make sure you provide other nutrients too, apart from just the usual NPK fertilizers. In Malaysia, Kieserite or Magnesium Sulfate is also added at a rate of 10-30 grams/palm/month for these young palms starting from 7 months old.
Young seedlings that have just been transplanted are susceptible to attack from fungi, rats and insects. To protect the seedlings from bigger pests, you can add fencing in a 20cm radius around the palm and leave it there until the palm is 18 months old. Otherwise, constant monitoring will help you keep your oil palms safe and healthy.