What are the fertilizer requirements for adult coconut trees in India?

What are the fertilizer requirements for adult coconut trees in India?

Coconut cultivation in India plays a pivotal role in the agricultural landscape, providing livelihoods for many and contributing significantly to the country's economy. To ensure optimal yield and sustained productivity, understanding and meeting the fertilizer requirements of adult coconut trees are crucial. This comprehensive guide will delve into the specific nutrient needs, types of fertilizers, application methods, and sustainable practices tailored to adult coconut trees in the diverse agro-climatic zones of India.

Adult coconut trees have distinct nutrient requirements to support growth, flowering, and fruit development. The primary nutrients include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), and secondary and micronutrients such as Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Boron (B), Zinc (Zn), Manganese (Mn), Copper (Cu), and Iron (Fe). Each nutrient plays a critical role in various physiological processes, impacting the overall health and productivity of coconut trees.

Adult coconut trees (Cocos nucifera) represent the mature phase of the coconut palm's life cycle, characterized by towering height, broad canopy, and prolific fruit-bearing capacity. These iconic trees are integral to tropical and subtropical landscapes, contributing significantly to agriculture, economy, and cultural practices in regions around the world.

These trees can reach impressive heights, often exceeding 20 meters (65 feet) or more, with a crown comprised of large, feather-like fronds arranged spirally around the trunk, providing extensive shade. Prolific fruit bearers, adult coconut trees produce large clusters of coconuts throughout the year, containing nutritious coconut water and copra (kernel) for various purposes, including food, oil extraction, and industrial uses.

With an impressive lifespan ranging from 60 to 100 years or more, coconut trees offer a sustainable and reliable source of various products over time. They thrive in tropical and subtropical climates, requiring warm temperatures, high humidity, and well-distributed rainfall for optimal growth. Additionally, their ability to tolerate coastal conditions, including exposure to saltwater, makes them well-suited for coastal environments.

Adult coconut trees have distinct nutrient requirements for optimal growth, flowering, and fruiting, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and various micronutrients. Fertilization practices involve a balanced approach, considering soil analysis results, growth stages, and nutrient requirements. A combination of organic manures and inorganic fertilizers is commonly used for a comprehensive and sustainable nutrient supply.

Pruning dead or damaged fronds is a common practice to maintain tree health and aesthetics, although excessive pruning should be avoided to prevent stress. These trees are susceptible to diseases such as lethal yellowing, affecting overall health and reducing fruit production. Common pests include coconut mites and beetles, managed through integrated pest management strategies.

Economically, adult coconut trees are vital, with coconuts harvested for their water, copra, coir (fibre from the husk), and various by-products used in food, cosmetics, and industrial applications. Culturally, they hold significance in many tropical societies, symbolizing abundance, sustenance, and tropical paradise imagery.

The first step in determining the fertilizer requirements for adult coconut trees is conducting a thorough soil analysis. The ideal soil for growing coconuts is well-drained and aerated, with a minimum depth of 80 to 100 cm. It should have a pH range between 5 to nearly neutral, adequate nutrient availability, and water-holding capacity. The growth and yield of coconut trees are highly affected by the fertility status of the soil. The optimum soil pH range is 6.4– 7.0, but trees can also thrive under soil pH ranges of 5.5–6.3 and 7.1–7.5. Soil pH values below 5.4 or above 7.5 provide marginal conditions for the growth of the tree. You should avoid shallow soils with underlying hard rock, low-lying areas subject to water stagnation, and clayey soils with impeded drainage.

This analysis assesses the nutrient status, pH levels, and other soil characteristics. In India, the diverse soil types, ranging from red and lateritic soils to alluvial and coastal soils, necessitate tailored fertilization strategies. Soil testing helps farmers make informed decisions about the types and quantities of fertilizers required for their specific coconut plantation.

The integration of organic manures is foundational for sustainable coconut farming. Well-decomposed farmyard manure, compost, and green manure contribute organic matter, enhancing soil structure, water retention, and microbial activity. Organic manures also release nutrients gradually, providing a steady supply to coconut trees. Farmers in India can leverage locally available organic resources, such as coconut husk, coir pith, and oil cake, as valuable inputs to promote soil health.

Balanced inorganic fertilizers play a crucial role in meeting the specific nutrient needs of adult coconut trees. Commonly used formulations include NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) fertilizers, with additional micronutrient supplements based on soil analysis results. In India, popular fertilizer grades for coconut trees include 12:4:12, 15:5:15, and 19:9:19. These formulations ensure a balanced nutrient supply, crucial for flowering, fruiting, and overall tree vitality.

The fertilizer application schedule for adult coconut trees in India varies based on factors such as soil type, climate, and cropping systems. However, a general guideline involves dividing the annual fertilizer dose into multiple applications. In India, two to four split applications are commonly recommended, with the first dose applied at the beginning of the southwest monsoon. Subsequent doses are timed to coincide with major growth stages, including flowering and fruit development, ensuring a sustained nutrient supply.

Nitrogen is essential for vegetative growth, leaf production, and overall tree vigour. However, excessive nitrogen can lead to imbalances and negatively impact coconut yield. In India, a balanced approach involves applying nitrogen in conjunction with other nutrients. Nitrogen is often applied during the initial stages of growth and before flowering, with adjustments based on soil analysis results and tree requirements.

Phosphorus is vital for root development, flowering, and fruiting, while potassium contributes to overall plant health, water regulation, and disease resistance. In India, phosphatic and potassic fertilizers are applied judiciously to address soil deficiencies. These applications are strategically timed to coincide with critical growth stages, enhancing nutrient availability for coconut trees and supporting optimal yield.

Magnesium is a crucial component of chlorophyll, playing a central role in photosynthesis. In India, magnesium deficiency is common in coconut-growing regions, and supplementation is essential for preventing disorders like frond chlorosis. Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) is a commonly used source of magnesium, applied either through soil incorporation or foliar spray based on soil analysis recommendations.

Calcium, sulfur, boron, zinc, manganese, copper, and iron are secondary and micronutrients vital for coconut tree health. Deficiencies in these elements can lead to various physiological disorders and reduced productivity. Regular soil testing guides farmers in addressing specific micronutrient needs through targeted fertilizer applications, ensuring a comprehensive and balanced nutrient supply.

In the pursuit of sustainable coconut farming in India, integrating organic and inorganic fertilizers with other agroecological practices is essential. Crop rotation, cover cropping, and intercropping are effective strategies to enhance soil health and reduce reliance on external inputs. Additionally, adopting precision agriculture technologies, such as soil moisture sensors and nutrient management software, enables farmers to optimize fertilizer applications, minimizing waste and environmental impact.

So what then are the fertilizer requirements for adult coconut trees in India? Here are a few recommendations that are absolutely must-consider facts for coconut farms to ensure a healthy environment for the planting to grow. Some tips include:

  1. The recommended dose of fertilizer for coconut palm is the application of Organic Manure @50kg/palm or 30 kg green manure, 500 g N, 320 g P2O5 and 1200 g K2O/palm/year in two split doses during September and May. Application of magnesium @500 g MgO per palm was found to be advantageous in areas where palms show yellowing of leaves (Coconut root (wilt) affected gardens) through soil application. However, soil test-based nutrient application is recommended for efficient utilization of resources. In acid soils, for soil test values of more than 20 ppm, P application can be skipped.
  2. Fertilizer saving through drip fertigation i.e., 50% of the recommended dose of fertilizer when applied through drip fertigation is sufficient to give a yield equivalent to 100 % of the recommended dose of fertilizer. Fertilizers viz., 70 g Urea, 60 g DAP and 170 g Muriate of Potash are recommended for single application for one palm. A total of 7 applications are needed to apply the recommended dose of fertilizer per palm through fertigation. For phosphorus application, commercial phosphoric acid can also be used.
  3. The critical boron level in soil and coconut leaves was standardized through techniques such as the Cate and Nelson graphical (CN) method, the Mistcherlich equation (ME), and the quadratic plateau response (QP) method and it was 0.87 mg/kg in soil and 13.27 mg/kg in leaves.
  4. Application of 160 g borax per palm in four split doses along with husk burial in the basin and vermicompost application at 20 kg per palm is recommended for correction of boron deficiency symptoms in coconut.
  5. Two nutrient mixtures ‘Kalpa Poshak’ and Kalpa Vardhini’ have been developed based on release pattern studies in the laboratory and evaluated in the field. Kalpa Poshak at 100g per palm per year in two splits can be applied to the juvenile palms for enhanced growth and earliness in bearing. Kalpa Vardhini at 500g per palm in two splits can be applied in adult-bearing palms.
  6. Recommendation developed for dwarf palms under integrated management for root (wilt) affected area: 100% soil test-based nutrient requirement (STBNR- 530: 150: 1200 g N:P2O5:K2O/palm/year) along with raising and incorporation of cowpea in coconut basin, application of vermicompost and neem cake. This is ideal for dwarf palms meant for tender nut production.
  7. A Longterm fertilizer cum manurial experiment of 43 years of coconut cultivation revealed that soil exchangeable, lattice and total potassium status was higher with the regular fertilizer application compared to no manurial treatments. Moreover, reduction in lattice potassium status in no manurial treatments and a slight reduction in non-exchangeable potassium in fertilized plots also reveals that it is imperative to apply potassium according to the removal in order to reduce potassium mining and to sustain soil fertility and productivity in the long run.
  8. The technique for utilization of leguminous cover crops such as Pueraria phaseoloides, Mimosa invisa and Calopogonium species as green manures to supply biologically fixed nitrogen and easily decomposable biomass to coconut, to substitute 50 % nitrogen fertilizer, was standardized.
  9. Growing Glyricidia as a green manure crop and using the biomass as green manure was found to be ideal for the management of littoral sandy soils.

In conclusion, understanding and meeting the fertilizer requirements for adult coconut trees in India are paramount for sustainable and productive coconut farming. A holistic approach involves soil testing, judicious use of organic and inorganic fertilizers, and incorporating sustainable practices that enhance soil health. By tailoring fertilizer applications to specific soil and tree needs, Indian coconut farmers can ensure optimal yield, maintain tree vitality, and contribute to the long-term sustainability of this vital agricultural sector.