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Introduction > Management Practices > Intercropping >

Ikisan - Management of coconut plantation


  • The coconut is essentially a cash crop though in certain countries such as India, Ceylon, etc., it is also a food crop in the sense that coconut kernel and oil invariably find a place in the dietary of the inhabitants.
  • The main consideration in plantation management should, therefore, be to maximise the net income from it and this can be achieved only by increasing production, reducing costs, creating additional sources of income, proper disposal of major and minor products, etc.


Ikisan - Management practices in coconut plantations

Management Practices

  • The poor productivity of most of the coconut plantations is undoubtedly due to faulty, improper or inadequate soil management.
  • A fuller appreciation of this fact and a systematic adoption of improved practices will help to step up production.
  • The important soil management practices that are to be given due consideration in relation to the coconut are : tillage, drainage, mulching, erosion control, cover cropping, manuring, replenishing organic matter, husk-burying, use of soil amendments and ameliorants.
  • The need for and the importance of each of these practices will differ with the soil type, situation, condition, etc.
  • For example, in a heavy soil, the primary object will be to make it more porous, whereas in a lighter soil, the main concern will be to improve its water and nutrient retaining capacity.
  • Again, in a sloping land, more than anything else, the essential need is to conserve the soil.
  • Some soil management practices that are adopted in coconut are as follows.


  • In coconut gardens, inter-cultivation or cultivating the interspaces is the main tillage operation and consists of ploughing, harrowing and digging.
  • The objects of tillage in a coconut garden may be summed up as follows:
  1. To make the soil receptive to the first rains after a rainless period, and to retain more moisture.
  2. To produce favorable tilth or soil structure for the development of roots, thereby increasing the available feeding area for the palm.
  3. To improve the aeration of the soil resulting in increased bacterial and chemical activity which in turn increases the available plant food in the soil.
  4. To kill weeds and thereby conserve both plant food and water for the palm.
  5. To incorporate organic matter into the soil.
  • Under the soil and climatic conditions obtaining on the West Coast of India, regular cultivation is found to help in conserving soil moisture, through the combined effects of weed removal, better percolation of water to sub-soil layers and reduced loss of moisture by evaporation from soil surface.
  • Cultivation is an important item of expenditure in the maintenance of a coconut garden and it is therefore necessary to limit it to the irreducible minimum.
  • To get the maximum benefit from cultivation, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration, such as form, frequency, time and depth of intercultivation, etc.
  • In the coconut tracts of India, different cultivation practices such as ploughing, digging with spade, opening basins and covering them, forming bunds and subsequent levelling etc., are being followed by progressive growers.
  • The cost involved varies with the different operations and a correct evaluation of them under similar conditions is necessary before a particular practice is advocated.
  • Ploughing is the cheapest of the above, yet a small grower may prefer to dig up his garden with spade.
  • Where the soil is light, cultivation can be done with hoes or harrows with ease and rapidity at less cost.
  • Cultivation is to be practiced at the proper time, taking into consideration the incidence and distribution of rainfall, soil type and slope of the land.
  • The soil should be ploughed only when it contains proper amount of moisture lest it should spoil the structure of the soil and create hard pans.
  • In sloping lands, ploughing may be done along the contour after the heavy monsoon rains are over, in order to avoid the risk of soil erosion.
  • The depth of inter-cultivation, has to be determined with reference to the depth of soil, the height of water table, the condition and distribution of the root system, etc.
  • Shallow cultivation should be preferred in order to avoid damage to the root system.
  • This is particularly important when the area of root spread is restricted or the palms are weak, because then rejuvenation of roots does not take place satisfactorily.
  • If the soil is deep and the palms healthy, cultivation has the effect of forcing the roots to go to lower layers where they do not suffer much during drought periods.
  • The garden should be cultivated when the soil has become hard and compact or when it is foul with weeds.
  • Too frequent cultivation can prove harmful under tropical conditions, as it may accelerate the depletion of soil organic matter.
  • The weeds may be incorporated into the soil by ploughing or by burying them in trenches where they will rot in course of time and augment the organic matter content of the soil.
  • As the primary object of cultivation is to reduce weed growth, it should be done before the weeds flower and set seeds.


  • Mulching is the practice of covering the surface of the soil with a layer of vegetable waste material, with a view to keeping the surface layers at a more even temperature, more premeable to water and for reducing weed growth.
  • Though considerable literature has accumulated on the effects of mulching on other horticultural crops, comparatively little is found reported in respect of the coconut.
  • The materials that can be used for mulching are husks, leaves and fibre dust.
  • These materials though available in large quantities in Ceylon and other countries, are difficult to obtain in India for mulching purposes.
  • Mulching with husks upto a distance of 2 m from the base of the bearing tree is being done in Ceylon and has been reported to help in conserving moisture and preventing weed growth.
  • In India, mulching with dry coconut leaves during summer did not have any marked beneficial effects on the palms growing in sandy soil.
  • Mulching should be done at the end of the rainy period.
  • The preliminary observations on the use of coir dust as mulch in Ceylon appeared to show that it can conserve soil moisture but has no effect on immature nut-fall.

Cover Cropping

  • The growing of cover crops in coconut plantations is now becoming more and more popular in coconut growing countries. Cover crops are those crops, which are able to make vigorous growth and cover the ground densely in a short period of time.
  • As distinct from a catch crop, a cover crop is chosen more with regard to the interest of the main crop than of the cover crop itself.
  • The following are the benefits expected by growing the cover crops.
  1. Prevention of soil erosion.
  2. Smothering of weeds thus reducing weeding costs.
  3. Addition of organic matter to the soil and thus maintaining the structure of the topsoil.
  4. Improving aeration of the soil.
  5. Protecting the soil and roots of crops from excessive heat of the sun.
  6. Conservation of fertility by using available plant food which might otherwise be leached away.
  7. Fixing of atmospheric nitrogen from the air in the case of leguminous plants.
  8. Taking away moisture and nutrient supply from the soil, thus reducing the amounts available to the trees.
  9. This will check fresh wood growth and produce conditions favourable for proper ripening and better colour of the fruits.

Erosion Control

  • Soil erosion is a really serious problem in gardens raised on hill slopes, particularly in areas where heavy rains are received.
  • The loss of fertile top soil exposes the roots of the palm and creates plant food deficiencies with the result that the palms look diseased and become unproductive.
  • The importance of taking adequate measures for the control of soil erosion cannot, therefore, be over emphasized.
  • A number of methods such as terracing, contour bunding, cover cropping, building crescent bunds, etc. suited to different situations.


Ikisan - Intercropping in coconut plantations


  • In coconut gardens where the palms are planted 7.5 m to 9 m apart the interspaces might appear to offer opportunities for raising other crops, annuals or perennials, as a source of additional income to the grower.
  • In fact, a variety of crops depending upon the soil and climatic conditions and local demand are being grown in the gardens of small growers.
  • In the early stages of the plantation, when the seedlings are still young and the ground is unshaded, there is no harm in raising such crops, provided care is taken to see that the subsidiary crops are well manured and that they are not grown to the very base of the palms.
  • It is better to leave uncropped about 2 m all round the base of the palms and keep the area free of weeds by repeated cultivation.
  • Manures for the young palms can be applied in this area and incorporated.

The crops commonly cultivated in young plantations in India are

  • Tapioca (Manihot utilissima), sweet potato, banana, yams (Amorphophallus companulatus), colocasia (Colocasia antiquorum), turmeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), paddy (Oryza sativa), ragi (Eleusine coracana), jowar (Sorghum durra), sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and crops like horse gram (Dolichos biflorus), cowpea (Vigna catjang), green gram (Vigna mungo), pine-apple (Ananas sativus) and different kinds of vegetables.
  • The subsidiary crops can and are being raised in the adult plantations also, but, because of the shade of the canopy of the overhanging leaves, the range of crops that can be grown is limited and the yield that can be obtained will also be much less than in the open have shown, that, the subsidiary crops with proper attention to manuring can be grown without in any way affecting the yield of the coconut palms.
  • In fact, subsidiary crops raised with adequate manuring and irrigation have been found to considerably benefit the coconut palms.
  • The results can certainly be adverse if crops which are heavy potash feeders such as tapioca are grown without manuring continuously for long periods.
  • In Ceylon, Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) grown without manuring was found to depress the yields of the coconut.
  • In Brazil, Manihot (cassava) is recommended to be grown in coconut plantations because of the reported favourable effects on soil permeability and moisture conservation.
  • The practice of growing trees of a perennial nature along with the coconut is also widely prevalent in the coconut areas particularly in the holdings of small growers.
  • Mango (Mangifera indica), jack (Artocarpus integrifolia), Arecanut (Areca catechu), bead fruit (Artocarpus incisa) and other trees which satisfy some of the needs of the growers are found grown in the coconut gardens on the West Coast of India.
  • Rubber and coffee (Coffea sp.) are also sometimes found grown.
  • In Malaya, coffee, mangosteen (Garcinia and Seychelles, clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) is being raised.
  • In some coconut growing countries cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is also being interplanted with coconut.
  • Intercropping of perennial plants in gardens where palms are planted adopting the usual spacing is not be encouraged as such cropping will result in intense competition and adversely affect the growth and performance of both the crops.
  • Such intercropping will further make it rather difficult to give proper attention to the different kinds of trees according to their special and individual requirements.
  • If, however, it is desired to raise other trees also, to diversity the sources of income of the grower, two ways are open.
  • One is to plant the trees in alternate rows giving sufficiently wide spacing to reduce mutual interference of one over the other and the second is to assign different portions of the available area among the different crops.
  • The latter is better than the former.


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