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Chapter 2
Nursery practices

Coffee may be grown from seed or from cloned plants in the form of cuttings, grafts or tissue cultured plants. Arabica coffee is most commonly grown from selected seed unless there are special reasons for using clones. A number of steps are necessary for production of good seedlings.

Select the seed

Arabica coffee should be grown from fresh seed of the recommended varieties. Seed loses viability within three months and should not be used after that period unless properly stored at low temperature and high humidity.

Select ripe healthy fruit from the required variety and from plants that have good productivity, low or no incidence of rust and good cup quality. Pulp cherries, ferment for one night, wash clean, and dry the parchment slowly in shade on raised platforms or trays with good air movement for two to three days. The moisture content of the seeds should not fall below 10%, otherwise the viability will be seriously affected. The seeds should be sorted to eliminate those that are small or abnormally shaped or are infested with pests.

NOTE: Coffee seed that is used for planting is actually parchment with the parchment hull still in place. It is not green bean from which parchment hull has been removed.

Keep records

It is very important to keep good records of nursery operations. Good records will help avoid confusion and problems. The sample record on the next page can be photocopied for practical use.

Nursery record book

Record the information for each new plot of coffee or shade tree planted. This page may be photocopied.



Shade tree #



Scientific name

Origin of material

Date sown

Treatments (if any)

Date of seed emergence

Date of transplanting

Growth stage at transplanting

Other information / comments

When to start the nursery

New seed should be planted as soon as possible after harvest. The longer it is stored, the lower the percentage of germination and the smaller the plants will be at the time of transplanting. If possible, coffee nurseries should be started in December in Lao.

Calculate the amount of seed and the area required

As coffee seed rapidly looses viability, store the seed in cool moist conditions (such as the bottom of a refrigerator). There are 3000 to 4000 coffee seeds per kilo. The recommended planting density is 3333 plants/ ha at a spacing of 2 x 1.5 m for Lao. To calculate the area for a nursery you need to know:

Calculate area needed for seedbed - for example: To plant 1 hectare of coffee at a spacing of 2 x 1.5 m

Number of plants:

3333 plants/h (10,000 m2 ÷ 2 x 1.5 m)


Assume 3000 seeds/kg with 75% germination

Therefore, you need:

(100 x 3000) - 75 = 4,444 seeds

Sow seeds in beds 1 m wide with 2 cm between seeds and 10 cm between rows. Plant 50 seeds per 1 m of row.

Therefore, you need:

4,444 seeds ÷ 50 seeds/row of 1 m = 90 rows

Rows are 100 mm apart. Therefore, you need 90 rows x 100 mm apart or 9 m of nursery bed.

Build the nursery shelter & beds

Select a frost and flood free area with access to a suitable water supply. Completely fence the area to keep out domestic livestock.

Shade house and plastic tunnels

Coffee seed is very slow to germinate in December and January (the coldest months) and clear plastic/polyethylene should be used to accelerate germination and plant growth. (Coffee seed that is used for planting is actually parchment with the parchment hull still in place. It is not green bean from which parchment hull has been removed). Figure 10 illustrates the stages of coffee seedling development.

Construct a shade house with timber poles and a roof about 1.8 m high. The top of the shade house needs to be covered with either assorted plant material such as bamboo slats or branches, or commercial plastic shade cloth to give about 50% shade.

Figure 8. A clear plastic tunnel covering a seed bed is used for germinating coffee seed in cold weather. Note that the plastic has just been removed from the bamboo frame

To achieve faster seedling growth during cold weather, plant seed in a clear plastic/polyethylene tunnel beneath the shade (Figure 8). The tunnel is the width of sowing beds and about 75 cm high. Use bamboo hoops for the framework to support the polyethylene sheet cover. The seedbed must be fully and tightly enclosed or temperature inside the tunnel will not increase.


Plant the seed

Water the seedbed before planting.

As germination time is highly dependent on soil temperature, it may take from 30 to 50 days before shoots appear. Use of plastic/polythene tunnels to retain heat will speed up germination.


Germination is induced by placing the seeds in a sufficiently moist environment to absorb water. Depending on temperature and moisture, the cotyledon leaves develop after four to six weeks. See figures 10a and 10b for germinating process.

Germination is first seen in the appearance of the radicle (young root) three to four weeks after sowing. The hypocotyl (the part between soil and cotyledons appears 20 to 25 days later and carries the seed which is still covered in its parchment, out of the ground. Shortly afterwards, when this light covering is detached, the two cotyledon leaves open.

Figure 14. Planting the seed (left) and covering with mulch (right)

Diagram of the germinating process. The last two drawings (in the box) indicate that the plant is ready for transplanting

Figure 10a. Colyledons shown in photograph (top); the new primary leaves appear above the colyledons (bottom photo)

Figure 10b. Three stages showing seedling ready for transplanting on the

These cotyledon leaves look very different from ordinary leaves - they are oval-shaped with undulating edges and 20 to 50 mm in diameter. At the same time, the terminal bud appears and produces two primary leaves - they are opposite and in pairs. The cotyledons will now die having completed their nutritional role.

The root system develops actively in the first weeks of germination; the taproot penetrates deeply into the soil and forms a great number of roots and rootlets.

The first lateral branch (plagiotropic branch) appears four to six weeks after emergence; the plant will then have 5 to 11 pairs of leaves. These branches are opposite in pairs at alternate perpendicular points along the main axis. The primary branches have buds at each node that will develop either into secondary (plagiotropic/horizontal) branches or, under certain conditions, into flowers.

Do not let the soil dry out, when seedlings are developing. However, take care and do not over-water as seed can suffer from disease problems such as damping-off (see Nursery diseases and pests). At a height of 200 to 300 mm, the young plants are ready to be transplanted.

Transplant into bags

Depending on temperature, coffee seedlings are ready to be transplanted from the nursery bed into poly bags about two to three months after sowing. There are four steps in the process.

Prepare potting mixture

Make a NEW potting mixture.
DO NOT RE-USE SOIL from old bags!!

Strong black plastic/polyethylene bags with drainage holes should be used. Bag size should be at least 100 mm x 250 mm when filled with soil.

A mixture of fertile topsoil and manure or compost can be used. All soil, manure and compost should be sieved. The following mixture could be used:

5 x 20 L tins of topsoil.
1 x 20 L tin of good quality, dry cattle manure or compost.
200 g of rock phosphate or 0:20:0 NPK ratio fertilizer.
200 g of dolomite.

Thoroughly mix the ingredients and place in the black plastic bags. This amount will fill about 40 bags.

Choose the seedlings

Figure 11. Choosing the seedlings at matchstick stage

Transplant coffee when it is at the matchstick or cotyledon (butterfly) stage before the taproot is well developed (Figure 11).

Plant seedlings in bags

Figure 12. Planting the seedlings into plastic

Care for seedlings

Figure 13a. Make sure the plants are supported and are not crowded

Figure 13b. Healthy seedlings that are now crowded. The bags should be moved apart to allow more room for plant growth and avoid disease

Nursery diseases and pests

The two common diseases occurring in the nursery are:

Damping-off that appears as areas of dying plants. (See page 63 of Pests and diseases). Damping-off is caused by a soil-borne fungi often found in old, diseased potting mixture, over-watering, too much shade or not enough space between plants. Damping-off can be avoided by proper preparation in the nursery. It is also important that new soil is always used in the nursery beds. If the disease is found, immediate drenching with either Benlate (Benomyl) or Captan can be carried out. Always read the label on the chemical pack and follow directions.

Cercospora (brown eye spot) is a fungus, which develops when plants are under stress caused by too much shade, too much sun, nitrogen deficiency, over-watering or over-crowding. This can be avoided by following good management practices. Immediate control measures involve using copper sprays. (See page 64 of Pests and diseases). Always read the label on the chemical pack and follow directions.

Green coffee scale can also be a problem in the nursery. Scales severely affect plant health as the they suck the sap from the leaves. Keep the area free from ants and spray with spraying oils or Carbaryl or use traditional methods of control. (See page 59 of Pests and diseases).

Figure 14. Seedlings affected by damping-off. New potting mix should always be used

Always read the label on the chemical pack and follow directions.

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