Your work is not finished once you have planted the cocoa tree.
You still have lots of work to do to maximize early growth and obtain high early yields.
Aside from putting in the necessary and timely management practices as required by the cocoa plant, you also need to understand the necessary factors that would affect the growth and yield of cocoa.
An essential ingredient for growth and high yield in most cocoa growing situations is high fertilizer input. But which is the best fertilizer for the cocoa tree? In this post, you’ll learn about the best fertilizer for cocoa as well as when to apply fertilizer to a cocoa tree.
Why use a Fertilizer?
You need to know that different soils have different fertilizer needs. For instance, sandy soils may require the use of compound fertilizer, such as NPK 13-10-15. More granitic soils may require NPK 12-15-18 fertilizer. We recommend that you seek professional advice on how much fertilizer to use.
The suggested quantities for each cocoa tree are as follows:
- During the first two years, apply 125g of fertilizer in April and 125g also in September.
- During the third year and from then onward, apply 250g of fertilizer in April and also in September.
The Best Fertilizer for Cocoa Tree
Cocoa trees require a special “cocoa fertilizer” to maximize growth, to ensure higher yields, and to ensure that the necessary micronutrients and macronutrients are replenished after every harvest.
A good cocoa fertilizer should contain Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Magnesium (Mg), Zinc (Zn), and Boron (B) in the right balance. The ratio of nutrients in the best fertilizer for the cocoa tree is prescribed in the table below:
- Nutrients Threshold
- Low High
- N 12% 18%
- P 12% 20%
- K 15% 25%
- M 3% 8%
- Ca 5%
- S 3% 10%
- B 0.6% 1.0%
- Zn 0.4% 0.9%
Chemical fertilizers are better than organic fertilizers or animal manure. This is because organic fertilizers often have poor ratios of the necessary nutrients and large quantities of organic fertilizers are needed for them to be effective.
This can sometimes create accessibility challenges.
However, organic fertilizers have their benefits. For instance, organic fertilizers aid microbial growth, which supports nutrient absorption. Note that microbes don’t like acidic soil. Therefore, plant your cocoa tree in soil with a pH level of 5.8.
Applying Fertilizers to Cocoa Tree
Fertilizers cost lots of money. Therefore, it is wise to use them only when using them will make the grower earn more money.
Before you apply fertilizers to your cocoa tree(s), make sure that you have tended your cocoa trees and have hoed the weeds.
It’s useless to apply fertilizers on a cocoa tree that is not well cared for. If you don’t prune your cocoa tree(s) and hoe the weeds, you shouldn’t apply any fertilizer. If your cocoa tree(s) is not properly cared for, fertilizers will do nothing else than feeding the trunks and the suckers of the cocoa trees, and the weeds.
This will make you lose your money. Weeding and pruning your cocoa tree is well discussed below.
Spread the fertilizer around the cocoa tree and be very careful not to spread the fertilizer on the trunk, branches, or leaves of the cocoa tree. Otherwise, the fertilizer will burn the tree, branches, or leaves.
When spreading the fertilizer around the cocoa tree, do the spreading in a ring form around the trunk, leaving a distance of about 1m from the tree trunk, where most of its small roots are. Fertilizer should be applied twice a year – in April and September.
Best Time for Fertilizer Application
After choosing the best fertilizer to use and knowing the methods and areas of fertilizer application, it’s still important to schedule the fertilizer application time to take into account the cocoa nutrient requirements.
You must consider the following factors when trying to schedule the fertilizer application time – peak cropping period, competition from weeds, rainfall pattern, and soil factors like susceptibility to erosion and topography.
You need to put all of these into consideration to maximize nutrient uptake for maximum growth and yield by the cocoa tree.
However, it is often recommended that fertilizer application should be carried out during the rainy season. Fertilizer application should be done twice a year, April and September. In April, it is believed that the rainfall would have become steady.
Furthermore, just as stated above, different soils have different fertilizer needs, for this reason, the fertilizer requirement for loamy soil is different from Sandy soil. If the soil particle size analysis of your soil indicates that the soil is sandy, get the fertilizer formula that fits sandy soil.
Weeding Your Cocoa Tree
Weeding your cocoa tree is very important especially if you have several cocoa trees or a cocoa plantation because many weeds grow among the cocoa tree rows. Like you know, weeds will compete with your cocoa tree(s) to take away its nourishment – you must not allow this.
When your cocoa tree is young, you should weed it about four to five times a year. However, when the cocoa tree is bigger, it’ll cast lots of shade and so few weeds will grow. In such a case, it’ll be enough to weed the cocoa tree once a year.
When you’re weeding your cocoa tree, be very careful not to damage the trunk and roots of the tree. More so, if you have several cocoa trees or cocoa plantation, do not leave the soil between the rows of the cocoa trees bare.
Cover the soil between the rows of your cocoa trees with cut weeds or palm fronds.
When you do this, the soil between the rows of your cocoa trees will be kept moist and cool and protected against the sun and erosion. More so, when the weeds or palm fronds rot, they’ll release organic matter into the soil.
You may also choose to grow cover crops, such as legumes, in-between the rows of the cocoa trees to give the soil good protection against sun and erosion.
Pruning Your Cocoa Tree
The cocoa tree usually has a single, straight trunk. The crown, which is formed about 1.5m above the ground level, usually bears about three to five main branches. Sometimes, the crown may form lower than 1.5m – as low as below 1m above the ground level.
However, several shoots may form on the trunk during the first year. To have a healthy cocoa tree, it’s important to allow only the shoot which grows straight up. Cut off all other shoots and leave only the strongest, and let it develop.
Your soils can hardly supply all the necessary nutrients on time. So, you need to augment the nutrient from the soil with nutrients from fertilizers, such as NPK 13-10-15. Now you’ve seen the importance of fertilizing your cocoa tree.
Don’t forget that your cocoa tree will respond well to fertilizer applications if other management factors, soil, and climatic conditions are favorable for good growth and yield.
Hence, there is a strong interaction between fertilizer application and effective management factors to produce good growth and yields.