Nursery: Set-up

The decision to have a single stage or double stage nursery will be a matter of personal choice depending on the specific situation encountered e.g. a double stage nursery is advisable for a large scale planting (>500 ha).

The Single Stage Nursery

This system utilises only large polybags and the germinated seeds are planted directly into the bags in the same manner as planting out in the pre-nursery polybags as described in section on planting germinated seeds into the large polybags.

Some of the advantages of this system are:-

  • once the seed has been planted, there is no further movement until field planting so that the root system is not disturbed and therefore establishment and growth is faster.
  • one can dispense with all the requirements in terms of layout, equipment and labour of the pre-nursery.

However this system has a number of disadvantages: –

  • it is necessary to have the full nursery infrastructure ready from the initial seed delivery.
  • it requires greater volume of water and additional engine fuel, wear and tear for the first two or three months.
  • it also requires more soil since all the culling is done at the large polybag stage.
  • it is more difficult to observe and supervise when the seedlings are spread over a large area.
  • there will be no space for receipt of the following year’s seed delivery in case of delays in any one year’s planting programme unless the nursery is enlarged.
  • culling and seedling replacement is cumbersome.
  • it is not advisable for large scale planting which requires a very large area to prepare and also involves high cost.
  • difficulty in providing proper shading to the germinated seedlings at planting.

The Double Stage Nursery

The double stage nursey system involves planting of the germinated seeds in small pre-nursery polybags packed closely together in a very small area for the first two to three months. The seedlings are then planted out in the large polybag nursery where they remain for a further 7-9 months before field planting. This system has a number of advantages over the single stage nursery such as:

  • only a small section of nursery is required for the first 2 to 3 months.
  • less irrigation required for the first 2 to 3 months.
  • easier to observe seedlings and supervise nursery work during the critical early stage (2 to 3 months after planting).
  • culling can be carried out very quickly and easily at the first stage before planting into large bags.
  • the double stage nursery also has some disadvantages namely:
  • an “extra” operation is created which is very labour intensive.
  • possible slower growth compared to the single stage especially with poor shade management.
  • poor transplanting technique from small to large polybags could give rise to severe transplanting shock.

NURSERY SET-UP (Double Stage Nursery)

Since the double stage nursery is commonly adopted in most of the estates, only this type of nursery is described.

The Pre-Nursery Stage

Polybag filling and placement

Polybags must be filled with soil up to the bag rim and placed in the nursery beds at least four weeks before the planting date to allow settling, topping up with soil and pre-planting irrigation.

Only the best topsoil available should be used in any nursery. The soil must be free draining, friable, sandy clay loam (eg. Rengam, Serdang, Bungor) and free from contaminants (chemicals etc.). Rock phosphate (RP) (@ 10 kg/1000 small polybags of 15 cm (6 in) x 21 cm (9 in) x 250 gauge) must be premixed into the soil prior to filling to ensure adequate P availability.

The polybags should be turned inside out before filling so that they sit upright. Hoppers or funnels may be used to facilitate filling. The filled polybags should be arranged in beds of 10 bags width and of a convenient length. The beds should have wooden side frames to prevent bags from toppling over. The arrangement of polybags at pre-nursery stage is shown in photo 1.


At this critical stage it is necessary to shade the plants either with palm fronds on frame, or with shade netting of 70% shade. If oil palm fronds are used as shade it is necessary to pre-spray the fronds with a pesticide to ensure that they are not instrumental in introducing any pests or diseases. The shade should be gradually reduced after the first month and should be totally removed by the end of the second month. The shading in the pre-nursery stage using oil palm fronds and netting is shown in photos 2 and 3 respectively.

Planting germinated seeds into the polybags

It is essential to ensure that polybags are well watered just prior to the commencement of planting. Planting of germinated seeds should be completed as soon as possible, preferably not later than 1 day after receipt.

Care must be taken to ensure that the workers can differentiate between the plumule (shoot) and the radicle (root) to avoid planting the seeds upside down. The seed should be planted at 1 cm depth with the radicle pointing down and lightly covered with soil. Planting holes can be made with a stick.

Where the germinated seeds are consigned as identified families and labelled accordingly by the seed producer (as for AA DxP seeds), they are to be planted according to the same families and properly labelled right to the main nursery. This is to facilitate nursery culling, as the seedlings from the each family would be more uniform and the off-types readily spotted. However in the field planting, the seedlings are to be planted as mixed families.

Once the planting is completed, the identification tag must be stapled to the edge of polybag.

The Main Nursery

Polybag filling

Again, only the best topsoil is to be used in the large polybags . Prior to polybag filling, a basal application of 100g RP/polybag must be thoroughly mixed with the soil before filling.

Filling of the polybags should commence at least a month prior to the transplanting. Bags should be filled to the rim and set aside for a few weeks to allow for settling and soil topping up where necessary.

The large polybag of 38 cm (15in) x 45 cm (18in) x 500 gauges should be turned inside out before filling, to give the filled bag a stable and level base.

Hopper or funnels may be used for more efficient filling especially in large-scale nurseries.

Spacing of bags

Spacing of polybags in the nursery is done to minimise light competition between palms and for easy access to the palms for pest and disease control, weeding and manuring. The spacing and placement of seedlings at main nursery stage is shown in photo 4. The spacing of seedlings depends on the duration seedlings are expected to be kept in the nursery. The recommended spacing for various seedling ages at field planting is given in Table 1.

Table 1: Recommended polybag spacing in the nursery for various seedling ages at field planting
Age of seedling at field planting (months)
Triangular spacing of polybags in the nursery

Transplanting from pre-nursery into large polybags (main nursery)

Prior to transplanting the seedlings to the large polybags, workers should prepare the planting holes within the bags. These holes can be prepared using core-borers. The pre-nursery seedlings should be given a thorough watering before the transplantings. To minimize disturbance of the roots, the bags should be cut open with a small blade and the seedling removed gently without disturbing the soil. The detached seedling together with the soil is placed in the planting hole of the large polybag, and the soil gently but firmly compacted around the root mass. Care must be taken to ensure that the planting is level with the pre-nursery soil level. A good watering should follow immediately. Mulching of the soil surface should be done with oil palm kernel shells.