A plant nursery is essential in providing the best environment for plants when they are still young and fragile. Like children who need special attention when they are still young, so do plants. A healthy strong seedling will grow to become a healthy productive plant. The early stages of a plants life will determine how well it will grow in the future.
A nursery can be made any size you need, it can be small, the size of one garden plot with a coconut leaf roof, or large and managed by the whole community.
Some benefits from making a plant nursery include:
- Makes planting, watering and maintaining seedlings easier because everything you need is in one place
- Provides seedlings with protection from hot sun, hard rains, strong winds and animal disturbances
- Allows seedlings to grow healthier, because there is enough healthy soil and nutrients available
Plant Nursery Location
The nursery is the heart of the garden and needs attention every day. The nursery should be located close to the house and close to the garden. The nursery needs watering almost every day, so it is best to be located close to a water source.
Trees can be used as shade. However, be careful because too much shade can cause problems in the future, because the seedling will be too weak. Legumes, like sesbania and eucalyptus, are good trees for a nursery, because they will still allow some sunlight to pass through. Trees like mango and avocado are not very good to use because they are too dense.
The best situation will allow morning sunlight in the nursery, and provide shade during the middle of the day and afternoon, because this is when the sun is hottest. Protection from strong winds is also needed, because strong winds will slow the seedlings growth. But, some gentle wind blowing through the nursery is very good for the seedlings.
Designing & Constructing the Nursery
Every nursery will be constructed differently to fit different needs and different construction materials. The following examples can be used or you can come up with your own nursery designs. Make the nursery design so that it lasts as long as possible. The nursery should have different areas which receive different amounts of sunlight. If possible, there should be 3 areas, which are for:
1. Small seedlings or fragile plants, which are still weak and need extra protection from hot sun and heavy rains
2. Larger seedlings, which don’t need a lot of protection, but do need enough sunlight
3. Plants in the process of ‘hardening’ before planting. These plants need full sunlight in preparation to face the conditions where it will later grow. Larger plant seedlings need 3-4 weeks to ‘harden’ and small vegetable seedlings need 1 week to ‘harden’ before planting in the garden
Nurseries on top of a para-para (bamboo frame that allow water to seep through) or waist high table will provide protection from animals, such as snails, ants and other insects. Also, nurseries will be easier to manage, because you won’t have to bend over all the time, which is not fun and puts stress on your back. Remember, think smart, not hard!
Larger nurseries will be easier to construct and manage if a group of people are involved. This group could be a family, community group, school, or religious organization. Every person involved will benefit more from the work they do and will save on production costs.
Nurseries can be made separately in different places, or all the seedlings can be grown in the same place and divided up when it is time to plant in the garden. Or, use a combination of both. Larger community nurseries can be made for reforestation needs.
Constructing the Nursery Building
For the main frame, use strong long lasting materials, like eucalyptus wood. Some types of long lasting bamboo can also be used for the frame, but some types are not very strong and will rot within 1-2 years. Bamboo that is harvested and treated correctly will last longer.
Roof materials can be bamboo panel, woven coconut / palm leaf, or grasses tied in thin clumps so that some sunlight can still pass through. Fence materials can be bamboo or wood, palm leaf, or any other available materials. Or you can even make a living fence.
In the mountains, seedling will grow better if they are raised off the ground, about waist high is best. This is because at night it becomes very cold. Cold temperatures can damage and even kill seedlings. Some other ways to deal with cold temperature are by planting some trees near the nursery or covering the ground with a layer of mulch made from coffee / rice husks, about 10-15 cm is good. However, a layer of husk mulch could promote fungus growth in areas with warmer temperature.
Seedling Boxes and Containers
Seedling containers are easy to make and are good for growing many varieties of vegetable and tree seedlings. These containers need to be made deep enough for roots to grow long, not grow around in circles. Tree seedlings can be transferred to the containers when they are about 1 month old (about the time when four leaves have grown). Height and drainage is very important. Choose the size of container that fits your needs and the materials available. These containers are generally made of wood or bamboo. If using bamboo, the outside of the bamboo should be facing up to provide better water drainage. Many different containers can be used as seedling containers. All seedling containers should have drain holes at the bottom.
Seedling containers can be made from:
- Cans, baskets, used drink / food containers, and other used materials Coconut husks
- Banana leaves, must be 1 finger width at the base to be able to hold water
- Banana trunk / bark
- Woven leaves
- Poly bags are the easiest containers for nurseries with lots of trees. They do cost money, but save a lot of time and energy
- Plastic bottles also can be used, they need to perforated before use to drain water