How to plant Arabica coffee

We are grateful to the Bureau of Plant Industry, Department of Agriculture, Regional Field Office of the Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-RFO CAR) through the Regional High Value Crop Development Program (HVCDP) Coordinator Joan Dimas-Bacbac for the coffee seedlings they provided for us since we started in 2018.

The first question that hit my mind in January 2018 was how do I plant coffee? My husband and I met up with Professor Val Macanes on March . Macanes gave useful tips such as that the “Base of fertilization is very important. At least 5 kilos of chicken manure per hole (1,200 per hectare). Digging should be half a meter by half a meter.” He even gave us a production guidebook, but I wanted more context on the steps.

What helped me is this “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee” from Bote Central. You can download it here.  I liked that it had a lot of illustrations, which gave me a head start. The guide also helped me teach the coffee farmers by showing the illustrations. It would be on July 2018 when I would get a formal training from the Benguet State University (BSU). The training workshop was called “Pre-production management, Quality Enhancement of Coffee Product from Seed to Cup.”


Let me show you what we did. On the slopes of the family ancestral land , lies a dense, oak-dominated cloud forest (or kalasan) together with the Benguet Pine trees.

Clearing. the land

We had to clear the land first so we could plant in between the trees.

The property before the clearing, JJanuary 2018

After clearing the land of bushes. the land is still so thick with trees and bushes. We continue to cut the branches as we planted coffee.

The land is now cleared, March 2018

For sloping areas, one can contour the layout by using an A-frame and develop spot terraces to minimize labour cost. The goal is to plant in a partially shaded area with trees (agroforestry system)

Contour the layout

From the Benguet State University training workshop
With Farmer Edmon: Checking the distance between holes. Our original layout was 3 meters x 3 meters.

Preparation of planting holes

In 2018, digging of holes was 3 meters x 3 meters apart but in 2019, we changed it to 2 meters x 2 meters. A Coffee Science lecture series from Dr. Manuel Diaz on January 2019, made us change our layout for the succeeding planting. The image below shows the triangular layout for slopes and a square layout for a flat land.

Image via Bote Central “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee”
No. of seedlings needed for 1 hectare
at a planting distance of 2m x 2m.
10,000 sqm/4 sqm (2m x2m) =2,500 seedlings

Dr. Manuel Diaz said that 3 x3 meter planting was done in the old days. Today, the best efficiency is 2500 to 4500 trees per hectare depending on the varietal and the type of land. The optimal density for bourbon is 2500 per hectare. Look at the chart below.

From the slide presentation of Dr. Manuel Diaz

Since our land falls under agro-forestry, the density of trees per hectare is 1,000 to 2,000 trees.

Density per hectare (based on Dr Manuel Diaz). Optimal zone is
3 x 1.5 meters
2 x 2 meters
2 x 1.5 meters or 1 x 3,
 1.5  x1.5 meters  okay too
Checking the hole dimensions

The recommended size of hole for planting is 50 cm wide x 50 cm deep. When digging the holes, separate top soil from the sub-soil. Return the top soil to the hole first. Then mix 5 kilograms chicken manure with the subsoil. Use this to cover the seedlings up to the root collar. We let the manure dry first before planting the seedlings.

Transplanting seedlings into the field

The key to successful planting is the ability of the root system to quickly take up water and nutrients. We carefully removed the seedling from the plastic potting material so as not to destroy the roots. Place the seedling upright in the hole. Do not remove the earth from the rootball. Plant the seedling as deep as the root collar. It is where the roots and the stem came together. Then we put back topsoil first and then the subsoil next. Fill the hole with soil until it is even with the ground level.

Image via Bote Central “Production Guide for Arabica Coffee”

I could not take a photo of the planting because I was not at the farm. During the training at the Benguet State University, I was able to plant one seedling.

The shovel is so heavy but I managed to plant one seedling, Taken in BSU campus July 2018

The Bureau of Plant Industry in La Trinidad, Benguet provided us with 1,200 seedlings. In 2019, we planted 2820 more, for a total of 3,820 coffee plants. It will only be in late 2019 that we attempted to sow seeds.

A newly planted coffee seedling taken on June 2018, one month after planting

Weeding and Mulching

Professor Macanes and the Production guide recommends to weed regularly to ensure plant survival. Weeding eliminates plant nutrient competition and alternate host of pests and diseases. Brush weeding is recommended for newly planted seedlings up to tree development •Depending on the mulch material used, the depth of mulch should be between two to three inches. Dead or dry weeds can also be used as mulch. Mulching lessens growth of weeds, decreases soil erosion, improves soil structure as well as organic matter content of the soil, and improves the water absorption and water holding capacity of soils.

On June 2018, this is how the first planting of 1,200 coffee seedlings looked like. You could barely see the seedlings. They are marked by wooden sticks.

Photo taken June 2018.

Today, some of the coffee plants are taller than me, depending on the varietal.

Photo taken on February 2020

So that is how we planted our coffee seedling in 2018 and 2019. We are learning along the way with the help of coffee stakeholders and research. Do you have other ideas to improve the planting method?

Up next is fertilization, Pest Control and Nursery Management.

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