Planting the right way: Experts offer advice on best practices

Saturday April 03 2021

Farmers have been advised to start planting. PHOTO/RACHEL MABALA


April is the de facto launch of each year’s planting season, so the new cycle begins now.
By this time, most of the farmers should be through with second ploughing and it is advisable to start planting after one week.

According to recent data by the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), the first rainfall season, which will end in May in most parts of the country, is anticipated to be good enough for crop production.
James Mugerwa, a retired extension worker who worked in Buvuma District until January 2021, says one of the key issues to take seriously during the first rains include early prepositioning of seed and other agro inputs such as fertilisers, timely land preparation and early planting and restocking farms, ponds and apiaries.

Mugerwa says that food security crops such as cassava, maize, sweet potatoes and sorghum are important crops in Uganda, closely followed by rice, banana, potatoes and beans.
“These should be on every farmer’s mind because their consumption means that there is good market for them,” Mugerwa says.

Perennial crops such as coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas can also be planted during the first planting season.
He adds that farmers need to plan their production depending on early maturing crops such as beans and sweet potatoes and drought-tolerant crops such as cassava. He adds that on-farm diversification should also include planting of fruit trees for example, mangoes, jackfruits and avocado.

Dr Asher Wilson Okurut, a banana specialist at National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda says that the farmer should critically select the site of the plantation. He states that a soil test should be taken before land preparation starts so that soil amendments are made. Bananas thrive in well-drained soils. Correct soil preparation will require deep ripping to break hardpans and allow for improved root penetration. A desired site should not have had prior cases of diseases.

“Even if you picked it in Kawanda, there are no miracle bananas. You cannot take bananas to a swamp and expect good results,” Okurut says. He says that at this time land should be prepared by clearing the bush, tilling and ploughing and marketing using the recommended spacing. Between plants, bananas should be spaced at 3x3 metres. In that spacing, one can get 450 plants.


“Any adjustments could be disastrous to the farmer. Bigger spaces mean a small harvest while smaller spaces can give a high yield with poor quality bunches,” he says. Dr Okurut says that planting too close reduces the rate of emergence of follower suckers while the parent plant will be slower bunching, with slower filling bunches. Spacing is also important in disease control. He says closer spacing reduces air circulation and increases fungal leaf diseases. 

The recommended planting holes are measured 3 by 3 feet and dig up to the sub-soils. At the time of planting, two basins of loam soil should be mixed with manure. When you plant during the dry season, a farmer is advised to use spot mulching around the hole to keep the water in the soil.

The choice of planting materials greatly determines the output. Okurut says a maiden sucker can be planted as well as sword suckers. After planting, the garden should be mulched as well as digging trenches. Keeping weeds at bay is important in managing the competition for nutrients and water.

Hass avocado is the most trending fruit at the moment, with demand stretching from Europe, China, the United States and Middle East. According to Abubakar Ssengendo, the director of marketing and communication at Musubi Farm, for those planning to plant Hass avocado during the first season, this is the right time. To plant at the onset of the first rains, you need the spacing of 6x4m without intercrops. This can accumulate about 166 trees per acre. The holes, measuring 2x2ft, should always be filled with manure during the dry season. The preferred manure includes cow dung and goat droppings but not chicken manure.

Since bookings for seedlings usually takes about three months, you need to have booked earlier. Mature and high quality seedlings vary between Shs4,500 per seedling to Shs6,000. To establish an acre of Hass avocado, a farmer requires aboutShs830,000 to obtain seeds. There are three seed varieties available including; Fuerte, Pinkerton and Semil34.

Ssengendo says yields should be expected starting December 2022 for commercially-run farms while those that depend on Mother Nature will have to wait until at least June 2023.

For both urban and commercial farmers, Allan Ahimbisibwe of Spark Agro-Initiatives says tomato planting is not only commercially viable but also necessary.

“Any keen farmer cannot miss out on tomatoes because they are highly consumed in Uganda. Almost on a daily basis every person has to eat a tomato in their food,” Ahimbisibwe says. For optimum results, Ahimbisibwe says the early life of the crop matters a lot.

He explains that the choice of a tomato cultivar is based on fruit quality, adaptability and reliability, susceptibility to diseases and pests. The common varieties include - Money maker, Rio Grande, Tengeru 97, Asila F1, Chantan F1, Anja F1, and Star, among others. The best soils, he says, are deep, well drained loams rich in organic matter with a pH value of six to seven.

In one acre, you plant about 8000 plants with a spacing of 2x2ft. Seedlings for transplanting should be between two and three weeks. He recommends planting holes with a depth of eight inches.

Since tomatoes are heavy feeders of plant nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, at transplanting one needs to apply fertilisers such as DAP by placing a few granules in the hole and covered with some soil before establishing a seedling. 

Cassava is a major commodity among farming families especially in northern Uganda because of its resilience. The choice of a cassava variety depends on; the preference of consumers, yield, resistance to pest and diseases and the maturity period of the cassava.

Farmers mostly obtain their materials from their own farms or other farmers’ farms. Obtaining materials continuously from one source may lead to the build-up of diseases in the planting materials. Naro has developed quick maturing varieties that are also resistant to diseases.

To plant cassava, farmers should use the mature parts of the cassava stick as planting materials. Use sharp cutlass to cut the stem into 20-25cm long pieces with about 5-7 nodes.
In Uganda, cassava is planted between April and May, or in August. However, you may consult your field extension worker for appropriate planting times.

Plant cassava with the node’s growth direction upward and ensure it is well placed in the soil with about 2/3 of its length slanted below the soil. The recommended spacing is 1mx1m.

The best time to plant maize is now. James Mugerwa says that maize should be planted at the onset of the rains to avoid nitrogen flush, which is the release of accumulated nitrogen in the soil during the dry season. However, you could also plant your maize when it is still dry but during the time when the rains are expected soon. In this case though, you need to treat your seeds against soil pests before planting.

“Maize is a very dependent on temperature because of its uninterrupted germination and growth. So farmers need to give it the best chance of having these conditions,” Mugerwa says.

Dr Charles Lwanga Kasozi, a senior research officer at Naro encourages farmers to use starter fertilisers such as diammonium phosphate (DAP) to ensure readily available nutrients.
Dr Kasozi explains that late planting leads to increased incidences of pests and disease attacks hence reduced yields.

Rain-fed maize normally takes 110-120 days from the time of planting to harvesting. The recommended sowing rate is 25 kilogrammes per hectare.

The recommended hybrids that can tolerate drought, as well as pests and disease include; Longe 5, Ssalongo, Hybrid, Longe 7H and Longe 10, among others with the recommended spacing of 75x60cm.

Rice is a major cash and food crop grown in the lowlands of eastern Uganda. Farmers, depend so much on nature and the onset of the rain season will be a great sigh of relief. Upland rice is also grown in western Uganda.

According to Joseph Okoth, the agricultural engineer of Tororo District, plants are ready for transplanting after 20-40 days in the nursery.

Okoth says that although farmers used to plant by broadcasting, the best practice is to plant in straight lines. In this case, a farmer needs planting guides such as wire, twine, and wood to have uniform spacing.
According to Okoth, straight rows facilitate management practices such as weeding and application of fertilisers, herbicides, or insecticides.

Seedlings are planted at a depth between one and a half to three centimetres or just deep enough for the roots to come in contact with the soil.

Soil can be improved by leaving the rice straws to decompose or by application of organic fertiliser such as compost, manure, rice husk, humus or green manure. Leguminous plants can also be planted about two months before rice cultivation.

Coffee remains an important cash crop in Uganda. There are two main types - Robusta and Arabica. Robusta grows in low altitude areas of central, eastern, western and south eastern Uganda up to 1,200 metres above sea level. Arabica grows in highlands.

Joseph Ruyombo, an agronomist and field officer with Ugacof in Nkokonjeru, Buikwe District emphasises that with the right holes and improved varieties, farmers should still add manure and plant very early in the morning or late in the evening.
Ruyombo says the right spacing between Robusta plants is 10x10 feet and between Arabica ones is 8x8 feet. The right size for holes is two feet long by two feet wide and two feet deep.
He says that while digging holes, top soil should be heaped on one side and the bottom soil on another. Manure should be added to the holes and the top soil should be used as cover.
“Farmers should mark the centre of the holes and leave them for two to three months before planting,” he says.
He adds that coffee plants should be obtained from Maaif certified coffee nurseries across the country.
New plants, he explains, should be provided a shade using bamboo or tree branches and supplied with water in case of water stress.
He says that during the early stages, coffee can be intercropped with beans or bananas with the guidance of the nearest extension worker. 
Beans are an important legume staple crop in Uganda. According to the agriculture ministry, the national annual consumption of beans is estimated at about 58 kilogrammes per capita.
Denis Asizua, the acting director of Abi Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Abi Zardi), who, among other projects oversees community based seed multiplication, explains that on a previously prepared land, farmers should open up holes of two to five centimetres depth in straight lines. To each hole, he says, add two to three seeds.
According to the best practices recommended by the ministry of agriculture, compost or animal manure should be added at rate of two to four tonnes per acre during the first cultivation to allow for adequate decomposition.
For the choice of suitable varieties, Asizua explains that it depends on buyers’ preferences, yield potential, resistance to diseases and length of the growing season. High yielding varieties such as Roba, Nabe and Narobean can be chosen depending on the zone.

For long rainy seasons, Asizua advises farmers to delay planting by two to three weeks to avoid too much rainfall during pod filling stage which may lead to rotting of pods. Normally, the first season is dominated by planting in March up to mid-April and harvesting in June-July depending on the area and variety.

Spacing can also be influenced by intercropping. Beans can be intercropped with maize, sorghum, coffee, cassava or banana.

He recommends application of basal fertiliser (organic and or inorganic) in case of poor soils at planting.

Expert tips

  • Choose crops you are excited to grow.
  • Try not to overplant.
  • Remove struggling crops as soon as you can.
  • Make sure your plants are getting enough water.
  • Make sure your plants are getting enough nutrients.
  • Follow the plant’s recommended spacing requirements