Gardening in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, the soil is said to be so fertile that if you plant a stick in the ground, it will grow. Although an exaggeration, it’s true that the country’s rich soil and moderate climate make it easy to grow colorful flowers and hearty produce– you just have to choose the right varieties based on where you live.
I live in the cool mountains above Heredia and recently began a container garden in my small backyard that receives only eight hours of sunlight per day. Container gardening makes it easy to create optimal growing conditions, as I can also relocate my plants throughout the day to increase or decrease sun exposure.
I began with a few vegetable and herb seeds – early tomatoes, mesclun salad mix, basil, oregano and cherry tomatoes – and a hefty bag of topsoil, organic compost and pumice stones. As directed by my local nursery, I layered topsoil over the pumice stones to provide drainage and mixed a small amount of compost into the dirt. Following the directions on my seed packs, I planted the seeds outside and placed my containers in the sunniest part of the yard.
I planted my garden in August, during the height of the rainy season, to maximize fruiting during the drier months of November-Aprl, when the sun is its strongest. Whether it was my sowing skills or the damp afternoons, my seeds all got slow starts. Instead of sprouting and then growing exponentially larger every week, they all – especially the tomatoes – sprouted immediately and then grew slowly over the next few months. The timing seems to have worked out perfectly: today, my adolescent plants are all large and very healthy. The tomato plants have bloomed and the first tomatoes are just days away. I can’t wait!
Gardening in Costa Rica is a labor of love; you have to love it, or it won’t be worth it. For me, gardening is a relaxing hobby, and I grow fruit and vegetable varieties that are either more expensive in Costa Rica or impossible to find, especially heirloom species.
In order to bring seeds into Costa Rica, you must buy them packaged in labeled and sealed envelopes in order to clear Customs. The only exception to this rule – and one that is often overlooked – is for invasive species like squash, which grow wild if left untended.
Flower gardening in Costa Rica is even more varied, and for many expats botanicals are an adventure into the unknown. The town of La Garita, Alajuela has an incredible selection of plant nurseries that sell everything from passion flowers and bougainvillea to cacti and bromeliads. At some nurseries, plants are scattered over an acre or more, and you can easily spend a day browsing the selection. Before making a purchase, speak with an employee and assess your growing area. Where you live, hours of sunlight, available shade, and other conditions will greatly impact which tropical plants will flourish in your yard. Happy gardening!