It may be surprising to some but gardening is a popular reason for moving to Costa Rica. Not everyone loves to work in the garden but almost every person we take to see properties around Costa Ballena is moved by the beauty of a well-tended tropical landscape. Moving to the tropics is all about having fun in the sun and making good use of the year-round warm weather. And what better way to do that than to spend time growing all of the beautiful flowers and delicious fruits that cost so much to buy imported elsewhere?

Costa Rica is considered to be one of five blue zones in the world where people regularly live past 100. From studies of these special regions, researchers have deduced that the secret to living a long life depends a lot on diet. Simple, humble, and local ingredients play a central role in the mainstream Costa Rican diet and many expats are happy to jump on board. The things that grow most easily here also happen to be uniquely delicious and good for the body, too. Read on to find out what foods grow best in Costa Rica and what your garden and your diet may look like when you move here.

Why is gardening so popular in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s history is largely made up of peaceful agrarian societies. Many today still choose to support this legacy by creating homesteads that are dedicated to sustainable practices and growing healthy, natural foods at home. Costa Rican farmers work hard and take pride in growing food to feed their community. Many expats who come here are inspired by these traditions and by the fruitful land that gives so abundantly.

Gardening can be an all-year activity in the tropics. Even in the rainy season, the bright, sunny mornings are a great time to get outside and tend to plants around the home. A natural Costa Rican home garden will produce an abundance of fruits, herbs, and some types of vegetables. Many expats and locals prefer organic produce, grown without chemicals and pesticides. A lot of us are happy paying above-market prices for quality products and to encourage organic producers. Some claim that they experience benefits from consuming GMO-free and chemical-free foods, like a boost in energy, mental focus, and skin clarity.

Home businesses are cropping up everywhere all over Costa Rica with people producing potent fruit extracts, tinctures, and essential oils from things they’ve grown in their gardens. They use these products to make meals, cleaning products, personal hygiene products, and more. Retreat centers in Costa Rica will typically be built on large properties that have extensive fruit gardens and greenhouses for growing vegetables. Having a producing garden means that you will eat more freshly picked foods and received all of the beneficial nutrients that can get lost in transport.

What are the challenges of gardening in Costa Rica?

Gardening in Costa Rica, like anywhere else, is about the little daily rituals like making compost to sprinkle on the soil, pruning, watering, and getting out in the sun regularly. But gardening in tropics is full of challenges, too. Gardeners in Costa Ballena are faced with the difficulty of heavy rainfall for half of the year. Rain causes fungus, bad germination, and diseased crops. And when you don’t get a freeze, these problems don’t go away like they would with a frost reset. The soil in our coastal region is also full of clay and high in salt content. Our weeds never die and leaf cutter ants and slugs will destroy transplants if you’re not careful. But skilled gardeners know that there is no use fighting nature. We learn that it’s better to adapt to the tropical conditions or you’ll have to use a lot of chemicals to save your “exotic” plants that were never meant for this climate.

How to deal with challenges in Costa Rica gardens

Having a greenhouse in the South Pacific is not about keeping things warm. It is about creating shade and keeping rain off, which are two of the biggest challenges that gardeners face in Costa Rica. Raised beds are popular for growing vegetables and seedlings because they get better drainage. Raised beds are filled with rich, well-draining soil and when your seedlings become hardy, they can typically be transplanted to the garden.

Sustainable farmers in Costa Rica also practice crop rotation. This is where plants are cycled through the same soil in rotation depending on the type of nutrients they consume and deposit. Crop rotation deters pests because the soil does not stay at the same pH levels during this process. Plants are often used instead of chemicals to prevent pests in Costa Rica. Lemongrass, citronella, mint, basil, and other such pest repelling plants all grow heartily in our region of Costa Rica. Many farmers also use chickens, ducks and geese as primary form of pest control.

Fruits of Costa Rica

Almost every property for sale in Costa Rica will have some type of fruit tree on it. That’s because so many of Costa Rica’s indigenous forest is filled with fruit and nut trees of all types. Not all of the fruit trees in Costa Rica are edible for humans but every tree provides food for some being that’s native to the jungle. Of those that are good for human consumption, we have plenty of variety and a rainbow of colors and flavors to supplement our diets.

Cacao is one of the magnificent fruit trees that grow naturally in Costa Rica. It has large quantities of antioxidants and is a better source of calcium than milk. It also contains a lot of iron and produces neurotransmitters.

Guanabana, or soursop in English, is considered sacred by many local indigeouns tribes for its healing qualities. It has high quantities or calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. It also helps reduce infections and blood pressure.

The Australian plant noni is grown abundantly in Costa Rica today. Don’t let the strong smell and taste get you down because this fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that boost your immune system and promote healing.

Avocado is the richest fruit in fats that don’t contribute to weight gain and instead prevents diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

Granadilla is a fruit with an abundance of edible seeds. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it is known to boost immunity, aid digestion, reduce blood pressure, and improve circulation.

Moringa is often referred to as the “miracle tree” for its high quantity of beneficial nutrients. It is the more fruit: more vitamin A than carrots, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium thank milk, more iron than spinach, and more potassium than bananas.

Many perennial varieties of fruits grow naturally in Costa Rica. Some of these include: bananas, pineapples, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconuts, passionfruit, starfruits, lemons, limes, mandarinas, and more. And some of the more special fruits that you may not find anywhere else for lack of ability to transport or lack of knowledge about them include: moringa, loquat, longan, lychee, sugarcane, jackfruit, dragonfruit, breadfruit, caymito, abiu, water apple, velvet apple.

Spices also grow fruitfully in our region of Costa Rica. Some popular spice plants growing well in Costa Ballena are nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, and chilies of all types.

Growing vegetables in Costa Rica

One of the most popular gardening hacks in Costa Rica comes from a long tradition of local vegetable farming. Known as the three sisters, local farmers grow corn, beans, and squash together. This is known as companion planting, with each plant playing a role in a mutually-beneficial relationship. The squash shades the ground, the corn grows tall, and pole beans grow up the corn. As a result, these three foods are staples in the Costa Rican diet.

Cabbage is another popular staple food in Costa Rica. It grows best at mid to high level elevations but chinese cabbage and collards produce well in the hotter regions so it is used often in most kitchens. Green bunching onions grow well in most regions, as do chives and garlic, especially when potted. There are a few types of spinach that grow well in the Costa Ballena. New Zealand spinach, tree spinach (chaya), and Okinawa spinach are three types that you are likely to find in a well-tended garden.

It may seem unlikely but leafy greens grow in all varieties here. The easiest species to grow are spinach and kale, both of which are high in fiber and vitamin B. Plants in the brassica family grow well, like arugula, mustard greens, kale, and collard greens. Hot-weather lettuce varieties like open-leafed or oak leaf grow in partially shaded, well-draining soils. With plants like lettuce that don’t do well in the heavy rains, gardeners in Costa Rica will move their plants to containers placed in sunny areas that are under a roof, escaping the heavy downpour but still receiving a nice mist.

Roots and herbs in Costa Rican gardens

Root vegetables are the true staple of Costa Rican vegetable pantries. Yucca is one great replacement for potatoes locally. It grows easily and plentifully in the least expert gardens and it is an excellent source of fiber and potassium and will ease arthritis pain. Yucca, ginger, and turmeric grow wild everywhere and make beautiful additions to any garden. Tiquisqui and Ñampi (taro) are two more famous root crops that we like to call tropical potatoes. 

Radishes are extremely popular with local Costa Ricans who eat it pickled in chilero. They are ready to harvest in 1.5 months and seeds can be planted directly in garden beds. Beets, yams, and sweet potatoes are all popular root garden plants, too. 

Herbs like cilantro, mint, and oregano grow wild in our coastal region of Costa Rica, too. All three look slightly different from the versions that Europeans and North Americans are accustomed to, though. 

Are you an avid gardener thinking about moving to Costa Rica? We can guide you by your green thumb to some of the best garden properties in Costa Ballena. It is our passion to match people with their perfect Costa Rica properties and we are so happy to see garden lovers find their home here. Contact us with any questions you may have and let us help you find your zen in Costa Rica: