Hello to all the potential gardeners out there! I have been gardening and growing in Ecuador for the past seven years, and I am the owner of a Facebook group called 'Ecuador Expat Gardening.'
There are many climates in Ecuador, so we request that posters to that group mention where they are located, as it is often relevant to their gardening experience and receiving accurate input to their questions. I am located right on the coast, so salt spray has the potential to ruin some of my plants. That being said, I cannot say any of my plants are particularly unhappy as a result. Fruit trees, veggies, ornamental tropical foliage, almost everything, thrives in an area that never freezes. I have found that plants I was not very successful with previously in other countries - such as roses and orchids - are now 'easy' to grow. The cloudy season inhibits growth slightly for a few months, but that gives me some respite from the constant cutting back I have to do. What an absolute pleasure to move from Houston, where the tropical garden usually looks beautiful for most of the year, but a few nights of frost will turn it into an expensive mess overnight. On the coast of Ecuador, having constant warm temperatures helps us all be successful gardeners. That is, unless the pests invade.
The past few years, we have had invasions of leaf-cutter ants. Yes, they can look cute, marching in a line with a little piece of green leaf or red flower on their heads, like a Vegas showgirl’s feather headdress, until you see your latest targeted plant! They are insatiable, but there is a solution! Atakill, which are mini pellets that are easily acquired from your nearest Agripac for a few dollars, will do the trick. A few pinches dropped along their chorus line, which they carry back to the queen, and the show will soon be over. I find them easily after dark, scouring the ground with a flashlight until I see movement.
Many plants can very easily be propagated from clippings. I would estimate that about 1/3 of my garden comprises gifts from friends or from nature. The best crop of butternut I ever had, and shared, came from the seeds of a store-bought butternut. I have also grown cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, eggplant, and “maracuya” from the seeds of store-bought produce. Most gardeners are known for their generosity and willingness to share - my first aloe plant, gingers, and cannas came from a friendly restaurant owner. They still thrive in my garden seven years later and I have shared their many off-spring with friends and neighbors.
Plant shopping at “viveros” is always an adventure, the thrill of finding plants you want to add to your garden or new plants you have never seen before. If you speak some Spanish you can get some great tips from these places on how to keep your new plants happy and healthy. The prices are also usually very reasonable (and even more so if you make friends with the owner). Just yesterday I went north to Puerto Rico (on the coast of Ecuador), and got a Ponytail Palm for $2! My friend and I filled the back of her car with herbs, flowers, and ornamentals for about $30.
Because of our hot sun, whatever I plant in a pot needs good drainage, but also something to hold the water a bit longer. I usually mix the inside fluff of a disposable baby diaper with my potting soil for this purpose, before potting my new plants. Buying baby diapers at the store sometimes raises an eyebrow, but it is part of the fun … gardening in Ecuador. I hope you enjoyed these tips and feel a little more ready to start this adventure and possibly a new hobby!