Yucatan, Mexico Planting Guide and Season Schedule

 in Garden

Welcome to the hot, humid Yucatan where the soil is rocky and your skin burns even in the shade. 

Luckily, gardening, and 4 season gardening is possible with the right planning.

It’s important to grow local plants when possible as they will thrive better, but knowing how to plan around the rainy season and the scorching hot May sun is also critical to garden health. I go to the slow foods market for most seeds or the centro marcado to buy plants. The rocky Yucatecan soil may seem hostile at first but it actually provides beneficial draining when the torrential rain falls. 

Working with raised beds I have had my most success and a constant flow of compost also helps. 

Soil Heath
As mentioned, a raised bed over your rock yard is the best gardening method especially in urban Merida where spaces are often small. Even the mayans stacked rocks to created small growing mounds for their MILPA’s. I use concrete blocks to prevent wood rot, but any raised bed you like will work well.

Next thing you will probably need to do is buy some good black dirt. My backyard was all rock when I arrived and I built one bed every couple of months and purchased a few bags of black dirt at a time to fill them up.
If you visit a local vivero (nursery) you can buy bulk dirt to be delivered but it will be dumped in a large pile on the street or in your driveway and you will have to cart it to the backyard. It was more expensive but bagged dirt bought slowly over time worked better for me. 

Third, compost. You can not grow here without a continuous supply of nutrients. I do a closed barrel method of compost to keep the bugs and pest population low. In the heat it is made up quickly 6-8 weeks and I compost my beds and trees in rotations as it is available. Here is how.

Sun vs shade Considerations 

There are some months when nothing will thrive in full sun, even your hot loving tomatoes will burn under the sub-tropical sun. Many people use palm leaves or tarp like sunshades (medio sombra) to protect during the hottest months you can talk to your local gardener if you want a palapa or home depot to find the tarp suncovers. Home Depot in the North of Merida sells the cloth by meter as well.

I use living trees too.
I have two beds beds places under trees that only get a few hours of sun, I use these to grow during the hottests months. I also have some potted palm trees that I move around to add shade when and where it is needed.

However you do it, you will need sunshade from March-June (usually around mid-month to mid-month)

The bugs in the tropics are another level of trouble.
They are worse during the rainy season when you will have caterpillars, moths, white flies and many others. 

I use a constant rotation of organic sprays during all months of the year, but even more diligently during the rainy season. You can see my entire organic pest management plan here


Selecting Plants
If you continuously compost your soil just about everything grows here.
Okra, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, citrus fruit trees, chard, green beans, rosemary, basil, onions, and the list goes one. It’s actually easier to make a list of what doesn’t grow in the Yucatan than a list of what does.
Anything that needs a cold snap like garlic isn’t going to do well (although garlic scapes grow deliciously if you are interested in that.)

What doesn’t grow
Garlic (except for scapes, and a couple small cloves underground they won’t make big bulbs)
Potatoes (instead, you can grow cassava and local sweet potatoes known as camote) 
Broccoli (though, broccolini does grow. It is quick to bolt, I suggest you check it daily for edible heads)
Brussel sprouts (but you can grow pineapples, citrus trees and plenty else to distract you.) 

Tropical Yucatan, Mexico Growing Calendar 

September – end of rains and start of the season
I consider September to be the Spring of the Yucatan.
I start all seedlings outside in direct sunlight, they will need to stand the tropical sun and hardening from the very first days is the only way. During Yucatan’s spring instead of worrying about last frost you are worrying about last downpours that can crush your seedlings. Plan accordingly. I usually seed everything from greens and lettuce to eggplants, carrots and tomatoes this month. However, If we have a particularly strong downpour I run out to move the seed to cover.

October – warm and mild rain
You shouldn’t have to fight off downpours during this month and just about everything grows.
Seed and space plants as normal.
More information about garden planning basics here

November – warm and dry
Suitable for planting everything from watermelon to peppers, tomatoes and eggplants but remember to water nearly daily as the rocky ground will drain very quickly. 

December – warm and dry 
Same as above
I also like to compost and mulch my trees in December before the new year.
You can do this anytime but I like to do it outside of the rainy season to prevent molding in my mulch.

January – warm and dry 
Same as above, continue to plant and harvest tomatoes, herbs, okra, eggplant, etc.

February – warm and dry
Same as above but patios and container plants will start to warm up.
Start to check on your plants to see if anything needs more afternoon shade or a second daily watering.
Remember to never water during the hottest part of mid-day

March – Hot and dry
Consider a shade cover depending on your yard conditions
Starting in March you may consider adding morning ground soakings to keep your plants healthy, you will not want to water after 9 am or overhead during this month 

April – Hot and dry
Start to use a shade cover.
Continue twice daily watering before 9 am or after 5 pm, avoid overhead watering when possible. 

May – Hot and dry
Continue to use a shade cover.
Continue twice daily watering before 9 am and after 6 pm, avoid overhead watering when possible. 

June – Rainy season starts
Compost all of your beds.
Prune any trees that need it.
Some shade cover will likely still be needed early in the month, check your plants and uncover or cover as needed. 

Plant squash, watermelon, corn and beans rainy season is MILPA’s prime growing time. Fine out more about the ancient planting style here.

Other plants like basil, kale and tomatoes are highly likely to get root rot or over watered during this month.
Some full grown plants may make it, but delicate seedlings are unlikely to thrive. 

July – Rainy season
Continue to grow MILPA plants like corn, beans, squash, watermelon, papaya, fruit trees. 

The month hurricanes are most likely.
The corn and beans that were planted in June may start to reach maturity depending on variety and conditions but likely will be harvested in September. 

Harvest your MILPA plants, re-compost all your beds.
Start to seed all plants again, but keep protected from rain as needed (see top of calendar) 



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Showing 6 comments
  • Gayle Samich

    Just visited for the first thyme. I live in Solferino in Quintana Roo. I’m also a gardener for life. I’m busy establishing gardens hee and feel like a pre-schooler. Although I’ve grown in many climates, this is my first time in thus one. I’ve cleared and planted trees of every kind on my hector. Thus year i will be spending the fall, winter, and spring. Time to get perennial herbs in, and the seedlings in the ground.

    I would love to talk gardens more with you if possible. Thank you for putting yourself out there.
    Gayle Samich
    720 938 9276

  • Tita

    Hi Nik,
    How do you deal with leaf-cutter ants? I’ve tried Trompo and Attamix, but the ants have become wise and no longer take it back to the nest. I have thousands of the little devils devouring everything, including trees.

    • Nik

      Thanks for a great question. I think I need to write a whole post about this it’s a big topic. The first thing to do is cut your trees so nothing is touching the ground and wrap the trunks with paper bags or paint it with white calcium so the ants can’t get into the tress. Also leaving your grass higher than 20 cm will keep them away from your yard, you can do this just on the perimeters if the ants don’t live in your yard. Ants of all kinds also don’t like the smell of orange and making a concentrate like this Natural Home Cleaning and spraying it around the tress or your property line can start to deter them as well. Good luck, it took me about 1 year of consistently applying those methods to get the leaf cutter ants to stop coming to my garden.

  • Jen Lytle

    Great tips! I live outside Merida in Tepakan and am just getting interested in trying to grow kiwi…..online information doesn’t say much about whether they will do well here. Have you any idea?

  • Ian

    Love your blog. How easy it to grow lime trees in pots in Merida?

    • Nik

      Hey Ian, it’s not too hard and actually something I’m about to do too. Be aware you need a big pot think whiskey barrel size, the cement ones are nice because they are less likely to break or rot but anything would work. You also will need a dedicated pruning routine 2-3 times the year or else it will outgrow your pot and be imposible to remove, the risk here is if it gets root bound from overgrowth it will die. Also in this case of potted limes (all citrus really), I would recommend lots of fertilizer tea and not direct composting. This is so the plant drains well and the soil doesn’t get compacted. Remember limes don’t like wet roots so drainage is your best friend here.

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