Interested in Reforestation? Free Trees – ICE’s Vivero Program

How to get free trees (including tropical hardwoods), from Costa Rica’s electricity provider, ICE. We applied and were approved for 35 trees of our choosing. This post explains how we did it.

We intend to restore our farm with the tree species that would have been here had it not been previously used as pastureland. Our farm is currently forested but most of the trees are less than 30 years old and are secondary growth trees, laurel, guacimo, etc. Our intention is to reforest with hardwood varieties that provide food and habitat for forest creatures and birds. Our biggest obstacle was finding the correct saplings. We had already collected naturally occurring starts from local guachipelin, cedro and manu trees we found in the mountains but many didn’t transplant well. Then one day I took a chance and stopped at a sign in the road.

ICE Vivero Locations

Once a week during a drive to Siquirres to drop off our recycling. I pass a little brown sign with yellow letters that reads ICE – Vivero. I know that vivero means nursery but when you look down the road it appears to lead to a banana plantation. Which if you have ever been down a plantation road you know that you don’t want to be there. It turns out that right past the banana processing facility is a tree nursery that is run by Costa Rica’s government-owned electric company, ICE.

ICE has four viveros. There was information on ICE’s main website but it has since been removed. The FB next to the name indicates that they have a facebook page.

The vivero’s are in the following locations:

Cachi in Cartago

Freehold in Siquirres, Limon – FB & 2765 82 68

La Garita in Alajuela

Tronadora in Guanacaste

The Freehold facility in Siquirres (closest for us) has separate sections for each step necessary for getting saplings started. They are:

Seed Collection

Behind the main building, protected from the wind and rain, is the seed collection area. Pods of tree seeds are brought in from all over the country and laid out on drying racks until the pods open and the seeds can be collected.

Tree seeds dry opening seed racks cottony seed podsSome seeds that germinate easily are placed directly in these peat pods that are imported from Canada. Add water and the pod expands to become a snug little home for tree seeds ready to start their new lives.

dry seed pot tree sapling starts

 Germination Room

Certain seeds are placed in the seed germination room. The room, as pictured below, has screened walls and sandy soil beds that allow seeds to be germinated in a controlled environment. I was told that there is a higher germination percentage using this room than with seeds that are started outside. 


seed production room

The seeds pictured are Gavilan, Manu, Pilon and Alemendro (in order). 

Gavilan seedsmanu negro starts

tree starts costa rica

 Alemendro seeds before and after they are coated with a fungicide to protect against mold. 

Alemendro tree seeds

alemendro seed starts

 Growing Room or Greenhouse

Once the trees starts to grow roots they are transplanted into plastic bags using fertilized soil. They are then placed in a large screened room with an overhead sprinkler system that increases their chances at becoming fully fledged saplings.

fertilized soil bags

 watering tree saplings

When the season allows and the saplings are less fragile they are moved outside to make room for the new starts..

tree saplings in rowRequesting the Trees

My first visit, which was in December, alerted me to the fact that I needed to come back after the first of the year when they would be taking new requests. During my second visit in February, I was asked why I wanted the trees, the size of my farm and given information about the program. When asked how many trees I wanted I basically guessed at the number that I would be able to plant. I said 35. I filled out a request and gave my contact information. I was told that I would be called to come in and pick up the trees if my request was approved, probably in May.

Finally in early July we got the call. Our original paperwork and approval were waiting for us. We went through the list of trees that we had requested and I asked if we could make some changes. I wanted 5 additional Pilon and 5 less Fruta Dorada since we have several FD’s next to our stream. Roque, the ICE employee, was happy to oblige but we needed to make a clear note on the documents that I had changed my request. 

worker choosing trees

Roque quickly helped us gather our 35 trees. While we were pulling ours together this truck was picking up 1000 Alemendro! I thought that 35 was a lot. If you are unfamiliar with the Alemendro tree it is a resource to the great green macaw and is used in heavy construction. In the canals of Tortuguero there are very few large hardwoods left. One extremely large hardwood that you can still find however is the Alemendro. When the Americans and Brits came in to log the entire area the Alemendro’e were cut down and were supposed to float along with the other hardwoods on the canal, though an inlet to the sea where they could be shipped out, or in “nice” terms, exported. Much to the surprise of the loggers, the trees instead of floating down the river to the port started sinking in the canal. So the Alemendro in a last-ditch conservation effort saved itself by drowning.


men carrying trees


There is always paperwork but in this case it was just two documents. One that listed all the trees we picked up and the second was a promise that we would plant said trees, which I was happy to sign and accept the challenge.

contract signing


pilon sapling in car

We are building a house now, so our time is limited but this project seemed more important than anything else we have going on. It was tough deciding where to plant certain trees given that they get so tall. Being human we didn’t want them to get in the way of our mountainous view but despite our visual greediness we have made a nice home for each and every single one.



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