The vanilla plant is an orchid that you can cultivate at home in order to remove and use its edible vanilla pods. Usually, you can find it in Mexico, Madagascar, and other tropical areas, which means the process of growing it at home won’t be an easy one. That’s why we thought we’d provide you with the necessary instructions for growing it, so that you can enjoy fresh vanilla grown in your own backyard. Here’s a comprehensive guide to growing the vanilla plant.
How to Grow the Vanilla Plant in 9 Steps
1. Creating the Proper Environment
As we’ve already mentioned, the vanilla plant doesn’t grow everywhere, which means it needs a specific environment to thrive. In order to recreate the tropical environment in which it normally lives, you’re going to have to build a greenhouse or a hothouse. Your plant will need humidity, heat, and quite a bit of space.
However, you also have the option of growing this plant outside, provided you live in the South of the United States, where the climate is warmer. In order to tell whether you can grow vanilla outside or not, remember that the temperature should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
In order to make sure the environment you’ve created is perfect for your vanilla orchid, we recommend trying to grow other types of orchids prior to that. This can help you solve any potential issues without damaging the vanilla plant and improve the environment until it becomes perfect.
2. Buying Vanilla Cuttings
Once you’re positive you have the perfect environment for growing a vanilla plant, it’s time to buy some vanilla cuttings, either from a local garden center or online. In order for the cuttings to be ready for cultivation, they need to be at least one foot long. Even if you only want to plant one vanilla plant, we suggest buying more than one cutting. That’s because not every cutting may be successful, and this will increase your chances of getting a rich yield.
3. Planting the Vanilla Orchid
Planting the vanilla orchid isn’t that complicated of a process, but you should try to follow the instructions to the letter because this plant can fail to become a crop if planted the wrong way. First, you’ll need to immerse the cuttings you’ve just bought in water for about 10 minutes. Make sure the water covers them completely. Then, take them out, only keeping their ends in water. They should stay like this for 5 more days.
It can be easy to confuse the top and bottom ends of the orchid cutting, so make sure you identify them correctly before immersing the cuttings in the water again. The leaves on the cutting point to the bottom of the plant, while the top shows its growth direction.
Once the cuttings are ready to be planted, take them to the greenhouse or hothouse you’ve built (or outside, if that’s the case) and prepare the space in which you’re going to grow the vanilla plant. If you’re going to plant it outside, you have to choose an area next to a tree or put a trellis in place. If you’re going to plant it in a greenhouse, the trellis is mandatory. The plant needs support in order for the vines to grow properly.
Keep in mind the fact that the vanilla plant requires shade about half of the time. This means that if you don’t have a tree next to which you can plant it, you’ll need to create shade above the trellis.
The proper potting soil in which to grow a vanilla plant is orchid potting soil, which combines perlite, pine bark, and mulch. You also need a pot in which to pour it. Place the two bottom nodes of your vanilla plant on top of the soil, in a horizontal fashion. Then, take some more potting soil and cover the nodes with a layer of about 0.8 inches.
What’s left of the plant should be tied to the trellis. You can also tie it to a small stake for now, in order to train it to grow vertically. Use clips or ties to make sure the plant will remain attached to the stake or trellis.
4. Watering the Vanilla Plant
When it comes to watering, the vanilla plant doesn’t require that much water, especially in the first month. This is good news for you because it means you won’t have to supervise it as closely. However, you shouldn’t allow the soil to dry out completely, so make sure to check up on it every now and then. Watering it regularly and in small quantities is the best way to go about growing the vanilla plant. You should find a balance between overwatering the soil and allowing the plant to dry out.
The interesting thing is that even if the vanilla plant doesn’t need that much water in the soil to thrive, you do have to mist it every day with a bit of water. This will help the plant grow larger and the roots expand more.
In order to ensure the health of your vanilla plant, you’re also going to have to mulch it regularly. Providing the soil with mulch every couple of months will feed the plant. The soil should contain a lot of organic matter, and this is precisely what mulching adds to it.
6. Changing the Plant’s Position
It’s important for the vanilla plant to get 50 percent sunlight every day, especially in the first year. This means you might have to constantly change its position in order to ensure this. The first 9 to 12 months are crucial for the development of the vanilla plant, so you should take great care of it in these first months.
This type of orchid needs years to fully mature, so you have to be patient with it. The wait can be frustrating, especially because you can’t know whether it will take 2 years for the plant to bloom or 7. The blooms will only start to appear when the plant is large enough, which also depends on how you care for it.
7. Pollinating the Vanilla Orchid Flowers
Since the flowers are what grows the vanilla pods, you need to take great care of them as well. This can be a bit challenging since the plant only grows flowers for a period of 6 weeks each year. Moreover, the actual flowers only last for about a day, which means you have to work fast. In order for them to turn into vanilla beans, you have to hand pollinate the vanilla flower.
The process is extremely delicate and takes some time, so we recommend asking for help from someone who’s done this before. First, you’ll have to put on a pair or rubber gloves that will protect your hands from the sap coming from the orchid. Then, follow these steps:
- Push the pollen out and use your index finger and right thumb to hold it up.
- With your middle finger, expose the cam by pushing the anther back.
- Take the pollen and place it on the ridge.
- Use your left hand to bring the ridge to its original position.
- Pull the cap down.
In order to pollinate the entire plant, you have to do this to all the flowers. We recommend doing it in the morning, as close as possible to 11 a.m. In order to check whether the plant is pollinated or not, you need to look at its stem. If the stem starts elongating instead of pointing up, you’ve successfully hand pollinated the plant.
8. Picking the Pods
After pollination, expect the pods to appear in about 2 months. In order for them to fully mature, you have to wait for up to 9 months. When the pods are green and their bottoms start to turn yellow, feel free to pick them.
9. Curing the Vanilla Beans
The last thing we want to mention in today’s guide to growing the vanilla plant is how to cure the vanilla beans. This should be done before you start using them. Here’s how you do it:
- Spread the beans on a tray.
- Place the tray in sunlight and keep it there for 3 hours.
- Place the beans inside of a cloth overnight.
- Repeat these steps for a couple of days, until the beans turn deep brown.
- Hang the beans for a couple of weeks to dry.
Summing It All Up
As you can see from the guide above, growing a vanilla plant isn’t an easy job. This type of orchid requires extensive care. Moreover, pollinating it is a process a lot of people find challenging. Overall, you need to create special growing conditions for your vanilla plant, as well as care for it more than for other plants.
We hope the instructions we provided above will help you successfully grow a vanilla plant and reap the benefits. In the end, the reason why a lot of people decide to grow their own vanilla plant is that fresh vanilla grown in their own garden is not something many people have. If you want to know more about the process of pollinating the vanilla flower, take a look at the video below.