Vanilla planifolia: Growing Your Own Vanilla Bean Orchid?

Vanilla planifolia, commonly known as the vanilla bean orchid, is native to Mexico and grown in other subtropical regions in Northern and Central America. The vanilla orchid plants have a spicy fragrance. The vanilla beans are used in producing the popular vanilla flavoring used in beverages, cakes, ice cream, and as a food flavoring.

Vanilla planifolia

The vanilla plant is a perennial vine plant. It belongs to the orchid family “Orchidaceae,” and like most orchids, vanilla bean plants thrive better in areas with high temperatures and humidity. It is also an epiphytic plant, as in its natural habitat, it mostly grows on trees and draws its nutrients from the air. Epiphytic vanilla orchids usually grow upwards in a zigzag fashion, producing long vines laced with several long, greenish, lance-shaped leaves.

The vanilla bean plant is considered a high-maintenance plant. It is not a great plant for beginner gardeners, as it requires special care and needs to be grown in a controlled environment. 

Vanilla plants require patience on the part of the gardener as they take a long time before they can start producing fruits.

Pollination also needs to be done by hand, and after successful pollination, it takes another nine to ten months for the vanilla pods to mature.

Note that not all vanilla orchids will produce fruits, especially when being grown as houseplants, but do not be dismayed as their glossy green vines can still be used to beautify the home.

Scientific name Vanilla planifolia.
Common name Vanilla, vanilla bean orchid.
Origin Native to North and Central America.
Size Between 8 to 10 feet high indoors. 75 to 100 feet outdoors.
Lighting Partial sunlight.
Soil Moist but also well-drained soil.
Temperature 80 – 95 °Fahrenheit ( 27 – 35 °Celsius). 
Fertilizer Balanced fertilizer.
Toxicity Non-toxic.
Propagation Stem cutting.

Vanilla orchid Care

Vanilla bean orchids are grown majorly for their beans, which are used to produce the vanilla spice used in food flavoring. Controlled environments such as greenhouses are the ideal option when looking to grow vanilla plants at home. The intricacies involved in planting and harvesting the vanilla orchid have led it to be among the most expensive spices in the world.

Light Requirements

When it comes to lighting, always provide the vanilla orchid plant with bright, indirect, or filtered sunlight. Do not grow them under direct sunlight, as this will not only burn the leaves of the plant but can also delay flowering.

Vanilla plants can also tolerate partial shade, but growing under full shade will lead to stagnant growth.

You can place your vanilla plant close to an east-facing window where it can catch a few hours of morning sunlight daily.

Soil Requirements

Provide your young vanilla plant with a growing medium that’s well draining and has the ability to retain moisture.

Vanilla plants will grow better in a loose and airy potting mix. This is necessary for easy circulation of nutrients and air within the soil. Use perlite, fir bark, orchid bark, or peat moss mixed with loam soil when creating your potting mix.

Water Requirements

Keep the soil damp and avoid overwatering it. Waterlogged soil can lead to certain root diseases, so always allow the soil to dry out slightly before rewatering.

As an epiphyte, vanilla orchid plants attach themselves to their host tree or trellis (when grown in containers). It grows aerial roots, which are used to draw moisture from its surroundings. So it is important that the trellis used when growing them in containers is kept damp at all times.

Fertilizer Requirements

When it comes to feeding the vanilla orchid plant, it is advisable to use a dedicated orchid fertilizer.

For a vanilla orchid plant to flower and produce its fruits, it needs to be fed regularly. Feed the vanilla orchid plant every two weeks with standard orchid fertilizer. The fertilizer should be diluted to half its strength before application (check the instructions to know the exact amount you should use).

In colder months, reduce the feeding to around once a month.

Temperature And Humidity

Vanilla orchids grow best in an environment with high humidity and a high temperature.

For humidity, try to maintain a humidity level of 80% or above. This is important as the plant uses its aerial roots to draw moisture from the air. Also, ensure the growing area supports good air circulation. This will help prevent diseases such as fungal rot.

Keep the temperature between 80° and 85° Fahrenheit during the day and 60° to 70° Fahrenheit at night. 

Pruning

Under the right growing conditions, the vines of vanilla bean orchid can reach 10 ft. Pruning will come in handy when you want to control the size of the vanilla plant. Using clean scissors, you can trim the vines of the plant to your desired length.

Always cut the plant below a growth node so as to be able to propagate the cuttings if you wish to.

Propagation

When it comes to propagating the vanilla orchid plant, the most reliable method is stem cutting. It is easier and faster when compared to seed propagation.

Firstly, start by taking your cutting. Use clean and disinfected scissors to cut the vine of the plant below a growth node. Since vanilla orchid is a trailing plant, it is advisable to make a long cutting having 6 nodes or above.

Prepare your potting mix and place the base of the cutting into the soil. Press the soil surrounding the base of the cutting tightly.

Place a plank or trellis in the potting mix beside the cutting. Stretch the cutting towards the top of the plant while using ties to hold the cutting to the body of the plank.

Always keep the soil moist. After 4 to 6 weeks, you should begin to see new growth.

Common Health Problems/Pests And Diseases

Vanilla orchid plants, like other orchids, are prone to certain pests. These pests mostly attack the leaves of the plant. Neem oil or horticultural oil spray can be used to control pests attacking the plant.

Examples include:

  • Spider mites
  • Mealybugs
  • Aphids
  • Scale insects
  • Coleoptera
  • Fungus gnats

Also, due to high humidity, vanilla orchids are susceptible to root rot. Proper air circulation will help curtail this problem.

FAQs

Is vanilla bean toxic to pets?

No. The Vanilla orchid is safe around pets and children. Their fruits are used to produce spices used in food and beverage production.

What is the best and fastest method for propagating vanilla orchids?

Propagate the vanilla orchid plant through stem cutting. It is more reliable and easier compared to using seeds.

How often should I water my vanilla orchid plant?

Water the plant when it is slightly dry. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot.

Are vanilla orchid plants epiphytes?

Yes. They attach themselves to trees and grow aerial roots that are used to gather nutrients from the air.

Is growing vanilla orchids easy?

The Vanilla orchid plant is a high-maintenance plant. It takes longer to grow and produce fruits. It is not a good beginner’s plant.

Marijke Puts
About Marijke Puts
Marijke Puts has Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Science and is from The Netherlands. She has a certified master gardener and loves everything about houseplants and gardening.

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