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How to Grow Vanilla Like an Expert

Jana likes to grow stuff, exercise, snack, and explore creative projects as a means to relax and grow.


Why Do People Grow the Vanilla Plant?

In the private sector, those who grow their own beans mainly do so because they enjoy the cultivation process of the vanilla orchid. As vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, those who grow their own beans also benefit by only paying for the costs of caring for the orchids.

Why Isn’t Everyone Growing Vanilla?

Not everyone can grow vanilla. True, this plant produces one of the most sought-after flavours in the world but raising vanilla beans, especially outside of a tropical zone, is incredibly labour-intensive. The first harvest is also years away. One can see why most people take the quick route by purchasing vanilla-scented products.

What Is Vanilla Used For?

Vanilla is used for two things. The spice is best known as an ingredient in recipes. But its popularity extends beyond the kitchen. Vanilla also has a solid following as a remedy. Indeed, some people view vanilla as an aphrodisiac or use it to treat fever and gas, but there is no solid scientific evidence to support these claims.

While this is surely the best-tasting remedy on the planet, nothing is perfect. Be aware that vanilla has side effects for sensitive individuals. You can find the precautions at the end of this article.

Can I Grow Vanilla at Home?

You can grow vanilla at home. That’s not really the issue. You can grow vanilla on a shooting star if you have the right equipment and patience. Indeed, you can cultivate these lovely orchids in a spare bedroom but in order to do so successfully, you must recreate the vanilla plant’s natural environment. If you’re starting from scratch, things get costly.

Secondly, you also need the patience of a saint. Young vanilla plants take up to three years to reach the stage where they are ready to produce beans. But before they can do so, you must hand-pollinate them during a short window that comes once a year and sometimes lasts only a few hours. The time it takes for the beans to grow, for the harvest to be collected and the beans to be prepared also takes more than a year.

The Benefits of Growing Vanilla at Home

  • The orchids are beautiful.
  • This is a challenging project for gardeners who likes pushing themselves to the next level.
  • Enjoying your own home-grown, organic vanilla beans.
  • You have the right to be smug because you’re growing something more valuable than silver.

Create the Right Environment for Vanilla Plants

Vanilla orchids need a tropical environment. In other words, you’re looking to coddle your crop with humidity, sunlight, heat, space, and some degree of air circulation. If you already live in a tropical climate, then you can cultivate your vanilla plants outside but otherwise, you will need a greenhouse.

The Correct Temperature and Humidity

Your greenhouse must cater to the different temperature needs that vanilla has during the day and night. During the day, the orchids require 27–29 °C (80–85 °F). During the night, you should aim for 18–24 °C (65–75 °F).

Vanilla plants also need a humidity level of 85 percent. It’s essential to keep this level steady, so you might need to invest in a humidifier and dehumidifier to stabilize the humidity.

Can I Grow Vanilla From Cuttings?

Yes, you can grow vanilla from cuttings. In fact, you'll be in good company! Taking cuttings is the only way that most experts use to propagate their orchids. The real speed bump here is that you must get a cutting or cuttings from somewhere (if you don’t have a vanilla plant already). You can haunt a few florists and gardening centres to see if they sell vanilla orchids. Otherwise, you’ll have to order them online. Either way, the cuttings must measure 38–51 cm (15–20 in).

How to Grow Vanilla Cuttings

  1. Gather small pots, a pH-neutral potting medium for orchids, distilled water, and a thin bamboo pole.
  2. Fill the pots with the potting medium.
  3. Plant the cutting deep enough so that the soil covers at least two leaf nodes.
  4. Add the bamboo pole as support. Vanilla is a climbing vine and needs trellis.
  5. Press lightly to firm the soil around the stem and pole.
  6. Water lightly until the soil is barely moist. Overwatering will lead to root or stem rot.
  7. Place your cutting or cuttings in an area that provides six hours of indirect sunlight.

Can I Grow Vanilla From Seeds?

Yes, you can grow vanilla from seeds but the process is incredibly difficult and untrustworthy. Since vanilla is an orchid, it responds the best when propagated from cuttings.

Vanilla beans being dried.

Vanilla beans being dried.

How to Take Care of Your Vanilla Plant

Taking care of your vanilla plant requires basic steps. If the steps are never done or performed incorrectly, it could lead to the demise of your valuable orchid. That being said, try not to be so nervous about the whole affair that you no longer want to grow your own vanilla. Here’s how to care for your sweet vine.

  • Keep the pot in indirect sunlight for six hours a day.
  • Make sure that the temperature and humidity are correct.
  • Water only when the soil has dried out.
  • Alternatively, you can mist the plant daily.
  • Use a weekly regime of organic feeding. An example of great plant food is fish emulsion plant fertilizer.

When Will My Vanilla Plant Produce Beans?

Your vanilla plant will produce beans in roughly three years. However, each plant is different and the slow coaches have been known to mature after seven years. You’ll know that your plant is ready when it blooms for the first time.

You might want to do serious research or practice with other orchids before you attempt to hand-pollinate vanilla. The process is delicate and tricky. But once pollinated, the beans will appear within months. After that, they will need the better part of a year to mature for harvest.

Managing Vanilla-Loving Pests

Vanilla’s main enemy is fungi. Several types of fungal infections can destroy your hard work without mercy. The most common signs of fungal trouble include abnormal leaf fall, discolouration, spots, blemishes, bumps, rot, and drying leaves.

The good news is that most fungal issues can be prevented when you provide enough space between your vanilla plants, maintain optimal conditions, air circulation, a good fertilizer, and the occasional preventative application of fungicide.


Precautions When Using Vanilla

  • Avoid vanilla extract that lists either tonka beans or coumarin as ingredients. Tonka beans contain coumarin, which is an FDA-prohibited chemical.
  • Vanilla can cause skin irritation.
  • Be careful if you’re having problems with insomnia and headaches. Using vanilla over a long period of time could make your troubles worse.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can consume vanilla as a food flavouring but not in large medicinal doses.

A Quick Summary

Vanilla is an orchid valued for its flavourful beans. Preparing the perfect environment and caring for a vanilla plant can be taxing but the hobby becomes easier once you get the hang of it. Vanilla fans are somewhat cursed with the years-long process of growing their own beans but lucky in the sense that vanilla is one of the safest and tastiest spices to consume.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jana Louise Smit


Abby Slutsky from America on July 19, 2020:

I have a baking business, and I use only real vanilla in everything I make. This was very interesting and tempting, but my ingrdients need to be FDA approved, and I don't think I have the green thumb for it. If I ever move to a warm climate, it might be something to try for personal use, I really enjoyed learning more about vanilla, and the flowers are lovely.

Imogen French from Southwest England on July 19, 2020:

I do love the taste and smell of vanilla, but have never grown it - I'm not sure I could provide the right conditions for it in the UK, even in my polytunnel - still too cold in the winter, it would need a heated greenhouse or conservatory. What a beautiful plant and flower, too. It was a very informative article though, so thanks for that.