Vanilla planifolia, or the vanilla orchid, is a tropical and sub-tropical vine that grows on trees and shrubs, climbing 10 to 80 feet. The yellowish-green orchid flowers bear 6- to 10-inch-long brown seed pods, which are the vanilla beans used for extracting vanilla flavoring. Vanilla planifolia must be grown in a humid climate where the coldest temperatures are 59 to 64 degrees F and the maximum average temperature is 86 degrees F. To grow vanilla planifolia in a colder climate, you'll need a large greenhouse with carefully controlled humidity and temperatures.
Fill a 6- to 10-inch planter pot with terrestrial orchid potting mix and bark chips. Mix together two parts orchid potting mix and one part bark chips. The pot must have drainage holes on the bottom.
Place the vanilla planifolia orchid shallowly in the potting mix, just deep enough to cover the roots. Insert a sturdy wooden stake into the pot beside the vanilla orchid plant. You can tie the young vine loosely to the stake using twist ties or soft string to help it attach itself to the stake, but remove the ties as soon as the vine becomes attached to the stake.
Set the planter pot on top of a deep drainage dish filled with a layer of gravel or small stones and filled with water to provide additional humidity. Water the potting mix to moisten it.
Place the vanilla orchid in bright, indirect sunlight. Mist the vanilla planifolia with water once every two or three days using a spray bottle. Keep conditions humid and maintain temperatures indoors around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Transplant the vanilla planifolia outdoors in the spring, if you live in the appropriate climate, when it grows to 3 feet long or longer. Plant the vine's root system into the soil next to a tall, healthy tree or a long, sturdy post.
Pollinate the flowers by hand within 12 hours after they open. As each orchid blooms in sequence along the vine, lift the flower's flap (the rostellum) and press the overhanging, pollen-heavy anther against the stigma using a small, thin bamboo skewer or grass stem. This will transfer the pollen onto the stigma and start pollination.
Harvest the vanilla beans by hand-picking them as each pod matures, beginning about 10 weeks after pollination. During the 3- to 4-week harvest season, pick the ripe vanilla beans when the pod's tip turns yellow and begins to split.