Although there are over 60 species of vanilla orchid, it is from the flat-leaved orchid that commercial growers extract vanilla flavoring. The vanilla orchids are vining plants that grow in tropical areas. Interestingly, the beautiful vanilla orchid flower is very short-lived, opening in the morning and closing in the evening of the same day, forever. If the orchid was pollinated during this period it will produce fruit which will take almost one year to mature. This is the bean, or pod, from which vanilla extract is made. Vanilla orchid is not recommended for indoor growing because of its size; it will not flower until it is at least 10 feet in height.
Choose an area of the garden that will remain hot and humid. The vanilla orchid requires temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees F in the daytime and 60 to 70 degrees F at night. The orchid needs 80 percent humidity, and a soil pH of 5.3.
Plant the vanilla orchid next to a tree or other structure so that it has something on which to climb.
Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch around the base of the orchid. This will need to be replaced with fresh mulch three to four times per year.
Water the vanilla orchid two to three times a week, less frequently if there is rain in the forecast.
Train the vanilla orchid to a manageable height by bending it back toward the ground when it reaches 5 feet in height. When it then reaches the ground again, train it back up the tree.
Fertilize the vanilla orchid by spraying its leaves, once per month, with 17-17-17 fertilizer.
Pollinate your vanilla orchids, in the morning or early mid-day. Lift the rostellum and press the stamen against the stigma. For a diagram detailing the pollination process, please refer to the Heilala Vanilla website, listed in the Resource section.