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How to Grow Vanilla Beans in California

Vanilla beans are one of the world’s most popular spices. The beautiful flower of the vanilla planifolia orchid produces long, waxy brown seedpods, which are called "beans." Vanilla beans are dried, distilled and otherwise processed to make the small bottle of vanilla nearly everyone keeps in the kitchen cupboard. The vanilla orchid comes from tropical regions of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the West Indies, but you can grow it in Southern California in a greenhouse or other controlled environment where the temperature never drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pot your vanilla orchid in a small pot that has a drainage hole, using redwood orchid bark. Keep your plant in a protected area such as a greenhouse that receives filtered sunlight.

Provide a plant stake or trellis for your vanilla orchid when it begins to form a vine. Vines can reach 50 feet in length, so be sure to factor in this trait when planning where you will keep your orchid because it needs room to roam.

Create high humidity in the growing environment by installing a humidifier or a misting system. Check the humidity by keeping an inexpensive humidity meter near your plant--it prefers humidity from 60 to 80 percent.

Fertilize your vanilla orchid weekly with an orchid fertilizer having a low percentage of nitrogen, such as 10-30-30.

Pollinate the vanilla orchid’s flowers manually. The plant must have more than one flower blooming at the same time in order for you to pollinate it. Insert a cotton swab into the center of one flower, making sure to collect pollen, and then insert it into the center of another flower.

Control aphids, scale insects and spider mites by spraying your vanilla orchid with insecticidal soap.


Your vanilla orchid might not bloom until it is several years old.

In commercial vanilla plantations, flowers are pollinated every day in the morning. Experienced pollinators can pollinate 1,500 flowers a day.

Flowers last only one day, so you must be diligent with your hand pollination efforts if you want your orchid to produce vanilla beans.

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