Vanilla orchid- surviving the winter…

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen...

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen…

Last fall, I brought my vanilla orchid inside after its summer vacation on the back patio. It was alive, and had grown quite a bit, but it hadn’t topped out the trellis….Now, as I look at the thermometer and begin to count down the days until it, and all my “house plants” can go outside, the vanilla vine is still alive, but still not huge.

The trellis I built is basically a quilt made out of hardware cloth, wire fencing with smaller holes than chicken wire. The middle layer of the “quilt” is sheet moss. I rolled the quilt into a cylinder about 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet tall. I filled it with orchid mix, then set up a pop bottle with pinholes in the bottom.  It is both a tower for the vine to climb on, and an evaporator. It is also modular- I can build another cylinder that will fit into the top, if and when this little vine decides to grow up to the top of this one.

If you are wondering about how much support you need for your vanilla plant for the first year or two, the answer is, a chopstick would have worked for this guy. It doesn’t need a two foot tall tower.  However, the other design element was for a humidity source for the plant- it is dry here, inside and out, on the front range of Colorado, and the trellis also acts as a humidity tower. It spends the winter in The Boy’s room, which also has a fish tank, and a new anole habitat-( and the cricket habitat that goes with the lizard- I didn’t realize that when I said yes to the lizard, I was saying yes to crickets, as well) The fish tank evaporates quite a bit, as well as the anole habitat, but it is still a centrally-heated room in a house in a semi-desert.

When I first built the trellis, the vine was only 4 inches tall- now, roughly two years later it is about 12 inches tall. If I were starting again, I might just use a chopstick, or piece of bamboo, and maybe use a hurricane lamp as a terrarium.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ryan
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 14:16:29

    I have been thinking very seriously about getting a vanilla plant. And I have a few questions for you.
    Once it gets bigger and must stay outside, how will it winter?
    How big of a trellis will you use once it is transplanted outside?
    Do I need two or more plants? Or will one do?
    Do you prune? Or will you?
    How big does they’re roots get?
    Would love more pitstures of your plant and the tower.
    Thank you very much for your time.


    • katsmama
      Sep 18, 2013 @ 01:22:01

      Hi Ryan- thanks for your comment and questions. Where I live, US Zone 5, Vanilla can’t winter outside. Right now, it is slowly working it’s way up the trellis, which is 2 feet tall, and its pot is 8 inches in diameter. The tower is lined with moss and orchid mix soil (chunky bark mostly- very well draining) and the vine sends tiny rootlets into the tower, to hold itself up, and presumably get moisture and nutrients. I move it inside every winter, and even when it gets taller than the tower, I will move it inside. I designed the trellis to be modular- I will be able to make another 2 foot section in when the vine covers the bottom part. This will probably take a long time- my plant has grown probably 8 inches this summer, and I only have 1 stem. Root systems on vanilla orchids typically stay small, I think- where they have evolved is rainforest, where the air is moist. I live in a very arid part of the world, so keeping the air humid around the plant is my challenge. I haven’t pruned it yet, and it hasn’t bloomed yet. I don’t know if you need two or more plants- I do know that bees typically can’t pollinate the vanilla orchid- even in Mexico, where they were first cultivated, farmers hand pollinate them. Look around my site- there are other posts about building the trellis, with better pictures, and better explanations. I will do an update soon.


      • Ryan
        Sep 18, 2013 @ 12:06:09

        Thank you for your response. A few more questions for you.
        Does vanilla just grow up? Or does it grow out as well?
        If it doesn’t grow out could I spiral it up the trellis like a candy cane? Or is up jus the best bet?

      • katsmama
        Sep 18, 2013 @ 15:25:41

        Vanilla is a vine that wants to grow upward, but is fairly flexible. I have attempted to spiral it around the trellis, but it mostly stair-steps, if you see what I mean. I bend it sideways, it goes up 90 degrees, I bend it again. If you started with a long cutting, you might be able to spiral it, but my cutting was about 4 inches long to start. I’m working on another post about vanilla- your questions have really inspired me- why the heck am I trying to grow vanilla, anyway? Thanks!

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