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Potting Up Vanilla Seedlings

I occa­sion­al­ly come across new seedlings in the vanillery. We’ve writ­ten about this before, it’s some­thing that hap­pens spon­ta­neous­ly from time to time. Pods are left on the vine by acci­dent, they ripen and drop their seeds. If the con­di­tions are right, some of the seeds sprout.

A few weeks ago, when I was in the vanillery doing a gen­er­al prune with a vol­un­teer named Jacque, I came across sev­er­al seedling deep under a dense sec­tion of vines. (Jacque is a PhD stu­dent in Plant and Environmental Sciences and while vis­it­ing the island, offered to do some vol­un­teer work for us…and that sure was a fun and pro­duc­tive day!) Well, I took note of the loca­tion with the inten­tion of mov­ing the seedlings to pots so they can get a bit big­ger before I plant them out in the new vanillery.

This is How We Pot Up the Seedlings

A vanil­la seedling is a del­i­cate lit­tle thing, but it’s going to get a lot big­ger and we don’t want to dis­turb it while it’s grow­ing, so we build it a place that is pro­tect­ed, but also has a struc­ture it can wrap its lit­tle ten­drils around. Here you can see the spe­cial pots I built for them.

the base pots for planting the seedlings
vanil­la seedling pots

We take a small plas­tic pot and zip­strap a size­able stick of bam­boo to it. It’s coun­ter­bal­anced with a cou­ple of large rocks in the bot­tom of the pot. Vanilla does­n’t need much soil, so the size of the pot and vol­ume of soil is not too impor­tant. What is impor­tant is giv­ing the vine a sta­ble place to get start­ed. There’s not a lot of ver­ti­cal height to the sup­port, that’s because when the vine has reached the top, it will be ready to get plant­ed out.

For the soil, we fill it 3/4 full with native soil (mined in a forest­ed area), then top that with soil from the vanillery. The think­ing there is that the vanillery soil will con­tain com­pat­i­ble bio­ta and most impor­tant­ly, spe­cif­ic myc­or­rhizae essen­tial to the vanil­la roots’ uptake of nutrients.

a vanilla seedling held in the hand
Vanilla seedlings

The seedlings are placed on the soil and gen­tly tied to the bam­boo. The grow­ing area is then cov­ered with leafy mulch, pro­vid­ing a shady, moist envi­ron­ment for root development.

The pot­ted seedlings are placed under a tree where the light is good, but shad­ed from the sun. If every­thing goes right, the seedlings will con­tin­ue to grow and begin climb­ing up the bam­boo sup­port. When the plants are strong and reach­ing the top of the sup­port, we put the whole thing into the vanillery with­out trans­plant­i­ng, next to a bam­boo col­umn for it to grow on. There is a pic­ture of this at the bottom.

The seedling will con­tin­ue grow­ing up the bam­boo support
shows the finished vanilla seedlings in pots
Here are the fin­ished pot­ted seedlings with their leafy mulch.
These are the pre­vi­ous round of seedlings, now grow­ing in the new vanillery
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