I live in London and am designing a growth room in my garage (1m (W) by 1m (L) by 2m (H)), for a vanilla planfolia orchid.

There will be one or two, and I am wondering how many of what wattage growth lights I should install, what heaters I should put in, and I was wondering where to place these items.

It will not receive any external light, and the room temperature is ~16˚C. However, it will be in a heatproof box, with heat reflectors.

I know this about vanilla:

Rainfall: 2000mm per year (evenly spread)

Temperature: 20-30˚C

Also, it will be pruned to be 20ft long (and I shall loop it around).

So, does anyone know about the amount of growth lights or heaters please?

  • Welcome to our site, Tropical! I know nothing about orchids but I do know how important ventilation is to plants so be thinking of fans and being able to vent heat out of the room as well. Grow lights unless you use LED's, put out a lot of heat as well. – stormy Jul 11 '14 at 18:09

The environment you describe sounds quite challenging for most plants. You might find some of these points to be relevant to the design of your enclosure:

  • plants do not need any terrestrial soil to grow but they need a substrate to cling to
  • they grow best in high humidity indicating a sealed environment with air circulation
  • they do not flower until the plant is at least 10 feet (3 meters) tall but you can grow it up and down an enclosure
  • minimum winter temperature of 18 deg C

To duplicate the light levels found in the tropic in the shade is usually done with a combination of high pressure sodium, mercury and metal halide lamps. What you use will be constrained by what is available in your area and the electrical supply. You probably need to supply 10,000 to 20,000 lux over the entire height of the plant, more if you want a lot of flowers.

For your design you will probably want to use reflective material on two or three sides to get as much light as possible. This reflective material is probably better off outside the enclosure so it doesn't suffer from the humidity.

If you were to use a 1000 watt high pressure sodium and a mercury vapour light with an enclosed growing area (one of each so you have backup in case of failure) you would not need a heater as the mercury light units will give off enough heat.

Even with the details you supply it's not possible to provide a complete answer as we don't know if you will be using reflective material or what you can buy. You need to test the setup with a light meter and a minimum/maximum thermometer. You may require multiple timers, one for a fan, one for each light.

This kind of project lends itself to some automation so if you are handy with electronics a temperature sensor linked to a control board which can turn lights and fans on and off depending on how hot it is inside is a good idea.

  • +1 Nice answer. I would also use heating cables in the growing medium, because on a cold garage floor, the heat from the lights may not circulate into the medium well, and vanilla is used to nice, warm root conditions. – J. Musser Jul 11 '14 at 20:48
  • @jmusser with many plants this would be true and an inexpensive add on. The vanilla orchid is an epiphyte and does not require a growing medium per se, orchid bark or cork are just fine. It depends on the budget tropical has whether you want to add more accessories. – kevinskio Jul 11 '14 at 22:46
  • I'm assuming the roots are going to be near the floor, which will be quite a bit colder than the rest of the room in winter. – J. Musser Jul 11 '14 at 22:51

With high pressure sodium lamp in proximity to your Vanilla planifolia you should not need heat cables in the floor of your enclosure, but if you choose to do something of that order, please consider that you can save bucks by merely using a 40 W lamp underneath the enclosure, if you have a skirt around the base of the enclosure, so that a cross-draft does not lose for you all the heat from the bulb. Incandescent lamps are so inefficient that they make great bench heaters, as long as you protect against any dripping of water on your fixture or lamp receptacle. Get a cheap soil thermometer and actually check the temperature of your growing medium...don't guess. If you use a lamp, you can also add a simple soil thermostat. Check grower supply stores. Note, too, that a couple of 17 watt heat mats could do it, too, but at more cost than a short cable...they do make a simple installation. Are you planning eventually to pollinate the flowers, cure pods, and make your own flavoring agents? There are some closely related species that have prettier flowers than does planifolia. It used to be that some of the Mexican vanilla farms had two, three, or even four species growing together, and we found that the field blend was much more interesting than the single species products. Lastly, I hope that you are not one of those folk who are topically allergic to the vines. The protection against it is simply long sleeves and plastic gloves...bit of a nuisance, but given the amount of investment you'll have in your project, not too much. Have fun! cumul

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