Passionfruit is easy and rewarding to grow and now’s the time to plant your vine
Perfect for all seasons
Passionfruit live fast and die young and, as they are evergreen, they are perfect for covering a fence or arbour quickly. The fruit is high in vitamins A and C and supplies a good dollop of potassium, fibre and some vitamin B. The vines are easy to grow in frost-free areas provided they are fed well, have good drainage and have enough water when the fruit is developing. Put this all together and the only question to be answered is, where do I plant it? Every garden should have passionfruit growing.
The vine does best when it is planted facing east or northeast — the hot afternoon sun will scorch both the leaves and the fruit. There are a few cultivars and species to choose from. The black passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, performs best in cooler areas, while the red and yellow Panama passionfruit hybrids are preferred in the subtropics and northern regions. Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa (a yellow fruit) is really only edible in Queensland where there is more heat to develop the flavour — it can be viciously sour in the south. Banana passionfruit, Passiflora mollissima, can stand up to -2ºC but the fruiting is erratic if there is cold, damp weather at flowering time. However, it’s worth growing for the beautiful pink flowers and glossy foliage alone — especially if you want to cover an area quickly. But, be warned, it can take over! Whatever passionfruit you plant, the method is the same. Give some thought to the support on which you want to grow it. You can train it on a fence or trellis, or on an A-frame that will create a shady tunnel of foliage to wander through on a hot day. It also has the advantage of shading the fruit as it drops to the ground. If you are buying a grafted passionfruit such as the black ‘Nelly Kelly’, check that there’s no growth coming from below the graft. This is the rootstock that improves the plant’s tolerance to fungal diseases — not the fruiting part of the plant that is the ‘Nelly Kelly’ passionfruit. If there is some growth appearing, rub it off before it takes over the desired top growth. (pic. graft)
- Once you have your trellis or frame organised, it’s time to do the spade work. Dig an area at least twice the size of your plant’s rootball/pot and
remove any weeds, grass or stones.
- Dig in some well-rotted manure and your best compost, mixing it in well with the existing soil. (pic. enrich soil)
- Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the plant and some dead animal. I have used the traditional Australian lamb’s liver in the picture, but you can use a pig’s head (for the English) or a dead chook if you are having a backyard cull. These will supply ample nutrients and valuable iron for the growing vine. Just place the plant on top and backfill the hole. (pic. lambs fry)
- Mulch with some more manure and water in. Check that you have planted it at the same level as it was in the pot. If there is soil or mulch against the stem, it may develop collar rot and die. (pic, soil level )
- Tie the vine to a support post or stake using soft ties— never wire or plastic, which will damage the tender growth.
- Never place the stake through the rootball. This may encourage growth from the rootstock — most undesirable!
Plant for pollination
Generally, a single black passionfruit vine can fertilise itself with the help of bees. However, the red and yellow cultivars will need at least two plants for the bees to work with in order to form fruit.
If you haven’t already, plant some bee-attracting flowers so the vine will be well visited at flowering time in summer. Borage is quick and easy ( pic. pollinators) or a hedge of French or Spanish lavender (Lavendula dentata or L. pedunculata and cultivars) will attract these tireless workers.
As the vine grows, select two to four main stems and cut out the rest. This will improve air flow and thus prevent disease. Tie the stems gently to their horizontal wires. Keep the bottom stem at least 70cm from the ground. Wet leaves splashed with soil can easily succumb to all sorts of fungal diseases.
As passionfruit flowers and fruits on new growth, prune out stems that have fruited. In the south, early spring is the best time, while in warmer areas pruning can be done in winter. The new growth that is formed in spring will carry the flowers and that year’s fruit. Passionfruit sponge, anyone? Yum.