How to Grow Passion Fruit

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Passion fruit vines (Passiflora edulis) produce delicious berries (yes, passion fruit is a type of berry) with a tart, sweet taste that is almost impossible to dislike, but they are nothing compared to the insanely showy passion flowers that precede them. Surrounded by delicate, undulating purple and white petals, the pistil and stamens, framed by an iridescent corona, look as if they were sculpted in an artist's studio, and the overall effect is at once complex and unearthly. They prompted 16th-century Catholic priests visiting South America to compare them to the passion of Christ, which is how the plant got its common name.

Purple passion fruit, also known as granadilla, is native to the tropical and semitropical rainforests of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, and with all the showiness it offers, it's no wonder that gardeners in North America have adopted it. Unlike the yellow passion fruit (Passiflora edulis flavicarpa), a passion fruit variety that grows only in the tropics, the purple passion fruit will grow outdoors in southerly regions where it can get the moderate amount of water it needs. The vine can reach 30 feet, although it's usually shorter, and it needs plenty of support, which makes passion fruit a great plant for an outdoor or greenhouse trellis, arbor or wall.

The woody, evergreen purple passion fruit vine produces berries and flowers simultaneously, and the flowers are short-lived, lasting only a day. The berry, which forms when the flower drops, has a hard rind, and the inside is filled with seeds, each within its own gel-filled sac, both of which are edible. Some passion flower species produce inedible fruit, but they generally prefer tropical climates and aren't as common in North America as the purple passion fruit vine.

Best Uses for Passion Fruit

Left to its own devices, passion fruit can be an unruly presence in the garden and grows vigorously enough to be considered invasive in some localities, but vigorous growth can be a benefit if you have an old, rusty fence or some other eyesore to cover. The passion fruit vine grows quickly, and it can replace an eyesore with a sight for sore eyes in a single growing season. Purple passion fruit is also a good container plant that can be moved into a greenhouse for the winter as long as the container includes a sturdy support structure.

Of course, many people grow passion fruit for the berries, which take 80 days or longer (usually longer) to ripen on the vine after the flower falls. Berries and flowers grow side by side, so the vine can double as a showy garden feature and a source of food. The main vine grows along the support structure you provide for it, and it sends out lateral shoots that bear fruit. In Australia and other places where passion fruit is farmed, yield is increased by regular pruning of old laterals, each of which bears fruit only once, and by removing side shoots from the young laterals that have yet to produce.

Passion fruit vines grow as perennials in zones in which they are hardy, and they have a maximum life span of five to seven years, although many passion fruit plants die after only three years. Some varieties, including purple passion fruit, are self-pollinating, but others rely on pollinators such as bees for cross-pollination, and even self-pollinating plants produce better fruit when pollinated by bees, especially carpenter bees. Consequently, it's a good idea to plant them alongside herbs and flowers that attract these pollinating insects.

How to Grow Passion Fruit

  • Common Name: Passion fruit
  • Botanical Name: Passiflora edulis
  • When to Plant: Plant in spring for fall fruiting
  • USDA Zones: 10-12, with some cultivars hardy to zone 6
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade. Shade is recommended in extremely hot conditions.
  • Soil Type: Moist, fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5
  • When it's in Trouble: Leaves turn yellow and wilt due to cold weather, low humidity or lack of magnesium or nitrogen in the soil
  • When it's Thriving: Vigorous, rapid growth with dense foliage, abundant flowers and large fruits

Starting Passion Fruit From Seed

You can grow passion fruit vines from seeds obtained from store-bought fruit but keep in mind that older seeds take longer to germinate, so choose fresh fruit. The best seeds come from fruit that has a slightly crinkled rind, which doesn't mean the fruit is old, just that it's ripe. To improve the chances of germination, rub the seeds against sandpaper and then soak them overnight in warm water.

Sow the seeds in small containers filled with soil mix or a mix of soil and compost, burying them about an inch deep and placing two in each container to increase the chances of a successful seedling. If both seeds germinate, pinch off the weaker one at ground level. Keep the soil moist but not wet until the seedlings emerge and then plant them when they are about 8 inches high. If you wait too long and the leaves start to develop, prune the plants back to reduce moisture loss through the leaves and to help the roots settle.

Starting Passion Fruit From a Seedling

Passion fruit root balls grow large, and the vine grows quickly and can overrun anything growing nearby, so it needs a lot of space. The recommended spacing between vines or between a vine and another plant is 10 feet to 12 feet. A sturdy support structure should be provided for the vine when you plant it. You may have to tie the vine to the base of the structure, but soon the tendrils will get the idea, and the vine will start climbing.

Dig a hole that is twice the size of the transplant and at least as deep as the pot in which it's growing. Carefully remove the plant from the pot, being mindful not to damage the fragile roots (or the plant may die). Put it in the hole and backfill loosely until the plant is stable. Wet down the soil to make it settle and then mulch heavily with organic matter to retain moisture in the soil.

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In What Zone Does Passion Fruit Grow Best?

Because it comes from tropical and semitropical regions, purple passion fruit does best in zones 10 to 12, but there is a native North American species that is hardy to zone 6. Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is so-named because of the popping sound the berries make when you step on them, and gardeners grow them as far north as Ohio.

When Should You Plant Passion Fruit?

If you plant passion fruit in the late winter or early spring, you have a good chance of getting fruit in autumn. If you aren't concerned about getting fruit, you can plant the vine any time of year, but autumn is probably best.

Soil, Sunlight and Water Recommendations for Passion Fruit

The passion fruit vine likes loose, well-draining soil, but if the soil is very sandy, it's a good idea to mix in compost or manure to ensure the plants get off to a good start. Fortify depleted soil with a 10-5-20 fertilizer, keeping in mind that excess nitrogen produces lush foliage but smaller fruit. Passion fruit needs a steady supply of water but don't overdo it. Standing water causes root rot, and passion fruit is particularly susceptible to this disease.

The plants grow best in 60- to 80-percent relative humidity. They need to be in full sun, but they will tolerate a little shade, and they may need to be shaded in very hot, sunny weather.

How to Propagate Passion Fruit

You can grow passion fruit plants from cuttings. Select a 6-inch segment of new wood (which grows faster than old wood), remove the lower leaves and set the base in a pot filled with sand or sandy soil after first dipping it in root-growth hormone to stimulate growth. Put the pot in a greenhouse or a similar warm place and keep the soil moist but not wet. It helps to cover the pot with plastic to keep the humidity high. Roots take about 90 days to develop.

How to Winterize Passion Fruit

Passion fruit can survive outdoors in temperatures as cold as 32 degrees Fahrenheit but not much colder. When winter comes, increase the mulch layer around the base of the plant to 2 inches in thickness to protect the roots from the cold. If you have potted plants, take them indoors.

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How to Harvest Passion Fruit

One of the nice things about passion fruit is that you don't have to harvest it. All you have to do is wait for the ripe fruit to fall from the vine, which happens more or less continuously throughout the growing season. Unlike apples or avocados, passion fruit doesn't ripen after you pick it, and if you pick it before it falls, the fruit will be sour. The two signs of ripeness are a strong, pleasant aroma and a shriveled, crinkled rind.

Common Pests and Other Problems for Passion Fruit

If you don't protect your passion flower plants with a protective barrier, you're likely to lose some of the best fruit to deer, and the young plants look like tempting morsels to any rabbits in the neighborhood. Products like Liquid Fence can help keep these critters away.

A number of insects are also interested in passion fruit, but fortunately, most of these live in the tropics. The ones of most concern in North America are aphids, gulf fritillary butterflies, nematodes and snails.

Aphids are a problem for pretty much any plant with leaves. These tiny crawlies congregate on the undersides of leaves and deposit a sticky substance called honeydew, which attracts ants. If you see ants tracking up a stem, you can be fairly sure that aphids are present. You can usually dislodge aphids by spraying water or insecticidal soap, but you might want to try introducing beneficial predators like ladybugs or a praying mantis for more lasting protection.

Gulf fritillary butterflies, also known as passion butterflies, don't do much damage themselves, but the caterpillars have voracious appetites and can decimate the leaves of passion fruit plants. They probably won't kill the plant, but if the damage is extensive, pick them off and find them a better home.

In addition, nematodes can attack the roots, and snails will eat the foliage. You can't do much about nematodes other than to uncover the roots and expose them to sunlight, and you can trap snails in vessels filled with beer.

Common Diseases for Passion Fruit

Diseases that affect passion fruit plants can be divided into two categories: viral and fungal. Aphids are the number-one carriers of viral diseases, although they can also be spread by infected cutting tools. The diseases cause poor flowering and can interfere with fruit production. Otherwise-healthy plants usually recover from viral infections if they get plenty of sun and the right kind of fertilizer.

Fungal diseases usually form ugly spots on the leaves or will cause them to wilt. The list of fungal diseases is fairly long, and it includes:

  • Fusarium wilt
  • Anthracnose
  • Crown rot
  • Collar rot
  • Septoriosis

Treating plants with a fungicide in early spring can help prevent fungal diseases and so can good cultural practices, such as watering from below and engaging in regular pruning to create air circulation among the leaves. Once a fungal infection occurs, it can be difficult to control, and you may have to remove affected branches.

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.

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