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Q. How/when would you suggest I cut back the woody vines in a passiflora (passion vine)? I planted four five years ago, and the top surface is green, but inches under that is nothing but wood. They protrude from the wall more and more with new growth.

A. Passion vines (Passiflora) are largely tropical climbers and rampant growers that cling by tendrils. There are roughly 400 species, including fruiting and purely ornamental types. of which 350 species are native to South America, 7 native to USA, the rest mostly hale from Southeast Asia. You don’t say which one you have or whether it’s a fruiting or ornamental type, but all of them can be pruned about the same. The best time to do the major annual pruning is late winter or early spring. In addition, clip back errant shoots throughout the growing season to keep them in bounds.

Now that your passion vine is pushed out from the wall with a lot of dead growth behind, it will need drastic pruning to get rid of the dead wood. Don’t worry, this situation is not unusual with passion vines. The best way is to try to preserve some of the outer green growth if possible and just attack it from the sides and cut and pull out all the dead parts at the back down to the ground. However, when a passiflora has become seriously woody and overgrown you can cut half the plant completely down to the ground and let that part regrow before cutting down the other half. Once the part you have cut is about 3 feet tall, you can then safely cut the rest down to the ground. (This system of hard pruning just half or one-third of an old woody plant at a time is an old-fashioned, safe way to renew any overgrown tropical plants without killing them.) Another way to renew a passion vine is to cut the entire thing down to the ground in one fell swoop. If you take this course, it should regrow quickly since passifloras are vigorous plants and grow rapidly. Pinch it back as it regrows to encourage branching. Make sure it has adequate water and rich soil to grow in. (You might not need to cut your passion vine to the ground yet since it is only 4 or 5 years old.)

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18 Responses to “Cutting back a Passion Vine (passiflora)”

  1. Carolina Palacios June 13, 2014

    i live in central texas. my passion vine is growing beautifully but it has climbed my oak tree and to my neighbors tree. will the vine damage the oak tree. The vine looks like a canopy. It is beautiful and full of butterflies.

    Reply
    • It is highly unlikely that your passion vine will kill your oak tree, but it’s likely eventually to damage its shape. Some people disbelieve in allowing vines to climb trees and arborists universally advise against it, but it happens all the time in nature, especially in forests. Unless the vine is something like kudzu, which can be a devastating scourge cloaking a landscape like a blanket and preventing sunlight from reaching everything beneath it, the trees usually go on living and whereas the foliage of the tree will be affected overtime in shape and size, the tree will seldom if ever be smothered and killed by a vine. If you want to keep your tree, you might decide now to enjoy the beauty for as long as it lasts but realize eventually you’ll need to remove the vine. Passion vines don’t live forever. One should never allow a clinging vine such as ivy to climb into a tree and one needs to be vigilant and cut it down if ever it gets started. But when an open-growing flowering vine, such as a climbing rose or a trumpet vine climbs into a tree and then bursts into bloom, it can be breathtakingly beautiful and offer a dramatic and often spectacular attraction in a landscape for a number of years. This is worthwhile having and difficult to give up. Nonetheless one needs to be aware that in the long run the life of your tree might be shortened when you allow a vine to climb it and also if and when the vine becomes huge and messy or a haven for vermin you might eventually have to get it out of there. If the vine has been there a long time, the shape of your tree will have been changed and you may find some previously hidden dead branches that need to be removed. Here are some other caveats: In areas where wildfires are a problem, on the edges of canyons and other areas where dry brush abuts a suburban landscape, it is unwise to allow vines to clamber into trees since these can offer an avenue for fire to climb into a tree. Another negative factor is where strong winds might topple a tree. A vine that has climbed a tree and then filled it with foliage can make the tree act like a sail in the wind and make it blow over more easily in strong winds. It’s not always easy to make choices. You have to weigh these dangers against the beauty you are now enjoying.

      Reply
  2. Monique May 7, 2014

    My gardener cut back my woody passion fruit vine almost down to the ground – he left about 4 feet of trunk. Is that ok, or should it have been cut all the way to the ground?

    Reply
    • A woody passion fruit vine can be cut all the way to the ground to renew it in spring or if the vine is very old you can cut back one half at a time and wait until it regrows before cutting the other half. Follow up with water and fertilizer. By cutting back all the way you get all new growth springing from the ground. The way your gardener left the vine means you will still have 4 feet of old woody growth on the bottom of the vine.

      Reply
      • Monique May 14, 2014

        Thanks for your response. It’s been two weeks and there has been no new growth on the woody parts. I guess this means I should have our Gardener cut it down all the way to the ground

        Reply
  3. Grisela March 28, 2013

    Hi everyone.
    We have a passion fruit plant that product fruit, however after the fruit our plant got dry, look like is gone, It is possible is the same thing like the grapes vine, after been very drie their coming back again?

    Reply
    • Grape vines are deciduous. They drop leaves in winter. Passion fruit vines are tropical or semi-tropical plants. They are native to mild climates in South America and are semi-evergreen in cooler areas here. Cold weather may affect them badly. Also they are short-lived. If yours died, don’t be too distressed. Amend the soil well and plant another. Passion fruit vines like rich soil, warmth and protection from cold wind. Irrigation should be regular except in winter withhold water, which may be difficult to do if your garden has regular irrigation.

      Reply
  4. I have a passion vine that I bought in the spring this year (it’s now December). It has grown very well in a large pot with well-drained soil. But it’s never had any flowers!! I don’t know what type it is. Are there passion vines that have no flowers–or should I just cross my fingers and wait for next year?

    Reply
    • Passion vines are not well adapted to pot culture. They are deep rooted and prefer growing in the ground. They also need full sun, adequate water and balance fertilizer. Plant your passion vine in the ground in full sun, feed it a balanced fertilizer and water it and it will bloom. If you must grow it in a pot, begin in spring to fertilize every two weeks with diluted 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer or similar and it should bloom.

      Reply
  5. Kathryn McGeorge September 29, 2011

    I have a lovely coral sea passion vine and am curious what to do with winter approaching. Planted up against the house – I live in NOrthern Ca., san Francisco bay area, Petaluma. we get five to six days of frost annually.
    thank you.

    Reply
    • Your passion vine (Passiflora jamesonii ‘Coral Sea’) is an evergreen climbing plant adapted to growing in Hawaii or Sunset Zones 14 through 24. Petaluma is in Zone 14 so your vine can be grown there. Frost will not kill it but might make the leaves fall off. If frost is expected, I might cover the plant with a bed sheet or plastic on frosty nights but uncover it in the daytime. If frost damages the vine, wait until the plant has begun to grow again in spring before cutting off any damaged portions. During winter the damaged parts will help to protect the rest of it.

      Reply
  6. Shirley Crawford September 26, 2011

    I have a passion vine purchased on NE Florida and it is growing on an old plow and doing nicely. However, we are having an orange butterfly lay eggs and then the orange/black caterpillars are eating the passion vine down to the stem. It still has some leaves and the butterflies are becoming less In number. should I cit back for the winter or will it come back on it’s own from the stems?

    Reply
    • What a lovely idea to grow a passionflower vine on an old plow. The butterfly that is decimating your vine is called Gulf Fritillary. My opinion is that this butterfly is something worth having. It never eats the flowers, only the leaves. If the passion vine you purchased in Florida is adapted to your climate, it will continue to grow every year and produce flowers despite the butterfly. I used to have two or three of these vines in my garden a few years ago and we always loved the butterflies that came from them. Once the hairy larvae have finished munching the vine they will get onto the wooden sections of your old plow and hang their crysalises here and there underneath the wood where they should be able to survive the winter in places where you might never notice them. Watching them hatch when the weather warms up in spring or early summer is fascinating and then they will fly around in your garden and eventually float away on the wind, but they will never lay their eggs on anything other than a passion vine so they harm nothing in the garden. If you have children or grandchildren the whole process can be a delight for them to watch. A few tragic butterflies may have difficultly opening their wings, but for the most part all goes well, the wings unfurl successfully and then dry after which each butterfly will take a few halting steps, then gaining strength and courage, float away triumphantly, truly a heart-lifting sight. After the caterpillars are through eating the leaves, you can cut back the vine a bit or wait until spring. Depending on your climate, it will sprout again from the ground in spring or if you live in a mild area it might grow new branches from the existing stems. If it survives your winter, fertilize in spring to encourage new growth. The hardiest of passion vines is Passiflora incarnata. It is deciduous and dies to the ground in winter. I am afraid that you might have purchased a tender variety that won’t survive winter in your climate zone. You will just have to wait and see if it returns in spring. If not, plant it as an annual. Some types grow easily from seeds.

      Reply
  7. Hi

    My husband and I went to your presentation at Del Mar, you taught us a lot of information, Thanks!

    We have 2 frederic passion vine, that are suppose to fruit, 2 years old we got flowers but zero fruit. We have one red that has never even flowered but has spread. The 1st year used Dr Earth flower fertilizer. The 2nd year used organic fruit fertilizer. What type & brand do you recommend for organic fertiziler for this plant since it has not fruited?

    Reply
    • Your passion fruit vines (Passiflora edulis’Frederick’ and P. edulis ‘Red Rover’ or ‘Red Ambrosia’) are sweet, good-tasting varieties of fruiting passion fruit vines, but they are tropical vines most successful in a warmer climate than coastal San Diego may provide. The easiest variety to grow here in San Diego County is the purple-fruited one. Usually passion fruit begins to bear fruit after a year or two, but we have had some strange temperature swings and cold nights. Too much chilly weather when the vine is young might slow down the beginning of bearing. So I would not yet give up hope of success.

      Passion fruit vines prefer full sun along the coast, or a little light shade in interior zones. They want deep, well drained, fertile soil and a warm protected location,such as against a south facing reflective wall away from wind. They bear best when the ground is kept dry during the coldest portion of the year, which has not been the case this year. If given adequate food and water, they grow fast to large size—often as high as 30 feet—and respond well to nitrogen fertilizer. They can get crown rot if subjected to soggy soil or planted too deep and if well grown can adapt to dry conditions better than wet ones. They respond best to deep and infrequent watering instead of shallow and frequent watering. If a passion fruit vine becomes too tall one can control its size by cutting it back in early spring after it resumes growth.

      If you read over the requirements above and you see that you haven’t fulfilled some, then I would take that as an indication of what might be the matter. I have several guesses as to what your problem might be: First perhaps the vines are in ocean wind where there is not enough heat. Second: if they are growing in wet soil in winter perhaps combined with poor drainage that could prevent flowering. And third, most importantly: No bees mean no fruit.

      I think one of your main problems is failure to understand that passion fruit vines are gluttonous feeders and high bloom ingredients—phosphorus and potassium— are not enough. These plants love fertilizer and this mainly means nitrogen. It’s a great idea to begin feeding at planting time and plant them on top of a dead fish or several handfuls of fish entrails and skin or a bunch of dead fish heads to give them a big feeding boost at the beginning of life. Yes, I mean throw a whole dead fish in the bottom of the planting hole, then add a bit of top soil and stick the plant on top of that and fill in the ground. That plant will take off like gangbusters. (Get spoiled fish, skin, bones, or fish entrails free from fish markets.) I would also mulch the top of the ground over the roots with well-rotted horse manure. If you apply manure next fall before the rains then you don’t even need to age the manure. You can just put it on top of the ground ahead of the rains and let the rains was the nitrogen into the ground. Just keep it 6-inches or 8-inches away from the crown of the plant so it won’t get crown rot.

      Passion fruit vines do not require a pollinator, but they do require pollination by bees so the fact that you had flowers and no fruit says to me your problem was lack of bees. (See my video on this topic under videos.) If you have no bees that would explain why you had flowers but no fruit. Next time you see flowers make sure there are bees. If no bees you should hand pollinate.

      To hand pollinate passion flowers look inside the flower. The sticky bump in the middle of the flower is the stigma in the middle. This is the female part of the flower and the anthers around it are the male which bear the pollen. In the late morning or early afternoon when the pollen is dry take a small sable brush and twirl it to pick up pollen from the anthers and then dab the pollen onto the stigmas of other flowers. Do this when the pollen is fresh and bright yellow and continue every day or two as long as you see flowers. You need to play bee and do what bees do. They go from flower to flower and from plant to plant they just don’t pollinate one flower and fly away, they do them all. This mixes the pollen and produces good pollination. Another way is to clip off the anthers with pollen intact with a pair of clippers that grab such as flower shears, drop all the anthers from several flowers into a small container and mix it around with your brush then go dab this mix on the central sticky stigma you will see sticking up in the center of each flower. If you have left over pollen you can cover tightly and store it in the refrigerator over night and use the next day.

      Reply
  8. Thankful Gardener January 15, 2010

    Thank you so much for taking the time to give me detailed description of the various ways to prune my passion vine. I no longer have the detailed paperwork provided by the landscaper who designed the garden in my front yard, but the vine is strictly flowering, bright flowers. I let you know how it goes! My best regards.

    Reply
    • Ellen May 5, 2014

      I have plants popping up in the flower bed. I want to transplant them. I have dug some of them up, should I cut then back. It is already getting hot during the day but still cool nights.

      Reply
      • Dig them up and put them into something like a bucket to take them to where you want to plant and transplant them immediately. If leggy, you can pinch back the tips. The trick is getting enough root, but tropicals are best planted and transplanted in warm weather so May should be fine. Make sure roots are moist before digging them up. After transplanting, keep them well watered and if you can devise a little shade for a day or two, such as an old umbrella, that helps. Then take it off. If you have any humic acid on hand this works wonders as a transplant fluid to wake up the roots of plants and stop the tops from wilting. John and Bob’s Soil Optimizer, available at many nurseries, has some humic acid in it. This might help, but the liquid or the powder you can mix with water works best as a transplant fluid. Few nurseries carry this but you can find it at places like Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply Co. http://www.groworganic.com/search#q=humic acid&p=1

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