One of the most common comments I hear about passionfruit vines is that “there are lots of flowers and very little fruit; the flowers just keep falling off”. The good news is that this can be fixed easily and it’s great garden therapy in these different times.
The problem is usually a lack of pollination. Bees especially, are nature’s pollinator machines, as they move from flower to flower brushing pollen on the different parts of the flowers, but Passionfruit flowers tend to have pollen which is heavy and sticky so it makes the bees’ job a lot harder. Unfortunately, there is not as many bees around gardens these days, so we must resort to helping them out, by hand pollinating the flowers.
This is our passionfruit vine (Nellie Kelly) which never produced much until my wife started to hand pollinate the flowers. Last year, we kept a record and it produced 321 passionfruit, not bad for a vine to cover the fence.
HOW TO POLLINATE
Pollinating or plant sex is simply moving pollen from the 5 anthers (the things that look like little pads on the ends of the small spotted stalks) to the ends of the 3 longer stalks called stigma. The easy way to do this is by using a small artist’s brush. When the flower first comes out it may not be ready to pollinate, the way to tell is if the brush has no pollen on it after touching the anther pads. You can see from the photos that when the time is right there is plenty of pollen on the flowers. It’s not a big deal if it’s not ready, just wait a day or try later in the afternoon.
As your confidence grows, you will find that you can manipulate the anther pads a little, so that it’s easier to work on and the brush will have a lot more pollen on it. Again for the next step of transferring the pollen to the ends of the 3 stigmas, you can slightly raise these with your fingertips to make it easier. You cannot over pollinate and you can mix the pollen across different flowers.
Flower buds only open up for 1-3 days before they close up and die off, so you need to keep an eye on the vine especially in spring and early summer where you will have new flowers almost every day. Keep your brush handy and use this time when inspecting the vine and pollinating the flowers as a way to relax and forget about the rest of the world, “passionfruit zen”.
If the pollinating is successful, a fruit will start forming in the flower, growing steadily over time. Make sure you look after the plant and give it plenty of food and water as it puts its energy into growing fruit, and hopefully you will have so many fruits that you may even keep a scoreboard. This is garden therapy at its best, forget about everything else and work with nature and be a part of the plant’s life cycle and create delicious fruit.