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Passionflower Vines, Evergreens, Tomato Hornworm & Missing Dog

More questions about Passionflower vines, particularly the flowers; getting rid of spider webs on evergreens; tomato hornworms are still around; and garden centre thefts in the U.K.!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 16, 2009

Above, a huge passionflower vine growing on a 14th floor balcony in Toronto, note the road in the back-ground is the infamous Don Valley Parkway (author photo); and a shot of a flower from the spectacular Passiflora coccinea (courtesy UBC Botanical Garden). Below, a typical tomato hornworm courtesy Cristiana Stanciu.

Sunday, a week ago, Jeff and Susan Catlin, wrote about one of my favourite plants--the passion vine (Passiflora caerulea). “I realize you may not get this personally but even if forwarded my wife and I were hoping to get some help answering a couple of questions about our passion flowers. We live in Barrie Ontario. In the spring we purchased two of the plants and planted them in our flower garden--they have grown like wildfire and look beautiful. However we found something very strange--one has flowers all over the vines that are beautiful but only flower for about two days and usually only one at a time--is this the proper flowering time and do they only flower one or two at a time? (This vine has probably over 50 buds on it now). The other question is about the second vine--it has grown as well as the first one with one exception--it has never given us a single flower--they are both watered the same and we have actually given this one a little more fertilizer to try and help it start to bud but nothing--the plants are about ten feet apart in the garden, receive the same sun and care. Any suggestions to help us move this one along? Thanks in advance for any help you can give us.”

It is true these gorgeous flowers do not last long, one or two days as you say would be about average, but ordinarily there would be several or even many flowers in bloom at any one time along the vines. Perhaps your damp and cool spring/summer in southern Ontario may have something to do with this since Passiflora do like it hot! The lower levels of sunshine would also be a contributing factor.

Just why one vine should be performing relatively well and another, a sister, just the opposite is an even more difficult question; except to point out that any plants grown from seed (as your Passiflora likely were) there will always be seedling variation. Another example of this is often noted in early spring when two trees of the same species located near one another actually leaf out several days to a week apart. I should also ask you just what type (analysis) of fertilizer you have been applying to the ‘slow’ plant. If by any chance, it happens to have been a turf analysis (such as 27-3-4), even though a high percentage of the nitrogen is available from long-lasting sources (such as IBDU), that could contribute to the Passiflora being encouraged to put out an excess of foliage at the expense of flower buds.

Any further fertilizing (and I would suggest no more than one more application this season) should be with a high-middle-number analysis such as 10-52-17 or even 0-20-0.

I trust you realize these plants will have to come in over the winter. I would pot them up right after the first foliage-browning frost in large (5 gal.) containers and bring them into a basement room or similar space, where there is at least a minimum of light available to them at least initially. Once all of the foliage has dropped, no light is needed. Do check them at least weekly for water--you do not want them either to dry out, or to become water-logged. I would bring them back into good light after pruning them back, about the beginning or middle of February next year and grow them on well indoors until the weather warms when they can be put outside during warm days, but must not be exposed to frosty nights. Good luck with the weather next year!

On the same day last week Sheila Southway, of unknown location in southern Ontario wrote: “What can be done [about spider webs on dwarf Alberta spruce], I have brushed them off but they keep coming back…what can I spray them with???”

Though they spoil the appearance of any evergreen, the spiders generally do little harm. If you wish to be rid of them I would spray them with Doktor Doom House & Garden Insecticide Spray or their Botanics spray. Both should still be available and legal for use in Ontario, particularly the latter which is totally organic.

And, more recently, Cristiana Stanciu wrote about a very old pest: “I live in Toronto area and I grow a few tomatoes in my garden. With all the rains we had this summer and not much sunlight they are doing better than I expected, they are bushy and now are ripening. But, last night I spotted this huge (1? inch diameter and maybe 4 inches long) green caterpillar-looking creature munching them. The needle on its back is really sharp and secretes a light green juice. Can you please tell me what this is and if it poses any danger. I’ve only caught this one but I’m afraid there are more camouflaged out there.”

I mentioned that it is “a very old pest” because when I was a kid in Toronto growing tomato plants, back in the 50s, we almost always had tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) on the plants. From the striping on the side of yours, it could also be a tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) a very closely related species. No real need to worry as the only harm they do is to eat the foliage of your plants. Though you could spray (as recommended to Sheila South-way above), all you really need to do is to pick them off and squash them in the soil.

* * *

In the August 10th edition of the UK’s HortWeek trade magazine, Mathew Appleby reported on a disturbing trend in that country. “A garden centre owner who had his guard dog stolen has put in a complaint against the police, who, he says, have a policy of not visiting commercial premises that have been burgled. Essex-based Redbridge Garden Centre manager Bruce Freeman said: ‘We're used to getting burgled but losing the dog is too much.

“‘In our borough we've found the police don't come into commercial premises—they just phone through a crime number so I've put in a complaint to them and put up a £1,000 reward for the dog.’

“He added: ‘No insurance company will touch a garden centre so we just have to take it on the chin. We're going to upgrade CCTV but garden centres are a nightmare because they have big sites and no one can hear alarms. I've got an alarm that rings on my mobile [phone] because with CCTV people wear hoods.’

“German shepherd Troy was on duty at the Woodford Bridge centre when burglars forced the locks. The two-year-old dog and £3,000 worth of spray washers and power tools were stolen.

“Freeman said: ‘He was like a pet to us and my wife is devastated as she is so fond of that dog. We just want him back. We had an episode of Wife Swap filmed here recently, which is going to be broadcast in a couple of weeks. Troy was star of the show and we've got Channel 4 coming back for more filming.”

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