The fuchsia plant has gained considerable notoriety recently and expert growers attribute this to its breathtaking flower, wonderful fragrance, and versatility in the garden. Fuchsias flourish nicely throughout the year in zones 8 to 10 but also do well as an annual in many other regions. Growing fuchsia plants is not necessarily difficult, but there are some helpful hints that gardeners should know.
Originating in the mountainous regions of South America, the fuchsia plant is entrenched in local legend and ancestral folklore. According to such tales, a traveling British sailor brought a specimen back as a gift for his beloved wife. Eventually, it was spotted by botanists, and other nursery specialists, who recognized the fuchsia’s potential and began to cultivate. Brits became enamored, the fuchsia plant caught on and was subsequently named for the 16th-century botanist Leonard Fuchs.
Fuchsias excel in showing us how well they can flower, and there’s no harm in that, but there are varieties that have the added bonus of leaf color. Many of the triphyllas already mentioned usually have a purple sheen to the underside of their leaves, but ‘Firecracker’ has a mixture of rich salmon and pale green variegation to accompany the clusters of rich pink flowers.
‘Sunray’ is a late-flowerer, which is great, because it gives you plenty of time to ogle the cream, pink and green leaves borne on pink stems. The youngest leaves have the strongest pink tinges and the flowers, when they do appear, are pinkish-violet.
But the best has to be ‘Autumnale’, which doesn’t, as the name suggests, save its best until the autumn. It stays as a low mound and its yellow-green leaves turn a rich, coppery crimson as they age. Flowers are rose-purple and are produced in late summer. It’s a spectacular show and one you really need to make space for in your garden.
Fuchsias are an easy to grow perennial shrub which brings a long flowering season to the garden. Flowering typically starts in mid-summer and will continue until the first frosts of late autumn. Whilst a relatively easy plant to grow the Fuchsia is not entirely hardy and as such will benefit from a little extra care.
On the whole, the Fuchsia is suited to a variety of soil types and conditions the main considerations for siting a Fuchsia relate to the fact that the plant is native to South America and as such even so-called hardy varieties are not entirely exempt from the effects of a cold winter. As such a free draining soil will help to protect the plants root system from cold spells in which waterlogged soils such as clay freeze solid. In addition, open and exposed sites should be avoided for the same reason.
Fuchsias grow vigorously throughout the season and put on a long display of flowers, as such frequent feeding and watering are required throughout the summer. Whilst a general purpose liquid or soluble feed works well enough specialist Fuchsia foods are available and will really help shrubs to give one’s garden that little extra vibrancy.
Initial planting is also a consideration in the success of any Fuchsia shrub. In order to give the plant the maximum chance of survival initial planting should take place at a greater depth than other shrubs. This will allow deep planted roots to be protected from cold spells ensuring that even if the old wood is killed by a cold winter the plant is able to regenerate from its roots. Alternatively, potted specimens may be brought indoors or into a greenhouse for the winter period thus protecting the plant from frosts.
Whether you only have space on the windowsill or a container crying out for several plants, there’s a fuchsia to suit your lifestyle.
Before you dash off to the garden centre to pick up a few, you need to know which types are suitable for which container. If you’re going for a variety – and that’s what you’ll find most of – you’ll have a choice of bush or trailing types. Bush is either upright or lax in habit. The latter is best for hanging baskets and have more of an arching, graceful habit than a true point-straight-at-the-ground nature. They also work quite well around the edges of broad containers, such as troughs; frosty orange ‘Amazing Maisie’, white and pale pink ‘Hidcote Beauty’ and deep purple and red ‘Roesse Blacky’ are brilliant examples.
Upright fuchsias work well at the centre of a container, where they’ll bush out with strong, erect growth. But what really sets them off is an underplanting of pale foliage such as Helichrysum petiolare. Dark-flowered varieties of fuchsia such as ‘Gruss Aus dem Bodethal’ and ‘Dorothy’ work well in this situation, but ‘Checkerboard’, ‘Pacquesa’ and ‘Carmel Blue’ also come highly recommended.
If you intend to keep the plants in the same container for more than a year, use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No.3. It’s the best choice for the long-term growth of fuchsias but will also make your containers significantly heavier than loam-free mixtures.
The latter is ideal for hanging baskets – putting less strain on the bracket and you – but their structure breaks down after a year and drainage and fertilizer content becomes a problem. Baskets and other smaller containers tend to dry out quickly in hot, sunny weather so you may want to add some water-retaining gel/crystals to the compost before planting.
Whatever you choose, it’s important that the plants get a sunny or semi-shady aspect. Regular watering during hot weather is essential – twice a day if in hanging baskets – and you’ll need to feed with a tomato fertilizer once a week from midsummer to keep the flowers coming.
A prodigious amount of stem growth is key to a succession of flowers and a bushy habit, but it won’t happen all by itself. Once plants shoot into growth in spring and the plant is about 3-4in. (7-10cm) high, you need to remove the growing tip. Then regularly pinch out side shoots to encourage a dense habit. You can stop once the first set of flower buds have formed but it’s better to carry on until you’ve achieved roughly the shape you want and delay flowering a little.
When planting a fuchsia look for a semi-shaded spot. Too much sun is a disadvantage and even though they tend to be hardy shrubs try to protect from frost.
With fuchsia in hanging baskets this is not a problem, just bring them inside but for permanent planting take as much care as possible. They also dislike windy spots. When buying a fuchsia in a garden center check it all over for pest problems. Look underneath leaves for insects and pay particular attention to new leaves as insects often find these new soft leaves an ideal place for breeding.
When planting is finished feed every two weeks for the first year, keep moist but do not over water. As the summer draws to a close cut back on any feeding regime and nature will take over and the plant will begin to shut down for winter.
If it becomes necessary to move an established fuchsia plant this can be done with little or no harm caused. Move the plant in the dormant season. Cut it back well and take as much care as possible with the roots. Prepare a hole large enough to give the roots ample room to spread. After planting water well and stake the plant to prevent against wind rock.
Pruning a fuchsia is relatively simple and all that is required in common sense. Depending on local winters pruning can be carried out either in fall or spring. Do not prune if there is a danger of frost. Cut each stem back to an outward facing bud. Pruning is mainly carried out to keep the plant from becoming too big and leggy. It is no harm to a fuchsia to get a severe pruning every second year as this will keep the plant bushy and true to its original form.
Propagating is done by taking cuttings. This is best done when the plant is finished flowering. It is best to have the compost moist as watering immediately after planting will just wash away the rooting compound.
Place 3 light support stakes into the compost and use these to support a clear plastic bag over the cuttings. Place the pot on a windowsill or in a glasshouse and the new cuttings should take root fairly quickly. If new growth is evident give the cuttings a gentle thug and if resistance is felt it is time to lift the cuttings and pot them up separately. Plant out once any danger of frost has passed.
The Fuchsia has a wide variety of uses within the garden and may include the use of hardy varieties as perennial shrubs as well as the use of less hardy varieties for single year use as an annual plant.
In mild areas of the country such as the South West, the Fuchsia can be used to create a flowering hedge, in order for an attractive hedge to be created the wood must survive each winter. As such it is recommended that hardy varieties such as Riccartonii and Coralline are used.
Trailing varieties also make an attractive addition to the hanging basket although in such cases the varieties suitable are often not frosted hardy and will need replacing on an annual basis. Finally, the Fuchsia may be used as a stand-alone shrub; if planted correctly a stand-alone shrub will last many years producing new growth from the old wood in the average years. Cold years may see gardeners need to remove old wood but the plant will often regenerate from the root system if a suitable variety is selected.
There are a huge variety of fuchsias available to gardeners. They can be grown in a number of different ways to create unusual and eye-catching shapes. Being relatively easy to grow, they can bring pleasure to inexperienced gardeners, while experts can enjoy exploring their complexity by experimenting with shape and color.
A standard fuchsia has a single straight stem, usually fairly tall, supporting a head of flowers or branches. The length of the stem determines whether the plant is a standard, half-standard and so on.
Training a plant into a good standard can take a few months so would normally start during the previous autumn. The stem is encouraged to straighten by regularly rotating the plant to share the available light around the stem, and by removing side shoots to encourage upward growth.
Frost is a problem for all fuchsias. A standard fuchsia needs to be kept in a heated greenhouse or indoors during the winter. An unusual color of flower or foliage, which is known as a sport, is often sought by enthusiasts who hope that it will be repetitive in which case they will have a new variety.
Fuchsias are well known for being hardy summer flowering shrubs. Because of their vigorous nature, they will flower on new growth in the same season, so it is normal to prune them selectively once in spring. When established, they can be cut down severely to encourage new growth, as long as there is no further threat of frost.
Kept over winter, an unheated greenhouse or a cool windowsill such as a garage is most suitable for small bush varieties of fuchsia being readied for the new season. An interesting variety for bushes are the microphylla types, which have small flowers and present a flood of color against rich green foliage.
The ball-shaped head of a fuchsia makes an excellent counterpoint to many flowers so that given the variety of colors available, one of the great joys of growing fuchsias is seeing them flourish in a hanging basket or other containers. It should be noted, however, that if kept indoors in a container they need to be kept cool or they will deteriorate quickly.
Deadheading fuchsias, by nipping off any faded flowers just behind the flower itself, in containers and hanging baskets keeps the displays looking good and will prolong flowering into the autumn. The Swingtime variety of fuchsia makes a very attractive hanging basket. A good standard fuchsia can be used to make a tall centerpiece for a container.
A major benefit of the fuchsia is that it is fast growing so that a gardener can observe results quickly compared to many other flowers. Because of this, the fuchsia particularly lends itself to being shaped by clever pruning. A key technique is pinch pruning, also known as stop, in which the main bud of new growth is pinched off between a finger and thumb. This causes the plant to seek new growth outwards so a bush effect rather than straight growth is created. The growth proliferates due to the vigorous nature of the fuchsia, and fuchsias can be encouraged to grow horizontally and vertically into a variety of shapes.
A popular shape is to create a fan effect by encouraging growth along canes in a fan-shaped framework, sometimes supported by netting. The fan is effectively almost two-dimensional and can be used to create a particularly attractive background or a feature in its own right. The swingtime can be encouraged into shapes, as can the snowcap fuchsia, if regularly pinch-pruned. Techniques for shaping fuchsias lend themselves to experimentation and enjoyment for both novice and expert gardeners.