Growing and caring for Fuchsias
Here on the North Coast, fuchsias enjoy a nearly perfect climate. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens maintains a collection of both species and hybrids. Over 60 fuchsias have been planted in the Woodland Garden. There is also a lovely display of trailing and standard fuchsias in the Display House. You can visit and enjoy the fuchsias any time from summer to late fall, even in winter if the weather is mild.
Although fuchsias are considered shade plants, they need lots of light to grow and bloom. Choose a location outdoors where the plants receive direct morning sun or filtered sun all day. The warmer the climate, the more shade will be necessary. Fuchsias are at their best where the summer days stay below 85 degrees F. and the nights are cool. In hot and dry climates, the plants grow poorly and the flower size shrinks. Growers in those areas must provide good shade and wind protection and install automatic misting systems. Prolonged sub-freezing temperatures damage the majority of fuchsias. Hardy cultivars can survive temperatures in the teens if they are well established in the ground, have been planted deep, and have been given a heavy layer of mulch. They will freeze to the ground and re-sprout from the roots. Container plants will have to be moved under shelter.
Red- and orange-flowered varieties take full sun near the ocean. White and pastel hanging basket varieties must be shaded. Some small flowered pot plant varieties will also grow in a very bright window, but usually do not do as well as outside, especially on the West Coast.
If there seems to be too much stem between sets of leaves, move the fuchsia to more light. Turning the plants a quarter turn on a regular basis will also make them more symmetrical. If shade in your yard comes from trees, be careful where you place the fuchsias until the trees have leafed out completely.
Plant fuchsias in humus-rich soil in the garden or use a light organic planter mix in containers with perfect drainage. Wooden containers or fiber pots keep the roots cool and allow the plant to "breathe." Clay pots do the same but dry out faster.
Fuchsias like their roots moist, but not soggy wet. Water when the surface of the growing medium becomes dry. A container plant in full bloom needs water once a day or possibly twice in very warm and dry weather. Do not water a wilted plant in the midday heat if the soil is still wet. You may suffocate the roots! Mist the leaves to reduce surface temperatures and move the plant to a cooler location.
How you care for your fuchsias in March and April will affect how well they grow and blossom in the summer. Start in spring with a regular fertilizing schedule, beginning with a light application each week. A good rule of thumb to use is to mix a balanced water soluble fertilizer half-strength and feed fuchsias each week. You can switch to a "bloom" formula of fertilizer when the plants are setting buds, but do not cut out the nitrogen altogether since fuchsias continue to grow while they are blooming. Remember that a container plant needs regular feeding because there is little soil to hold nutrients and the frequent watering leaches them out faster. In cold winter areas, withhold fertilizer in the fall to harden plants off before they go dormant for the winter. Most fuchsias need long days to flower. Some varieties, notably the F. triphylla hybrids, can be in bloom all year long if the climate is mild.
Pests and Diseases
In hot climates and for greenhouse growers, white fly can be extremely problematic. Whitefly populations in the early stages of population development can be held down by a vigilant program of removing infested leaves, vacuuming adults, or hosing down (syringing) with water sprays. Insecticidal soaps or oils such as neem oil may reduce but not eliminate populations. Don't miss the underside of the leaves. Test all sprays first; the tender leaves and flowers are easily burned. Also be aware of fuchsia gall mite, a microscopic mite that sucks the plant juices and injects a poison that causes the fuchsia to produce gnarled and crippled growth, similar to peach leaf curl. Stems, leaves, and flowers swell and become hairy and galled. Within these galls, the mites live and breed, protected from predators. See below for a detailed review of treatment.
Rust is a cool weather disease and usually at its worst in the fall. Provide plants with a lot of room for air movement. Pick off affected leaves and destroy them, and avoid overhead watering, which favors spore germination. Give your plants more sun. Grow varieties that are less rust prone. Orange-flowered varieties tend to be the first to rust.
Pruning and Maintenance
Prune heavily in late winter or early spring, after the danger of frost is past. On the North Coast, it is recommended that pruning be done by mid February. Remove dead wood and most of the previous year's growth for upright fuchsias. Leave only a few strong vertical canes. The pruned branches of a hanging basket should ideally look like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Roots of container plants may also be pruned at this time.
Start feeding as soon as green growth appears. Pinch out growing tips after two sets of leaves are formed. Snipping out the new leaves on the end of each branch makes two new branches grow where there was one. Repeated pinching produces bushier plants and more blooms. Flowers will open six to eight weeks after pinching is stopped. Pick off berries to prolong the blooming season.
Fuchsias can be trained to grow as a bush, tree, basket, wall-pocket, espalier, or even bonsai. To learn which varieties are best suited for which form and how to do it, contact the fuchsia society. See below for detailed information on training a fuchsia standard.
For more information on fuchsias, see the website for the American Fuchsia Society at www.americanfuchsiasociety.org.