Fuchsias (Show class 18)

Fuchsias are another plant native to South America, although they are also found in Central America and several other South Pacific locations including New Zealand

They are a long-time favourite with gardeners as they make wonderful displays in hanging baskets and pots. There are also numerous hardy varieties which are perennial and make colourful flowering shrubs in any herbaceous border with the minimal amount of care. 

Note that Fuchsias are deciduous plants and it is normal for them to lose their leaves and become dormant as soon as winter approaches. When this has occurred, the plants will benefit if they are cut back to ground level. Watch them bounce back in late spring or early summer.

Choosing the right Fuchsia

There are a least 100 Species (i.e. a plant occurring native in the wild) of Fuchsia and several thousand Hybridised varieties of these. Virtually all the varieties found in nurseries and garden centres will be one of these hybrids.

When buying a fuchsia, it should be labelled should make you aware of the following details.

  1. The hardiness of the plant, commonly designated H1, H2, or H3. Note that these are guidelines as how hardy a plant  can vary dependant on location.
    • H1 signifies that the plant is rather tender and frost shy. Typically, they will not tolerate temperatures below 7 deg. C. If overwintering H1 plants you will probably require a heated greenhouse. Thankfully H1 Fuchsias are quite rare. (Avoid any flower classed as triphylla type if you are unable to maintain these temperatures.)
    • H2, sometimes described as half hardy. Plants designated H2 may survive in a cold greenhouse or cold frame but when temperatures fall below zero, try to maintain a frost free environment. A low wattage electric heater will usually achieve this.
    • H3 plants are fully hardy and can be left alone in the garden. Note however, that no variety is fully hardy when used as a pot plant as a severe frost can penetrate the walls of the pot and cause damage to the root structure. Protect them with a layer of bubble wrap or a fibrous jacket.
  2. Growth Habit
    There are 3 main growth types, Bush, Lax Bush (semi trailing) and Trailing which are self-explanatory.

    Choose bush type for garden borders, Bush or Lax Bush for pot plants and lax bush or trailing for hanging baskets. 

    Again these are guidelines, for instance a trailing fuchsia could work perfectly well in a tall pot.
  3. Flower types.
    Fuchsias are described in three basic flower types. Single, Semi-double and Double. 

    Single means the flower has four petals, Semi doubles have five, six or seven petals and doubles have eight or more petals.

    As a general rule, the more petals on a flower, the fewer flowers there will be on the plant. 

    For this reason, plants with single flowers are often preferred as show exhibits as it’s easier to achieve an abundant display of flowers. However, this may not be the only quality a show judge is looking for.

Overwintering

As previously stated, potted Fuchsias need to be kept frost free if they are to survive the winter. 

The correct preparation now will save disappointment next year.

I have used an existing pot plant Claudia, in this example but if you have fuchsias in hanging baskets or wall boxes, then now is the time to dismantle them. Using fresh compost, (Multipurpose will do) repot the individual plants into suitably sized pots ensuring that there is sufficient compost around the roots to give a measure of frost protection and also revive the plant in the spring.

Claudia


Before going any further, check the root health. Remove the pot and give a visual inspection. This also applies to any Fuchsias you have removed from hanging baskets etc. 

If there is any root damage it could indicate the presence of Vine Weevil larvae. If these are present, then strip all the soil from the plant. Carefully check for any which are hiding amongst the root ball and remove them. Repot with fresh compost. In severe cases discard the plant.

Fortunately, in this case, the root ball is healthy so it’s safe to proceed to the next step.

Start by removing about 50% of the existing growth with sharp scissors or secateurs. At this point I am trying to consider the appearance of the plant for next year, and I have trimmed the remaining foliage to be roughly dome shaped.  This will give a good starting point for my show plant next year.

(Before discarding the removed foliage, you may want to consider taking some cuttings from it. How to do this is covered in a separate article)

From now on I will reduce the watering of the plant to the bare minimum. Just sufficient to ensure the roots do not completely dry out. Overwatering at this point could allow botrytis to develop and the roots will rot.

As the plant dries out, the remaining leaves will fall away. Clear any dead leaves from the base of the plant. Check the shape again and trim if necessary.

Store the plant in a frost-free environment e.g. a shed, garage or conservatory.

In the spring, the plants can be revived with some gentle watering. 

Ideally do this in cold frame or greenhouse, but if these are not available to you, wait until the risk of frost has disappeared and place in a sunny position.

In a future article I will describe how to care for the growing plants and prepare them to give the best possible floral display.

I will also give a quick guide as to what pests and diseases to look out for.