PLANT of the WEEK: Fuchsia

Logo smallPlant of the Week” is part of a series of fact sheets I did for a horticulture class I took at Oregon State University on herbaceous perennials. I thought others might also be interested and we could have a discussion on our experiences with some of these plants.

fuschsia boliviana
Fuchsia Boliviana

History of the Fuchsia: Fuchsias have been in cultivation since the 1700’s, a relatively short period of time horticulturally. Prior to this, fuchsias were found in nature in New Zealand and South America. The first recorded fuchsia was a bright orange color and was discovered in the Dominican Republic in the late 17th Century by Father Charles Plumier, a French missionary and botanist of that time. He named the plant Fuchsia triphylla coccinea after Leonard Fuchs, a German botanist who had died 100 years earlier.

   Fuchsias were at their peak of popularity in the Victorian times when the head gardeners of large houses grew fuchsia pillars, standards and pyramids to line the driveways. During World War I, England ceased producing fuchsias in number to focus on war efforts and growing food. After the war it was the United States that initiated production in large numbers. The American Fuchsia Society was founded in 1929 in the San Francisco Bay area, a perfect environment for growing fuchsias.
   Fuchsias flowers are incredibly diverse ranging from very tiny blooms less than .2 inches to others measuring over 5 inches long. Most fuchsia flowers have four, and rarely

dark eyes fuchsia
My favorite general fuchsia Dark Eyes. Easy to find and hardy.

five, petals. The long tubes of some fuchsias may indicate a species fuchsia, and are often pollinated by hummingbirds with their long tongues. The array of shades of color is also diverse ranging from pure white to almost black, and most colors in between. They range from small dainty singles to exotic doubles. Foliage is also diverse including a full array of greens, with matte or glossy sheen leaves, as well as variegated leaves with shades of cream, gray, yellow, pink, and bronze. Fuchsias like filtered sun to bloom and do well in partial shade in the Pacific Northwest.
   The fuchsia growing cycle starts early spring, when the weather begins to warm after the last frost or hard freeze. The cycle ends in October or November when fuchsias go dormant. However, in warm climates, or in warm greenhouses, fuchsias can bloom all year round but are considered heavy feeders. In early spring when waking up over wintered fuchsia baskets, use a high nitrogen fertilizer to encourage initial growth. In later spring fertilizing methods change to encourage flowering by using a fertilizer with a slightly higher potassium level and then a more balanced fertilizer from early summer until closer to fall. Stop fertilizing close to the first freeze to prepare for dormancy.
   Fuchsias are grown in many forms, including baskets/containers, hardy/bedding fuchsias, standard tree-like fuchsias, as well as bonsai style training. Many think of fuchsias as annuals because as a general group they are only hardy to zone 10 or 11. Thus many allow fuchsias to die outside in winter and replace them in spring. However, choosing the right variety for the right form, along with a little winter protection, will help increase the likelihood of these evergreen perennials to make it through the winter in much lower zones.

Fuchsia paniculata
Fuchsia paniculata

   Baskets/containers: Most fuchsias are found in hanging baskets or container. Such containers need a planting mix that provides good drainage and aeration, but must also hold water as fuchsias dislike drying out and will wilt easily. However, fuchsias will close their leaf openings in hot weather to prevent water loss, also causing the plant to wilt. If your soil is still wet but the plant is wilted due to hot weather it is best to move the plant out of the stressful heat and mist the leaves.
   Instead of allowing a fuchsia basket to remain outdoor during the winter, bring the container indoors to be kept in a cool basement or garage that doesn’t go below freezing temperature. You will want to prune the foliage down to about half way and stop feeding. When a fuchsias is dormant during the winter it needs only enough water to keep the soil from completely drying out.
   Hardy/in-ground fuchsias: Hardy fuchsias are found in the garden and allowed to grow in a shrub form. They are hardy in that they can live through the winter in cooler climates, so make certain the label states it is a hardy variety or is appropriate for your zone. Hardy fuchsias usually grow from about 1 foot tall to slightly over 3 feet tall and like neutral pH soil. Hardy fuchsias need well drained soil and dislikes standing in water, but they are happy in our Pacific Northwest climate in dappled shade and consistent moisture. Hardy fuchsias flower through summer well into fall. Because most hardy fuchsias do not break dormancy until late spring to early summer, a planting of spring bulbs underneath the hardy fuchsia canopy makes a good design scheme.

Fuchsia standard
Fuchsia standard

   Standard fuchsia trees: This is the practice of taking a fuchsias and making it look like a small tree by training the stem to grow upright tied to a straight cane. You must start with a fuchsia start that has never been pinched off as pinching induces the plant to branch out and not grow straight upward. Allow the leaves to remain on the stem to provide food as its growing but once your desired height is established you may pinch off the leaves along the stem. If side shoots emerge during upward growth most growers pinch these off as they will lead to flowers along the side which is not desired for a standard tree. Heights vary according to taste, although showing categories typically want quarter-standards meaning they are 12-18 inches high. A full standard is 30 to 42 inches high. Once you have the desired height allow the side shoots along the top 4-5 leaf axils to grow to form the bushy head. Once it is certain the top few leaf axils will produce side shoots pinch off the top growth to stop the height growth and promote the bushy top. Lastly, pinch off the growing tips to encourage lateral growth just like you would with other forms of fuchsia.

   Bonsai: Bonsai is a classical art form in which recognized, stylized shapes are created. Because fuchsias are happy to have their roots pruned they make excellent bonsai candidates. Picking the right fuchsia for a bonsai is important as many fuchsias are inherently “off balance” with large flowers that could overwhelm a bonsai design. However, the “off-balance” concept as a whole is

Bonsai Fuchsia
Bonsai Fuchsia

something you want in picking your initial fuchsia for bonsai as you, at least eventually, want the appearance of a large full grown tree. As with other bonsai plants you can use wire training, pruning of the roots and judicious placement in a proper sized pot to help create the shape desired. Many fuchsia stems go woody during their second year which is perfect for the bonsai aged look.
   Miscellaneous important information: Propagating is quite easy by cuttings. Propagation by seed is more difficult but can be done.

Potential predators and pests for the fuchsia are whiteflies and the Fuchsia Gall Mites, with common diseases being black root rot and rust. My chickens also love any low hanging flowers.

   Fuchsias are not poisonous and in fact the berries are edible and eaten routinely in some South American countries. Jams and jellies are made from the berries.  The leaves are apparently not very tasty. The colorful blooms are pretty added to salads.
   Pruning methods are unusually important for fuchsia flowering as flowers only occur on new growth. Pinching the growth tip encourages a bushier plant and also more flowering. Pinching the new growth tip 2-3 times is good for hanging baskets. Most plants will bloom 6-10 weeks after the last pinch. During the growing season remove the seedpods, so your plant will continue to flower.
An example of pinching the growth tips to promote flowering from the American Fuchsia Society

pinching a fuchsia for optimal blossom growth
Example of how to pinch back a fuchsia for optimal blossoms







Further resources:

RHS fuchsia information

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