Enchanting Fuschias

Fuchsias are often referred to as the ballerinas of the flower world. Delightful varieties with masses of dainty blooms will turn your patio, balcony and shade garden into a concert of summer colour.

Fuchsias, hailing from Southern and Central America, have taken the plant world by storm. There are thousands of varieties available, as well as societies, clubs and annual shows dedicated purely to them. There are basically two growth types of fuchsias: The upright varieties (and species), which are more suitable for planting in the ground, and the trailing or cascading varieties, which are probably the perfect choice for hanging baskets, window boxes and pots. Imagine a roomy summer container filled with pretty fuchsias teamed up with lobularias, lobelias and begonias! While usually pendant, the flower shapes are variable and range from single to semi-double, double and triphylla (tube shaped), depending on the number of petals.

Where can you grow them?

Fuchsias like both sun and shade, and to give them both means planting them in the garden in a shady spot with dappled sunlight filtering through all day long. A good position is on the eastern side of the house where they can bask in morning sun and enjoy afternoon shade. Modern hybrids like the ‘Shadow Dancer’ series sold under the Proven Winners label are more heat resistant and can cope with more sun. In general, supply a cool and sheltered spot out of drying winds, and protect them in winter as they are not cold and frost hardy. Many fanatical fuchsia enthusiasts grow their fuchsia collections in small shade houses.

Training fuchsias

Young nursery-grown fuchsias sold in full flower will already have undergone some nipping out of growth points to encourage many new branches bearing lots of flowers (fuchsia flowers grow on new growth). But while you are growing them on and trying to keep them in full bloom until May, it is recommended that you keep pinching off the growth tips from time to time to get more flowers and more neatly shaped bushes. If you buy fuchsia hybrids that have been grown in punnets as bedding plants, you will need to train them to grow into lush bushiness by pinching them out for the first few weeks, even if it means forfeiting some flowers.

The pruning of established plants is done in early spring, by removing about 2/3 of the lanky stems of the previous season’s growth. If you have plants growing in baskets or containers, they can be taken out and given a light root prune too. Once you have done this, repot them in fresh potting soil improved with the addition of a root fertiliser such as bonemeal or superphosphate.

Watering, feeding and pests

Although fuchsias are easy to grow and care for, many succumb to incorrect watering and bad drainage that leaves the soil drenched and their feet wet. A wet fuchsia will look as limp as a dry fuchsia, and the only way to keep them happy is to keep the soil just moist by checking the top layers. As they like a touch of humidity, you will do no harm if you spray their foliage with a fine nozzle on hot and dry days. Allowing the plants to dry out for too long will cause very unhappy plants, so watch out for those in baskets and pots.

Watering is a matter of regularity, as is feeding. These plants need fertiliser to enable them to reach their flowering potential. Feed garden plants throughout summer with a general slow-release fertiliser, and container plants every two weeks with a water-soluble product.

Pests like whitefly, aphids and red spider mite can sometimes appear when it is dry and airflow around the plants is bad, but if caught in time it is easy to curb these infestations with systemic insecticides. For more information about fuchsias visit www.safuchsia.co.za.

The Gardener