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There’s a lot to love about fuchsias!

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Fuchsias remain one of the most popular shrubs to add interest, and a little tropical flair to cool spots in the garden, or on the patio. With about 110 recognised species, and over 8000 recorded cultivars of fuchsia; from large, upright varieties, to those with a lovely trailing habit, there’s bound to be the perfect one for your garden or small balcony.  The elegant, pendulous flowers are very decorative, and are borne in profusion on cascading stems, throughout year in tropical species. In South Africa, the flowering season starts in earnest in mid-October and continues to March and April, after which the plants are pruned lightly, and the growing cycle continues until the temperatures drop in autumn.  In most regions of the country, if cared for correctly, fuchsias can bloom almost continuously through summer, and well into autumn.

The flowers vary greatly in size, and can be single, double, or semi-double. They are usually bi-coloured with white, and lovely combinations and hues of pink, purple, lavender-blue, violet, coral, salmon-orange, crimson and scarlet. The flowers are followed by small, dark reddish-green, deep red, or deep purple berries, containing numerous, very small seeds. The fruit is edible and has been described as having a subtle grape flavour, spiced with black pepper.

Almost all fuchsia species are native to Central and South America, with a few in Mexico, New Zealand and Tahiti. Most species are tropical to subtropical plants, and can be either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the species. Fuchsia x hybrid, are evergreen hybrids combining Fuchsia fulgens from Mexico, and Fuchsia magellanica from South America.

In the Garden:

Fuchsia blooms are unique and have an exotic look to them, brightening up shadier spots on the patio, or in the garden. The enormous array of cultivars available at specialist fuchsia nurseries, in all sizes, shapes, and colour combinations, will leave you spoilt for choice, and you may just come home with many more fuchsias than you planned on, but never fear, their versatility makes them perfect in many garden situations.

The vigorous, upright growers will develop into bushy shrubs up to a metre tall, and can be trained as standards. Those with a trailing habit look beautiful in pots and hanging baskets, or positioned where they will spill over walls, steps, and even rocks. Those with a lax habit can be trained as espaliers or even around wire shapes. Fuchsias are so versatile, mixing effortlessly with other semi-tropical plants and bedding plants for semi-shade. They add some magic to woodland and cottage gardens, but look just as good in a modern setting, perhaps combined with grasses and pebbles.  They are also a favourite with bonsai growers, and reward with quick growth and lots of blooms.

Cultivation/Propagation:

One of the first tenets of fuchsia care relates to temperature, and they thrive in regions with cooler summers, and mild winters. For many types, their ideal temperature range is between 12°C to 27°C, and some fuchsias stop forming flowers at higher temperatures. In warmer regions, fuchsia plant care must be on target to keep these bloomers happy, and the plants must be sited where they are shaded from the fierce midday heat. In cooler regions, fuchsias thrive in full morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled shade throughout the day, but in too much shade they are inclined to be leggy. They can be killed by frost, and in cold regions fuchsias must be planted in a sheltered and protected part of the garden, and covered in winter with frost cover. Potted plants can easily be covered, or moved to a more protected position to overwinter. In all regions, it is best to site your plants where there is a good air flow, but where they are protected from drying winds.

Although they appreciate cool, reasonably moist soil, fuchsias do not like being waterlogged, so good drainage is essential. Add generous quantities of compost to the planting holes, and to keep the roots cool, and to conserve moisture, mulch them regularly with organic material. If you are planting into pots, hanging baskets, or other containers, use a good quality potting soil which drains well, but still retains moisture. Adding water retaining granules or other similar products will save you a lot of time on watering, and are well worth the expense. On very hot summer days your plant may wilt from the heat although the soil is still wet.  In the afternoon, when it cools down, the plant should recover, and will enjoy a misting down of the leaves with water.

Feeding your fuchsias regularly during the growing season will keep them in peak condition, and this is especially important for potted plants. Use a well-balanced liquid fertiliser for flowering plants, which is diluted to about half the suggested manufacturer’s strength, as fuchsia roots are easily burnt. Regular, weekly feedings will give better results than a major banquet of nutrients less often. In spring, a few light applications of a fertiliser high in nitrogen will encourage a spurt of leafy growth and get your plant off to a good start, but don’t overdo this, or you will have a mass of leafy growth, and stems which are too weak to support the blooms later in the season.

Newly planted shrubs need a bit of help to grow into a robust garden shrub by regularly pinching out the branches as they form. After three sets of leaves have formed on the single stem of the plant, the tip (the top two tiny leaves) is simply pinched off using your thumb and index finger. This forces that stem to branch, and these new stems are also pinched back after two sets of leaves have formed on them. This process is repeated a few more times until a bushy form starts to emerge and a short, stout trunk develops. The trunk should be staked in its early years to support the plant. Standard forms can be trained, by creating a longer trunk before allowing the top to form. Established plants which do not need drastic pruning can also be trimmed lightly with this type of 'finger pruning' in early spring when they start to shoot again.

Established plants are generally pruned in late winter or spring, when all danger of frost is over. The plant can be cut back by up to two thirds of the previous year's growth. However, the plants can be clipped into shape anytime in summer. The object is to create a strong framework and a good shape. Root pruning is also beneficial for older fuchsias. This is done by drawing a line round the drip line of the plant and inserting a spade around this circle, to sever the roots. Regular deadheading of spent flowers will also promote good blooming.

To create your own cuttings in spring or summer, clip 5 to 7cm pieces from the end of a branch, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant the cutting in a soilless growing media, or damp sand. Keep the cuttings humid by placing a plastic bag over the pot, supported by some sticks or drinking straws, until roots develop. Water, if necessary, keeping the soil moist but not soggy until new leaf growth appears.

Starting fuchsias from seed is tricky because germination is unpredictable, both in timing, and producing plants that are true to their parents. If you want to try this experiment, place seeds on top of the soil and lightly cover with soil or vermiculite. Cover loosely with plastic, keep warm and wait. Seedlings will appear in a few days or weeks.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

With regard to pests and diseases, fuchsias, contrary to popular belief, and in spite of their somewhat delicate appearance, are hardy plants, and if given the proper care and right growing conditions have relatively few problems in comparison to other species of plants. They can, however, be susceptible to both fungal and viral infections.

Botrytis blight often first appears as a greyish-brown mould, and is a fungal disease that results in spotted, discoloured flowers. In time, buds rot and fail to open, and the leaves and stems wilt and drop from the plant. Rust is another fungal disease which begins as small, orange-brown spore masses, primarily on the underside of fuchsia leaves.  As the disease progresses, the upper surfaces of the leaves will turn brown or yellow, before dropping from the plant.  Verticillium wilt will turn the leaves of fuchsias yellow, pale green or brown, often beginning on one side of the plant. This fungal disease is often deadly, and as the disease progresses, leaves shrivel and drop off the plant. Fuchsias are susceptible to root and crown rot, which causes the leaves to become stunted and discoloured before dropping from the plant, and rotted, mushy roots. Rot is usually deadly, and generally the result of poorly drained soil, crowding, or overwatering.

Treating fuchsia leaf diseases requires trimming and disposal of all diseased plant parts. Keep the area around the plant free of dead leaves and other debris. Prune the plants to improve air circulation, and water only at the base of the plant to keep the leaves as dry as possible. Fungicides are of limited effectiveness, but may reduce rust and other fungal diseases if applied early in the season. Often, the best recourse for diseases in fuchsia plants is to start over with new, disease-resistant plants. Improving soil drainage and correct watering goes a long way to prevent fuchsia plant diseases.

White fly, thrips, and two-spotted red spider mite attacks will need to be controlled in summer. Such infestations are aggravated in small enclosed gardens where the air is still, providing a perfect environment for these pests. Spraying regularly underneath the leaves with a fairly strong jet of water will help to control them.

Warning:

Fuchsias are not listed as toxic to humans or pets, but keep in mind that even non-toxic plants can cause vomiting in humans and animals, and small children can choke or gag on pieces of plants, and should always be supervised in the garden.

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