By Kim Haworth
My grandmother had a small nursery in Napa that specialized in growing fuchsias. I remember the pots of glorious flowers hanging along her driveway. As I grew older, and taller, I was able to reach the hanging baskets bursting with flowers and buds and, I’m ashamed to say that I spent many a delightful clandestine moment popping the fat buds between my pudgy fingers. Of course if I was caught, there was hell to pay, but the gratification of holding that soft, living tissue between my fingers and giving it a gentle squeeze, then being rewarded with the resounding popping sound was irresistible. It was a very tactile, but guilty, pleasure.
Dearie, as everybody called my grandmother, finally persuaded me to keep my hands to myself, and in doing that, gave me a deep respect for nature.
Although fuchsias are just getting ready to go into their dormancy period, I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a little about this hardy and rewarding native to wet, mountainous areas of tropical America. Fuchsias are considered a woody shrub, some are deciduous and some are evergreen. They require ample water and will let you know the instant that they need attention by wilting dramatically. The flowers are held in clusters and have the tendency to hang. For those of you who have never grown them before, the flowers appear on new wood only, so drastic pruning just before the last predicted frost will produce profuse bloom. If your fuchsias should happen to freeze during the winter months, do not prune away the injured foliage and stems. It will protect the plant from further frost damage if left in place.
Fuchsias are also heavy feeders, so pour on the fertilizer. It’s actually best to use frequent applications of 1/2 strength fertilizer so that the plants can have a continuous source of nutrients. Slow release products work well also. In the beginning of the season, a product high in nitrogen will produce plenty of new wood – which is exactly what you need for ample flower production. As the new growth begins, tip prune each stem to increase the amount of blooming wood. Once the plants are lush and full, switch to a high phosphorous/ high potassium product such as Bloom (0-10-10).
Fuchsia gall mite has caused this hardy favorite to loose popularity over the past decade, but good housekeeping will keep your plants healthy. According to Madalyn Draco, president of the American Fuchsia Society, by trimming off any foliage that exhibits signs of mite damage, and keeping the soil under the plants clean and raked up, you will be one step ahead of the game. Do not compost infested wood or foliage and wash your plants in the early morning hours with the hose. Washing will dislodge any mites before they can become established. And remember, fuchsias love water!
There are many types of fuchsias and even one that is native to California. The hybrid varieties are what you see for sale and there are hundreds of varieties available. My personal favorite is called ‘Swing Time’, named after the Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers movie of the same name. The beautiful double bell flowers look like one of Ginger’s gowns.
Fuchsias are easy to grow from cuttings. Take 2-3 inch pieces of tip wood, dip the cut end in rooting hormone and place the prepared cutting in damp sand. When you see new foliage growth, transplant into fresh potting soil rich in organic matter.