Of all flowering shrubs none has a more interesting background or a more unassuming appeal than grandmother’s flower, the hardy fuchsia plant.
Making its curtsey in the greenhouses and window casements of England over 200 years ago, this small flowered charmer from South America became popular at once and its cultivation as a greenhouse plant spread rapidly throughout Europe.
Indeed, such was the hardy fuchsia flowers popularity during its heyday that English expeditions were sent to collect species in South America and Mexico. Some of its variety such as the thorn thumb grows up to a foot tall.
Supplied with these new species, the fuchsia hybridizers of a 150 years ago were already creating superior varieties in England and on the continent.
Today, after a century and a few decades of plant breeding, the simple little fuchsia has become a more opulent and a more substantial flower in a new range of delicate flower colors. But, even now, the grace of the tiny dangling purple trumpets of yesteryear is still appealing.
The Hardy Fuschia Flowers At Home Out West
Of the many thousands of named varieties successively heaped upon the fuchsia lovers of Europe, a few hundred eventually made their way to the Pacific Coast and into grandmother’s garden where a miracle seemed to happen. In the gardens of coastal California where the gentle breezes from the Pacific ward off the cold winter and temper the summer sun, these greenhouse pot plants developed into huge shrubs which flowered from May until after Christmas!
The dainty greenhouse perennial plant of Europe had burst its glassy prison and had hurdled the hot summers of the eastern United States to fall into its garden paradise on the Pacific Coast.
Fuchsia Ballerina Plant Joins Society
Slowly through the years, Californians began to appreciate this shrub and finally in 1929, the American Fuchsia Society was organized in the San Francisco area. Gardeners, formerly blind to the qualities of the fuchsia plant, began to collect, import and evaluate existing varieties from Europe and now hundreds of named varieties are in cultivation. California breeders developed new fuchsias in a wider range of types and colorings, continuing to introduce new superior varieties.
No longer handicapped with the limitations of frost and greenhouses and without the setbacks of warm summers, grandmother’s petted little “potlings” have learned to climb trees, drip from hanging baskets and festoon California gardens with millions of floral ballerinas.
In Severe Climates
The hardy fuchsia plant (fuchsia magellanica) has become such a notable and conspicuous plant in seacoast gardens of southern Oregon and California that one is apt to overlook its lesser role elsewhere as a potted plant for greenhouse culture. Nevertheless, the fuchsia is a very beautiful free flowering plant under glass once its requirements are understood.
Many of the greenhouse failures in the past have been due to a lack of understanding of just what the fuchsia requires to make it respond. Perhaps the following notes may make this plant easier for gardeners away from the Pacific Coast.
Climatic Requirements For Ballerina Flowers
The original wild fuchsia plant were native to areas with partial shade in the tropical uplands and to the foggy coastal areas in the southern temperate zone. Their active period of growth coincides with the rainy season regardless of their habitat.
During this growth season humidity is high and the intensity of the sunlight is minimized by clouds and the sun shade of the surrounding vegetation. Consequently, to make our cultivated fuchsias happy we must simulate these conditions by keeping the plants well-shaded in a humid atmosphere and by supplying their roots with continual moisture.
Night temperatures should be relatively low, 50 degrees F. (when possible) during the growing season is good. During the day, 80 degrees F. is rather high and every attempt should be made to keep temperatures down. High temperatures and direct sunlight are disastrous. The high temperature of the eastern United States make it difficult to grow fuchsias as summer house plants.
In winter, most hardy fuchsia magellanica are resting and can be treated as ordinary deciduous shrubs. At this time they require practically no water and survive continuous temperatures down to 35 degrees F. In fact, the problem is to discourage their premature growth add minimum water and keep the plants just above freezing.
Successful gardeners sometimes winter fuchsias by burying them in a well-drained frost-free place and we have even heard tales of hanging them up in bare-rooted bundles in a cool, frontless shed but, being Californians, we have had no opportunity to test these methods. The important thing is to bring the fuchsia through the winter unscathed by frost and without premature new growth.
Those fortunate enough to have a heated greenhouse or even a well-lighted window may start their fuchsias as early as January but, of course, under no circumstances should the fuchsia be exposed to frost.
When the plants first show activity they should be cut back hard, removing frozen or rotted wood. If potted, their roots are shaken out and cut back proportionate amount to that of the branches. Pruning can be as severe as desired because the fuchsia blooms on the new growth and there is no danger of cutting off future bloom. We would favor cutting the plants to no more than three or four short branches much as one would prune a maiden rose bush at planting time.
Potting The Fuchsia Plant
The pruned bush should then be repotted in small containers as the root ball conveniently fill. Pots must be filled with well-drained soil which is porous and of good quality. A suitable rich soil mixture for the first potting is 1/3 sand, 1/3 leafmold, and 1/3 loam with a dash of cow manure. However, most premixed and bagged potting mediums will have these ingredients and some will have added fertilizers as well to grow a wonderful specimen.
As the fuchsia begins to develop the plant must be shifted to a larger pot and much richer soil should be added. A satisfactory formula for the second and any later repottings would be 1/3 old cow manure, 1/6 leaf-soil, 1/6 sand and 1/3 rich loam. Again a bagged mix will work as well.
If the plants are grown in a greenhouse they make vigorous growth throughout the early months and by mid-May large leafy plants in 8 or 10-inch. pots should start showing buds. Watering with liquid plant food (or its equivalent) every ten days in May and thereafter while plants are active is most beneficial.
The critical stage of leafy growth is where most mistakes are made in indoor and greenhouse culture. We would suggest, that the plants be protected from frost at this time but we would urge keeping the night temperatures very low and allowing maximum ventilation (luring the day. The fuchsia hates high temperatures almost as much as hard frost. Hereafter the plants must be kept cool by shading, syringing, and whenever possible transferring to cool outdoor situations.
Never let the fuchsia become potbound, starved or dry. Repot as soon as the roots fill the container, water often and feed with dilute liquid nutrients during active growth. Keep the plants cool and out of drying winds. In California a flowering 6-foot fuchsia can be grown from a 2-inch pot plant in a single season which should give our eastern friends some idea of growth possibilities under ideal conditions.
Varieties for Hard Conditions
Thanks to research and plant-breeding in California, superior fuchsia varieties, some of which were unobtainable in the past, can now be suggested for trial under the difficult eastern conditions. After growing thousands of seedlings and testing hundreds of named varieties Californians have learned that the most heat tolerant fuchsia hybrids are singles with white flowers or apricot tubes and the single and double magenta varieties.
Easterners generally are acquainted with the red and purple flowers and the red and white colored fuchsias but the wide range of new colorings are unknown to them. Unfortunately most of the delicately colored fuchsias cannot withstand average warm summers and are not suitable away from the California seacoast but the “orange” varieties and the magenta varieties are well worth testing.
Types grown in California. Along the central California coast the fuchsia is treated as a hardy shrub and almost every variety can be grown beautifully. Consequently, our choice of varieties is not determined only by their ability to survive.
They are chosen for size, coloring, form and habit of growth and they compare favorably in public interest with the queen of flowers, the rose.
Entire gardens are devoted to the fuchsia featuring them as pillars, shrubs, dwarf foreground plants, espaliered climbers, trees, vining arbor coverings and in hang baskets. Just as rosarians sometimes grow wild roses in their collections we also grow wild fuchsias but garden hybrids have so outdistanced their wild forebears that cultivated hybrids are most prized.
In habit of growth the fuchsia can be had in strong willowy or stiff woody climbers capable of covering the side of a two story house. Or varieties may be chosen for their restrained woody growth to make fine standards (or trees) 4-to 8-feet high; or weeping varieties may be selected for use in hanging pots and window boxes.
Suitable Outdoor Locations
The culture of the fuchsia is relatively easy here with the same attention as elsewhere to good drainage, plenty of water, shelter from drying winds and continuous feeding throughout the growing season. Inasmcch as the fuchsia is grown in the outdoor garden, sites sheltered from hard frost must be chosen and the shade of high trees or lath-houses is imperative in areas where the sun is bright.
Favored planting sites are walls facing north and shaded areas between buildings. But, directly on the seacoast, from Monterey to Eureka, the fuchsia is quite at home in the open garden. In the dry interior valleys and the desert regions fuchsia cultivation is not recommended.
In the open garden a new fuchsia bed is easily prepared by cultivating the ground to remove invading roots and by adding copious quantities of old cow manure. If the soil or water is alkaline, sulphur is added as ,recommended by the local farm advisor. We favor the admixture of twiggy coarse woods’ litter to increase soil porosity but this is not essential.
After serious frosts are over, set out fresh young plants from 4-inch pots in the previously prepared bed. Stake immediately with a 4-foot stake unless the plants are intended for the foreground.
As they grow, occasionally pinch out laterals on the upright specimens to induce side branching and pinch out the tops in the dwarf bush types to keep the plants low, full and well-shaped. When buds appear cease pinching. Feed continuously.
Potted fuchsias are much used to brighten shaded patios and hanging varieties are suspended from the rafters of lath-houses. These are very easily grown by using rather large pots. Anything below a 10-inch pot is too small for a display plant.
Hanging pots most favored by “experts” are of the 10-inch size but where their weight is prohibitive 8 inch pots are sometimes used. Hanging pots require daily watering during the growing season and, because of their limited soil capacity and the extreme vigor of fuchsias, feeding with liquid manure every ten days is desirable.
The shoots on young plants in hanging pots are repeatedly pinched until buds appear to induce branching. ‘Faded flowers and developing berries are removed to prolong the blooming season. We favor keeping hanging pot plants a maximum of two seasons before renewing and we favor glazed to porous clay pots (when obtainable).
In very warm or dry areas claims are made for the superiority of moss-lined wire baskets and results seem to substantiate them in the Los Angeles area. However, clay pots have proven superior in the San Francisco region.
Pruning in California
Although considered an evergreen shrub, the fuchsia is best defoliated at pruning time. It can be cut back mercilessly, even to the .ground when necessary, but this is rather. drastic, particularly for the delicate varieties.
A good rule to follow is to remove as much of the old plant as one expects to have replaced the following year. In this manner the planting remains the same year after year. The young specimens which have not filled their required, space should be pruned lightly.
Remove small spindly wood and leave a framework of heavy branches only. Garden fuchsias seem to improve with age. Specimens 25 years old are not uncommon.
Propagation of Fuchsias
The fuchsia is one of the easiest of all plants to grow from cuttings making its propagation by the amateur a simple problem. The quickest and most popular way is to use the early sappy spring or summer shoots before the appearance of flower buds.
Soft green branches 2-to 4-inches long from which no leaves have been removed are inserted about half an inch into moist sand in a well drained box over which a pane of glass may be placed.
The box is kept in a well lighted but shady place and the cuttings are watered often enough to-keep the sand moist and the cuttings from wilting.
In two to three weeks roots should start to appear and the cuttings are then ready to transplant into small pots of light soil. Keep the new plants sheltered and shaded until danger of wilting is over – a matter of ten days or so. The earlier cuttings are made the larger the plants will be for wintering over for the following year.
From year to year fuchsia lovers consult their catalog offerings of new varieties and revive their interest by adding a few new ones to their collections. California breeders continue to present ever more ravishing fuchsia plant beauties which collectors simply must have.