Fuchsia Success

//Fuchsia Success

Fuchsia Success

Living at the end of Brookhurst Street in Huntington Beach, a mile from the ocean, fuchsias were my first big plant passion.  By the time I was in my mid teens I had already tried my hand at an assortment of botanical treasures, but it was fuchsias that I first obsessed over.

Thirty years later I recall clearly the fascination of their flowers, my trips with my father to San Diego and Santa Cruz to obtain the newest and best hybrids.  Building a shade house in our backyard, complete with plant benches, propagation tables and automatic irrigation only perpetuated my addiction.  I could hardly wait for the next Fuchsia Society meeting, where a new variety or two might appear on the exchange table. Wow!

Much of any gardening success is in understanding climate; matching the climate of a garden with the plants that are placed within it.  The coastal climate of Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Newport is as good as it gets for growing fuchsias.  Although a struggle for lilacs and oriental poppies, this is fuchsia Shangri-la.

Most of us begin our fuchsia experience in April, May or June when we visit a nursery.  We succumb to a big, lush basket, full of buds and bloom.  They’re almost too hard to resist.

When we get home, be sure to locate the basket in a protected area.  An area not too sunny and not too windy.  Fuchsias love bright light, but not much afternoon sun, such as under a patio overhang or in the dappled light of large trees.

Watering is next.  On cool spring days, it’s rather straightforward, every two or three days as the soil dries a bit.  But as the weather turns warm your fuchsia basket may need a thorough drink morning.  In hot weather it is important to water early in the day, before the temperatures rise or afternoon breezes begin.

If, on a particularly warm afternoon day, you discover your prize plant wilted, do not water it – really.  Just splash off the foliage and the surrounding area.  An hour later the plant will be fully recovered.  When it cools off in the evening or the next morning you can drench the soil again.  Saturating the soil of a fuchsia with water on a hot afternoon day encourages root diseases.  All the plant really needed was just a quick, cool shower, not a long, soaking bath.

Fuchsias in containers are gluttons for fertilizer.  Frequent light doses are the key.  Fertilizing with a balanced liquid fertilizer at least every two weeks during the bloom season will maintain an abundance of blooms and nice foliage.

Regardless of my advice so far, in coastal Orange County the fuchsia year really starts about Thanksgiving.  This is when many beginners make a big mistake.  Fuchsias need to be cut back at this time of the year, and rather drastically.  The big blousy spring fuchsia basket is now a bit raggedy looking and dangling two feet over the side of the container.  In spite of your reluctance, trim it now to near the edge of the basket.  This is a critical step, don’t avoid it.

Like a rose bush in January, you will be cutting off most of the plant.  Without this annual haircut your plant will be woody, gangly and sparsely flowering the following year.

After the annual pruning, begin feeding the plant with a high nitrogen fertilizer.  Liquid, organic fish emulsion is still a favorite of fuchsia experts.  Give it a dose every week or two until about March.

During the late fall and winter months, as long as you are fertilizing, your fuchsia will quickly grow healthy new foliage.  Now comes the other critical step; one that will transform an ordinary plant into an extraordinary plant.  Every two or three weeks, from December through early March, pinch off a half-inch of the tip of every new leafy stem.  Below each pinch, instead of one tip the plant will produce two tips.  Another pinch a couple of weeks later and you are up to four tips.  Four becomes eight and eight becomes sixteen.

Fuchsias only bloom on the tips of their new growth.  The more tips the better.  With diligent pinching and fertilizing, by March you will have a full, bushy plant ready to set hundreds of blooms.  During the rest of spring and summer stop pinching and switch fertilizers to one that promotes flowering, like Dr. Earth liquid.  Enjoy the show.

You’re now a fuchsia expert.  Careful, they’re addictive.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar

By | 2006-04-28T23:29:24+00:00 April 28th, 2006|Gardening|2 Comments

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2 Comments

  1. Joyce Michelon August 12, 2015 at 7:22 am - Reply

    What fertilizer should I use for fuchsia plant ?

    • Roger's Gardens August 12, 2015 at 9:05 am - Reply

      Hi Joyce,

      Fuchsias have two seasons, a growing (leafy) season and a flowering season. To grow award wining fuchsias this is important to understand. Here’s a schedule that will produce fabulous, bushy, full and colorful fuchsias year after year:

      About Thanksgiving cut your fuchsia back, further than you probably think. If it is growing in a basket cut it to the edge of the basket. Don’t worry if it doesn’t have any leaves left after this hard cut. Yes, it will look woody and not very pretty at this stage. Don’t worry, it is worth it.

      After the cut-back, begin feeding the plant regularly and religiously with a high nitrogen fertilizer. I am an organic gardener and believe in only organic nutrition, so for this I will suggest either of two fertilizers: either Fish Fertilizer (also called Fish Emulsion) or SeaGrow All Purpose. Either of these are fine, but the fish is my favorite. It is a liquid food, so follow the directions carefully, but at least a thorough soaking at least once every two weeks. Keep feeding with this all the way through winter and into early spring.

      Meanwhile, your fuchsia will begin pushing out new foliage and stems after you cut it back and begin the feeding regimen. As the new foliage gets an inch or two long, start pinching it. Pinch just the very tip of the stem. You will notice that the leaves come out in pairs along the new little stem; two leaves, an inch or so of stem and then another pair of leaves and so on. Now, with your finger tips, pinch off the stem just above an uppermost pair of these leaves. This will cause the stem to branch into two stems instead of one. Keep this pinching up all winter. It just takes a minute or two to do, once you get into the rhythm.

      Every time you pinch, you are forcing the plant to branch and get fuller – and to have more tips, which is the point. One tip becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight and so on. Look for pinching opportunities every time you fertilize, about every two weeks and keep it up until spring.

      By about the middle or end of March you will have a big, bushy, full fuchsia with hundreds of tips. Now, stop pinching and switch your fertilizer to a lower nitrogen blend and higher phosphorus. I like the soluble organic based Sea Grow “Blooming” food. Be careful, Sea Grow makes three different fertilizers that look a bit similar, so be sure it is this one. Now, use this fertilizer following the same label directions, which is also about every two weeks. Keep using this fertilizer all spring and summer, until Thanksgiving, when you start the process over.

      By stopping the pinching and switching to this fertilizer, in as little as a couple of weeks your fuchsia will begin blooming. Before long it will have hundreds of blooms – literally covered with flowers. Through the spring and summer, as the plant blooms abundantly, periodically pinch off any fruit that develop. You probably won’t have very many, but these fruits redirect the plants energy away from flower production.

      Of course, keep the plant well watered and growing in a cool, humid location away from drying winds and watch for insects (fuchsia mite is a real problem).

      That’s it. Follow this pruning, pinching and feeding program and wow, great fuchsias.

      Ron

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