Waking your fuchsias is somewhat similar to waking your children. Some are early birds, others sleepyheads. With those that seem eager to burst into spring, exercise caution, as there can be many a cold night yet to come.
Beautiful sunny days present a great opportunity to set plants out for the day. It really gives them a boost. Be sure to bring them back inside once the temperature begins to drop, or place them in a very protected area outside, such as under a porch or table and cover with plastic, protecting them from the elements.
Respected sources say it is best to be patient and wait until Mother's Day to set your container fuchsias out permanently for the summer. An unexpected cold night can really give these newly awakened plants a setback.
Repotting can be done now, prior to the onset of new growth. Some growers repot every year, others prefer every couple years. Whatever works for you is fine. Who can argue with success?
Those who pruned back their plants in the Fall, will not need to prune now, unless you only did a partial pruning so your plant would fit into the storage area. However, for those of you who are Spring pruners, now is the time. Cut out all wispy, weak growth, leaving only sturdier branches. The remaining branches should be cut back to a point which would leave 2 or 3 nodes for buds to appear, if they haven't already done so.
Older plants may have loose bark, unlike the smooth light wood produced by newer plants. This loose bark should be rubbed off. Sure wouldn't want to leave any secret hiding places for pests.
Once pruning is completed, you are ready to repot your plants. After removing the plant from the pot, loosen the old soil around the roots. Thick dark roots may have become entangled, as they wound around the inside of the pot. These need to be trimmed back some and straightened out, giving the fine hairlike roots room to develop. These finer roots carry the nutrients needed for beautiful fuchsias. Some growers cut the roots back severely, but we haven't had much luck with that. As previously stated whatever works for you is fine.
If you have wintered over plants in 2" pots, they are probably ready to be potted up to 4" container now. Not sure if they are ready? Gently remove the plant and look at the roots. If there are tiny white roots all the way to the bottom of the pot, they are ready to be potted up.
Some plants may have shriveled branches showing no visible signs of life. Cut the branch and see what's inside. Is it white, brown or yellow? If it's white, you're in luck; your plant is alive. It's probably one that wants to sleep a little longer. If you find brown or yellow inside, the branch is dead. With your fingernail, gently scrape the main branch just below soil level. If there is green underneath, the plant is alive. Even though the upper branches are dead, the plant will produce new growth from the roots. Don't give up too early. We have had presumed dead plants suddenly burst into new growth as late as June.
Plants in storage areas may begin growth that is spindly and pale green, almost white. Remove all this new growth, as it will never be strong enough to support blossoms.
A natural result of our fuchsias waking up, is an increased thirst, thus resulting in us having to increase our watering frequency. We also begin fertilizing at this time. Be sure you water thoroughly prior to fertilizing, as not doing so, will result in the fertilizer burning the dry roots.
Resist the temptation to remove the mulch from your fuchsias in the ground. Removing the mulch too early, could result in a set back for your plants should we get some very cold nights. Night temperatures should be consistently in the mid-40's to be on the safe side. As a rule, late April is usually a safe time to awaken your in-ground fuchsias.
The practice of PINCHING or STOPPING is very important if you desire your fuchsias to be full and laden with blossoms. I think we have all heard of the term tough love, and this is the type of approach necessary when it comes to pinching. One has to be ruthless in removing the new growth tips every couple nodes. Failure to do this will result in a lanky plant with spare blossoms.
When starting the pinching process, begin counting up the stem from soil level. After the second set of leaves, you will notice the formation of a new set. Pinch, or snip out, using a tiny pair of scissors, such as manicure scissors with very sharp points. Your thumb and index finger also will suffice, just be careful not to damage other leaves. Perhaps that's where the old cliche, "Green Thumb" came from. After pinching a few hundred little tips, your thumb will indeed be green. This "pinching process" should be done uniformly on all sides to ensure a nicely shaped plant. There are some varieties that are very difficult to control and shape as you would like, since they have a mind of their own. Mood Indigo is one that comes to mind as not being the easiest to train and shape; at least the one I owned was very strong willed.
Each place where you pinched or snipped out the new growth, two new sets of leaves will appear in a short time, forming two new shoots. When these new shoots have produced two set of leaves, again pinch or snip out the tip. You may continue this process several more times. You be the judge. If you are not grooming your plants for show, pinching three times should give you the desired results.
It all depends on how full you would like your plant. Keep in mind; it will take 6 to 8 weeks after the last pinching for a single to produce blossoms, and 10 to 12 weeks for doubles.
If you would like a tighter or fuller crown, yet are ready to have the outer stems gain some length and begin draping down over your basket, stop pinching those outside stems, but continue pinching those inside closer to the crown. This will give you a nice rounded crown, while enjoying some earlier blossoms on the now longer outside branches.
Summer is now upon us, our spring garden duties are behind us, and summer maintenance is now before us. When it comes to maintaining our fuchsias there are some very important things to do, as without them, our fuchsias will not show forth their full beauty.
This article will not mention the importance of watering, as we have covered that in a separate handout, nor will it mention pinching or stopping as it is now a little late for that if you want to enjoy blossoms for the rest of the summer. It will mainly be on plant care.
It is very important to keep your plants clean. Any dead or fallen leaves, spent blossoms, etc., should be promptly removed from the pots, keeping them as clean as possible, not giving disease room to develop, or insects a place to lay their eggs
Spent faded blossoms and seed pods should also be removed promptly. If you do not remove them, the plant will not be encouraged to produce more. The blossom will eventually fall off and the seed pod will continue to mature, causing the plant to think it is time to go into dormancy. The greatest reward of growing fuchsias is the beautiful blossoms, so we want to keep them coming all summer.
Fuchsias are heavy feeders, so it is important to keep up with your fertilization routine. There is no set way of doing this. Some folk like to feed once a week while others like to give 1/4 strength fertilizer mixture each time they water. Do whatever works best for you.
Inspect your plants daily for any sign of pests. If you see one, you can be sure there is a host somewhere. They never seem to travel alone. Catching them early before you have a large infestation is, by far, the easiest to deal with. For myself, Whitefly seems to be the peskiest little beastie and the most difficult to eradicate completely. In addition to chemical sprays, I keep a spray bottle of a non-chemical mixture handy. The recipe is: 1 Tablespoon grated Ivory Soap, 1 cup 70% Isopropyl Alcohol, and water to equal 1 quart. This mixture will kill Whiteflies and Aphids on contact. If you catch them early enough you may not have to use chemical sprays as often.
Mist your plants several times a day during very hot weather to prevent Spider Mites from taking hold and destroying your plants. They can completely defoliate a plant overnight if not detected. If spider mites are detected on a plant, isolate that plant from the others immediately, and spray with a miticide, or you stand a chance of losing all your plants.
We'll have more information on changes in care as we approach the autumn season. Well-tended plants will usually bloom their hearts out until a good frost, so continue your regular care and have a great Fuchsia Growing Season.
Autumn is here and with it comes cooling temperatures and a slow diminishing of the lush plants we have so enjoyed over the summer. Let me preface the following information by saying there are many ways to winter over your fuchsias. This article will only deal with those we have had experience with and what has worked for us at our location in the Pacific Northwest. If you have been using other methods which have proved successful, please don't feel the need to change unless you want to try something different or easier.
Fuchsias need a time to prepare themselves for winter. You may be familiar wiht the term "a hardening off period". That is a term used for the period of time plants need to acclimate themselves to the impending colder months ahead. That period is beginning now. All ferilization and any activity promoting growth should be terminated. From mid-August to mid-September you may wish to alter your fertilizer to one low in nitrogen and high in potassium and phosphorous as these are the elements that will help prepare your plants for the colder time ahead. However, come mid-September, stop all ferilization.
All potting up or transplanting should be terminated as that activity promotes root growth. You may continue to remove spent blossoms, but allow the seed pods (berries) to remain on the plant to ripen. This will send a message to your plants that it is time to cease blossom production.
Decrease your watering schedule, but do not discontinue watering altogether. Fuchsia roots must not dry out. Dry roots equal a dead fuchsia.
The further into Autumn we get, the more you will notice your fuchsias becoming ratty looking, their leaves will begin to turn yellow and drop from the branches. This is not a pretty sight, and you may tend to think something is wrong, but don't worry about how they look. That is normal for this time of year.
Try to keep all falling debris cleaned up in your container fuchsias. This insures less room for insects to find their way in to hide, lay eggs, and lay waiting in your soil for Spring, (providing we have a mild winter) when they will awaken to five you fits right at the beginning of your growing season.
Allow your plants to go through a couple light frosts. This is necessary for a couple reasons. One, it helps to complete defoliation, and two, it drives the sap back from the tips of the plant. This is important, because some plants may need to be pruned in order to fit into the storage area. If there is sap in the tips, pruning could result in bleeding and die back.
Now, as usual, there is an exception to what has just been said. There are some Species, Fuchsias and Triphylla Hybrids that are generally not considered hardy, and do not like termperature lower then 45 degrees. If you do not want to chance losing them, transfer them to a more sheltered area when night time temperatures of less than 45 degrees are predicted. If you, as we do, have these non-hardy varieties planted in your garden bed, dig them up, plant in a container large enough to comfortably hold the root ball, and bring them inside a storage area that will meet the temperature requirements until Spring.
There is some controversy on this next point. I will present both sides and you decide. It has worked for us, however. During the Summer months, there are little insects that just love to invade your potted plants, laying eggs in the soil. To protect your plants from the resulting damage they will do as their cycle continues, you may wish to use a soil drench prior to putting your plants into storage. 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach to 5 gallon water will do the trick. Remove any remaining leaves and debris in the containers, where fungus or disease could form, be sure the soil in the pot is MOIST and apply the drench, allowing it to run completely through. Applying this drench to a dry plant will result in damage. Our wheelbarrow changes it's main purpose at this time, and serves as our drenching equipment. By catching all the mixture that runs through, it goes a little further.
Now, for the opposing view. Some growers feel this solution could damage the root system. All I can say is, we have tried both using the drench and not using it, and even though it is a lot of work, we feel more satisfied using it.
VERY IMPORTANT- Prune only what is necessary to fit the plant into it's storage area. You may have to prune severely. If you do, bleeding may occur, so give the plants sufficient drying time prior to placing them into storage. A little dab of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide on the cut will help heal and prevent any fungus or bacteria settling in at the pruning point. Using a Q-tip makes this task easy.
Fuchsias need about 12 weeks of dormancy. Actually while the top portion of the plant goes dormant, the roots do not go completely dormant. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they can usually be left outside until mid to late November. We also usually have sufficient rainfall to keep them moist. However, if they are in a protected area or rainfall is below normal, be sure to check them regularly. Again, fuchsias MUST NOT DRY out. I cannot emphasize this enough. More fuchsias are lost during winter storage due to lack of water than from freezing. A dry fuchsia is a dead fuchsia.
One cup of water per month should be sufficient. However, check often because varying sizes of containers could require a different schedule. For instance, plants in small 4" pots are going to dry out quicker than those in gallon size containers. Think you might have trouble remembering to water once a month? How about planning to water on the holiday schedule: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King's Birthday and Valentine's Day. By St. Patrick's day in March you should be able to begin bringing them outside part time and beginning the Spring routine of care.
Now, let's talk about some of the storage areas people have used. This article will by no means mention then all, but you will get the idea. Be inventive.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can have some fairly mild winters, therfore, if you don't have too many plants, you may be able to get by with just placing your fuchsias under a porch or on a patio/deck close to the wall. Even under a picnic table will work. Have a tarp or something to cover them with if the temperatures dip low. For a prolonged cold spell, you will have to bring them inside until the threat of freezing temperatures is over.
A large box, chest or even a large plastic bag, well insulated with shredded paper, vermiculite, barkdust, peat moss, dry leaves, etc., will work. Do not use Oak leaves. There should be 6-8 inches of insulation between the plants and all outside walls of the chosen container.
Garage, Basement, Shed or Window Well are also appropriate storage areas. There are other things to consider with these areas, however. They are usually well above freezing. Therfore fuchsias will be somewhat acitve, especially if the temperatures are above 40 degrees. This requires a good amount of light and air circulation, and may require water more often than once a month. Misting the branches periodically also provides a little humidity, which fuchsias also like.
If temperatures are consistently between 50-60 degrees, you may want to consider adding some artificial light. The reason being, those plants exposed to warmer temperatures and insufficient light will produce pale, spindly, weak growth unable to support the resultant leaves and blossoms.
A Garage or Shed may not have windows and may be in the 35-40 degrees range. Your plants will be dormant at that point, but will still need moisture occasionally and good air circulation.
If you have many plants, you may want to build a Cold Frame in which to store your fuchsias. We have directions for a very simple one, which, if you are interested, you may e-mail us at:firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to forward this to you. With a cold frame, as with a greenhouse, cleanliness is of the utmost importance as well as air circulation. Prior to placing any plants in either of these structures, scrub all inside areas with a Lysol, Bleach or Soap solution to get rid of any bacteria or insects which may have laid eggs inside.
An exception to the previous instruction regarding pruning also applies here. You will probably need to do most of your pruning at this time, rather than Spring, to fit as many plants as possible into the structure. This will also provide more circulation, which, as stated, is very important.
A very good investment is a Moisture Meter. These are available at most Nurseries, are reasonable, and could save you the loss of your plants. Sometimes a plant may look dry on the top, but is not dry at the roots. During the winter months, the roots are what we are concerned about. Of course, you can always stick your finger down around the roots to check, but often we come to a different conclusion than the Moisture Meter. We humans may have a hard time reading the mind of the fuchsia root. This little instrument could make the difference between a live or dead plant come Spring.
Once the plants begin to show signs of new growth, it is time to complete the pruning process, provided this was not done in the autumn, and move them to a sheltered area to begin their new growing season. Prune to the point where you see new growth. The timing for this is always variable, but usually around mid-March we can expect to see temperatures consistently above 40 degrees. If you ave removed them to a sheltered area and see below 40 degrees tmeperatures predicted, cover them with a tarp or something similar until things warm up.
Hardy Fuchsias in the ground require very little preparation for winter. In the Pacific Northwest, most hardy upright fuchsias will survive the conditons with a minimum of care. Approximately mid-October, prune back the tall branches to protect them from being whipped by the wind, then complete pruning in the Spring. If you prefer to cut them all the way back in the Fall, that is okay too. We have done it both ways. The main reason we like to prune down to just above the first two nodes above the ground, is because it is easier to get the mulch more evenly distributed over the top of the plant. Once the pruning is completed, cover each plant with a 6"-8" mound of mulch, compost, peat moss, leaves, etc. Caution - do not use Oak leaves. Completely cover the plants inside the drip line.
In the Spring, when all danger of frost is past, complete your pruning process if not done in the Autumn. Uncover the plant and prune back to live wood.
Do not be alarmed if all the branches appear to be dead. They may very well be dead. However, it is just as likely the branches are dead but not the root. Scrape a little bark off the woody area just below the surface of the soil. If there is green inside, the plant is alive and new growth will more than likely emerge from the root. This will take a little longer, but by summer you will have a nice looking plant.
Do not be discouraged if you lose a couple plants. We all do. Sometimes there are no explanations, it just happens. At least you will know you have done your best to bring them into another growing season.