Hardy Fuchsias

by Joyce Parker - September 1993

 Hardy fuchsias are easy. They reliably pay their rent year after year, offering a choice of blooms and heights and are almost pest and care-free. How is that for a garden tenant? Maybe that is why they are such a favourite of mine. Yet so few gardeners know about them. Possibly the first time I saw them was in my grandmother’s garden. Even she said they were easy and ‘iffy’ plants never lasted in her no-nonsense garden. They reminded her of country lanes on another island. Since then I have found other gardeners in our local Greater Victoria Geranium and Fuchsia Society who knew more about fuchsias and were eager to share both their plants and experience.

 Fuchsias are generally divided into three groups for hardiness: tender, semi-hardy and hardy. The hardy ones mentioned here are a group of fuchsias that can be planted outdoors in this area, southwest British Columbia. All hardy fuchsias do not have red and purple flowers, nor are all red and purple flowering fuchsias hardy. In the summer take a visit to the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Road in Saanich.

 To date about 40 registered hardy fuchsias are grown in two beds at the entrance to the Doris Page Winter Garden. The first bed was begun about five years ago with plants donated by myself and some purchased locally. Later more plants were added as found. A second bed was prepared opposite the first to accommodate this increasing collection. As even more plants are found, more space will be joyfully needed.

 There are tall ones suitable for hedging or as free-standing shrubs. These 5 feet by 5 feet types include Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis with slender branches and small red-purple flowers, F. m. ‘Riccartonii’ with heavier branches and red/purple flowers and F. m. var. molinae, usually called alba, with lighter green leaves and pale pink flowers. Slightly shorter ones include F. m. ‘Tricolor’ with variegated leaves of cream, green and pink and flowers of red and purple also, but not really needed when you have that gorgeous foliage. ‘Madame Cornelissen’ has red and white flowers and ‘UBC’ has long slender almost self-red flowers. ‘Dr. Otto’ a single and ‘Dr. Otto double are eye-catchers with exceptionally large flowers, in red and dark purple. These last two have larger flowers than most hanging basket types. I suggest pinching the ‘Doctors’ when planting them out as they think they are climbers and may sprawl. For pinching fuchsias (they like it, don’t worry), carefully with thumb and index finger pluck out the end two leaves.

 Also in mid-border, the visitor will see F. m. aurea with yellow-green leaves and red and purple flowers. ‘Chillerton Beauty’ is a soft pink and mauve and ‘Island Sunset’ is another beautifully three-coloured leaf type with red and purple flowers.

 In the front of the border one sees ‘Beacon’, again red and purple flowers, ‘Display’ with rose and pink flowers and ‘Lena’ pink and purple flowers. These last three are usually treated as tender hanging basket varieties by the home gardener and are lost or thrown out. Wrong! These are hardy varieties and can be planted in the ground and enjoyed year after year.

For rockeries, one can find ‘Tom Thumb’, perhaps the best known little fuchsia with his cheery red and mauve flowers. Near him one can find his sweet wife, ‘Lady Thumb’, with her pinkish green leaves, and pink and white flowers. Even shorter still, ‘Pumila’ a miniature F. m. gracilis, with miniature-sized leaves and flowers (but Oh, so many!) There is even a good sprawler, ‘Papoose’ with red and purple flowers, very useful for banks or as a novel ground cover.

 Hardy fuchsias like a site well dug over and loosened up. Add lots of peat moss, fir needles, leaf mould, compost, old manure, whatever you can get, and dig over again.

This site will have lots of sun, yes, with some shade during the hottest summer hours. Of course, being fuchsias, they need water – a good soaking at their roots. Water early in the day, before 10 AM if possible. Choose their actual planting position well as they like to stay where they are planted, and if properly sited, will live 30 or more years in the same place. The plants appreciate a four-inch mulch around their ankles keeping them warm in winter and cool in summer. This mulch is also an excellent slow-release fertilizer.

 Plants may be safely set out in May. Our Victoria Day weekend would be fine. Flowering begins in June or July depending on the year and continues through to November. No spraying with insecticides or staking is necessary. They grow virtually pest free. Slugs, snails, whitefly and aphids do not bother them out in the open garden. Do remove the berries or seed pods as they form.

 Take cuttings in late August or September. These cuttings are placed in plastic pots filled with moistened perlite, labelled correctly and placed on a propagating bed in the greenhouse. When fine white roots form (about three weeks), remove carefully and repot individually, using a sterilized potting soil and peat moss mix, into three-inch pots. They are then replaced onto the propagating bed until January. They are removed and grown on the greenhouse bench until ready to set outside. They can be fertilized weekly with 20-20-20 half-strength (one-half tablespoon to one gallon of water) in mid-March and repotted one size up. This procedure accounts for the higher cost when buying them. Greenhouses have to be heated in winter and fuel bills must be paid. To discourage aphids and whitefly, use appropriate control. Pruning is left until early spring when new green leaves appear. The taller the plant, the higher the cut. The shorter, the lower. Hedging types may be lightly pruned just snipping off the dead twiggy bits, or one can prune down to a framework of 1 to 1 1/2 feet. If deemed necessary or desirable, the gardener can prune right down to ground level. Fuchsias do not seem to mind as long as it is time to start growing. The mid-border and low varieties should be pruned down to one or two inches. They will look much better come summer. The lowest, miniature ‘Pumila’ can be pruned down to a one-half inch. No other pruning is necessary that year.

 Flowers come in many colours: red, purple (and shades in between), rose, pink and white. Some have single, semi-double, or fully double corollas (petticoats). Plants show upright growth habit, others slightly lax and there is a variety of heights. Their requirements are minimal – a morning drink on a hot summer day, a blanket of compost, a quick annual spring pruning and we can sit back and accept compliments from admiring friends. These plants do, however, dislike lime, wood ashes, drought, tricycles and gardeners who like to shift them about.

(This article first appeared in the Island Grower, March 1993.)