By William Meyn
Fuchsias are still in their dormant period during the first two months of the year. But another spring is approaching and soon they will be coming to life again. Shall we let them grow, encouraged by a good supply of winter rain? The results would not be very pleasing.
To prepare fuchsias for a new season of abundant flowering they should be pruned. While many shrubs can be spared the pruning shear for one or several years, it is not so with fuchsias. Probably no other plant responds so willingly to pruning as does the fuchsia.
The matter of correct pruning is a good example of how a little more knowledge can add greatly to the fun of growing fuchsias. This knowledge is acquired through experience plus close observation; it cannot be learned from a book or from this writing. In fact, there is a bit of adventure in the procedure of pruning fuchsias.
The reasons for pruning fuchsias are two-fold, first to shape the plant, and second to produce more flowers. As fuchsias always bloom on new wood and new growth is created by pruning, the necessity for pruning is obvious. Therefore pruning can be as severe as desired because there is no danger of cutting off future bloom. But if we forget or neglect to prune one fuchsia, it can be noticed for the rest of the year.
Pruning to shape fuchsias has no set rule, as hardly two plants are cut back the same, unless they are in a hedge of identical varieties. However, the principle of pruning is always the same. The end product should be a frame work of strong branches. All the thin, weak and undesirable branches, as well as any dead wood, should be removed entirely. The remaining branches should be cut back to any desired height with all good side branches reduced to two or three pairs of dormant buds or cut back at least two-thirds.
Old established plants can be cut back about the same every year and they will grow again to their former size. Low bush types can be pruned as such, tall varieties can be shaped into pillars or large spreading shrubs, or they can be trained flat and espaliered against a wall, fence or trellis.
There is a great choice in the habits of different varieties and they are so versatile that they can be fitted into any spot in the garden.
For hedges, a uniform height and width is desired and they should be pruned accordingly. Here too, all the weak and spindly branches should be cut out from the inside of each plant, while the remaining branches should be cut back to an even height.
If left undisturbed, many fuchsias have a tendency to climb if they find some kind of support. Frequently such fuchsias can be seen which have reached through the root of a lath house or have climbed up a tree. If such climbers interfere with other plants or cause too much shade, drastic pruning may have to be done. Otherwise the pruning job is the same, leaving a skeleton of strong branches only.
The principle is essentially the same for basket plants, yet there is some difference in pruning the real trailing varieties such as Cascade, Red spider, and many others, and the more rigid types. The trailers will have some branches left protruding over the edge of the basket or other constrainer, instead of having upright branches. The object is to promote new growth from the center of the plant which will develop into a well balanced basket. The more rigid types, however, are pruned in the same severe manner as low bush plants in the ground.
In most localities, the heavy pruning should be done in the spring as soon as damager of freezing is past. Only in frost free areas is it safe to prune during the winter. But experience has taught us that some varieties are quite hardy and we prune them during the winter months. We prefer to do this for two reasons. One is they this early pruning supplies us with flowers much earlier. Another reason is that it is difficult to take care of the pruning later when the busy time of other spring work comes around. Naturally we take a chance in case we have a severe winter. Immediately following the pruning comes the task of staking and typing the plants, cleaning the ground and spraying, then mulching and the first fertilizing of the year. Some baskets may have to be done over. Do not forget to check all labels for the correct names.
The fuchsias are now ready for a new season. In a few weeks new growth will appear. Pinching back the new shoots supplements pruning and is carried on through the growing season until blooming starts. This pinching makes good, bushy, stocky plants and is necessary for symmetrical growth.
Do not expect a single yearly pruning to take care of the shaping of fuchsias. Cut out superfluous branches and weak growth whenever they appear. All-year pruning will produce a shapely, vigorous, and floriferous plant. Also, by cutting back different plants at different times, it is possible t have bloom almost all the year through. This is called “timing” of fuchsias.
Pruning is not difficult. By close observation the proper way of pruning can soon be learned. And more joy in growing fuchsias will be yours.
January and February are key months in the control of unseen pests and diseases. Experienced growers have learned through the years that it pays to fight pests and diseases when they are in the over-wintering stages, because the powerful dormant spray materials can be used while the plants are bare of leaves.
Do the job thoroughly. Drench all crevices on the branches and on the main trunk of trees and shrubs after you have finished pruning. Don’t be afraid of wasting the spray on the ground. Its action will be effective on the soil as well as on the plant itself. Dormant spraying is good insurance.
Mr. William Meyn is a well known fuchsia expert and horticulturist. He is a member of the Whittier Branch of the California National Fuchsia Society. Mr. Meyn originally wrote the above article for The Fuchsia Fan. The AFS is grateful to Mr. Meyn and the Fuchsia Fan for permission to reprint this timely message of fuchsia culture.
From AFS Bulletin 1 January 1965