Dad’s Top Drawer
By Jay Siegel
Have you ever asked yourself the question “Why do I raise fuchsias?” As I was driving home from giving a talk on fuchsias to a nearby garden Club, I found myself mulling that question over in my mind. Why do we put up with the problems of overwintering plants, rust, root rot, gall mites, white flies, aphids, slugs deer, botrytis sunburn, wind burn, and difficulty in getting some varieties?
I started to tick off the reasons why I raise fuchsias. The first thing that I came up with was the tried and trusted: “Fuchsia people are nice people”. Notice that I didn’t say perfect people. All people who grow and share their plant, regardless of type are special, but there is something about people who are attracted to fuchsias.
That’s nice, but, what about the plants? As specific plants, I believe that genus fuchsia is only out done in diversity by genus orchidaceae, without being quite as particular about their culture. The approximately 117 species of fuchsias are about as diverse as a single plant family can be. The combination of those species, along with a tendency to produce mutations has given us a variety of cultivars that is diverse in style, color, and use. They exist from sprawling ground covers to towering trees, from diminutive encliandra types to gigantic F. boliviana and F. fulgens hybrids, from tiny single blossomed cultivars to enormous double blossomed ones, from dainty upright growing to overwhelming trailing baskets. They exist in almost every color and combination of colors. Their leaves vary in size from very small to fairly large and in color from dark jade green, to glowing gold, to various mixtures of green, white, pink, red, and bronze.
Fuchsias adapt well to training into standards, pillars, rings, espaliers, fans, some forms of bonsai, displaying with other types of plants, and training into or onto just about anything. Their slender growth habit lends itself well to training on driftwood. Of course, few plants can compete with fuchsias when it comes to putting them into a basket and allowing the blossoms to cascade over the side.
Fuchsias are, generally speaking, easy to care for (except for requiring winter protection for non-hardy varieties), easy to propagate, easy to hybridize and, although we complain about the various beasties and illnesses that are indigenous to fuchsias, are relatively easy to care for. With the possible exception of the gall mite and slugs, the beasties that enjoy fuchsias can be controlled by various means- primarily soap solutions. Slugs are easily and safely controlled by the various iron phosphate compounds that are available. In the Northwest, the jury is still out on the gall mite, but prayerfully, no more will migrate up north again. The various fungal diseases are fairly easy to prevent, though once contracted may be difficult to get rid of. A good preventative program is always a good idea to prevent problems.
Environmental considerations are also easy to cope with. It is a misconception that all fuchsias cannot stand sun. While many can tolerate full shade and produce beautiful displays, and some varieties can only tolerate morning or afternoon sun, many other varieties not only tolerate direct sunlight, they are the better for it. Many fuchsias are not displayed at their best until they are subjected to sunlight until near burning. This summer, try putting some plants in full sun. You might be rewarded. Some of the reds and oranges fairly glow in the sun. About the only conditions that really cause problems with fuchsias are drying winds and hard rain. The winds can be overcome with misting, wind breaks and shade while the hard rain can be overcome by overhead protection.
The individual has the choice of investing minutes to hours a day in their fuchsias with the investment always being rewarded. Try some of the different methods of display other than hanging basket or a bush. Train one of the rapidly growing species up a trellis or the end of a porch. Start a “compot” or mixed planting using similar but different plants. Make a fuchsia tower using a variety of plants. Send a F. brevilobis or F. procumbens sprawling through a rockery. The possibilities are endless and you are almost always rewarded for your efforts.
And so, to answer my question at the beginning, I grow fuchsias because they are fun, challenging and rewarding. How about you?
Reprinted from Fuchsia Flash May 2001