Fuchsia Care Calendar
With Culture Information
Rodney Bergquist President AFS
Several members have suggested that we need a fuchsia care calendar printed in the AFS Bulletin fi for no other reason than to assist the members-at-large who are not able to attend local branch meetings. Because some branches would prune fuchsias in February and others would prune in March or April, I decided to explain the various aspects of fuchsia care and let you apply the steps when you have when you have the proper climate.
Keep in mind that I am not writing a book so my fuchsia care information is limited to basic fuchsia care practices applied at various times throughout the year. If you need more information on a particular subject, you need to contact a local fuchsia branch, local nursery or e-mail our AFS fuchsia consultant listed on the AFS Web Site or check out the available fuchsia books listed on the Web Site.
Fuchsias like filtered sun, not direct sun. Fuchsias prefer temperatures around 55°-80°, yet many select heat tolerant fuchsias are able to maintain their blooms up to about 90°.
Step One (late winter months)
Rust/Dormant Spray: Remove old dead leaves from your pots so they do not rot. Rust is little orange fungus spores usually noticed on the bottom side of the leaves. Segregate affected plants and spray thoroughly to protect other leaves from becoming infected. Spray with whatever product your local nursery recommends. I also spray with some type of dormant spray before plants start leafing out in early spring. Usually one of the horticultural or pesticidal oils will do a good job of smothering some of the insect eggs that made it through the winter.
Step Two (early spring)
Potting soil: Fuchsias require a potting soil that does not retain a lot of water. My fuchsias improved significantly when I started adding cactus soil to my favorite potting soil to provide additional drainage.
When it begins to warm to temperatures above about 55°, your plants will want to start their aggressive growth cycle. For most people this is the time to prune and repot if necessary. Always prune after the last hard frost/freeze. I water and fertilize with 1/2 strength fertilizer a couple days before pruning. It is important that you prune back fuchsias because they bloom on new growth. I cut hanging baskets back to the edge of the pot. Prune uprights down to 6-10 inches high and leave two or three nodes on each side branch. I repot using a soil mix that has good drainage. After pruning and repotting, I water in the new soil; then I do not water or fertilize again until my plants start to show some new leaf buds, usually in about a month. Remember after pruning, a plant does not have many leaves and it is not hot so the plant does not require much water.
Planting in the Ground:
The best time to plant fuchsias in the ground is when they are in their early spring aggressive growth cycle. For fuchsias already in the ground, prune them back about half to two-thirds of their growth.
Step Three (early spring, continued)
Watering/Fertilizing: When new leaf buds start to appear I feed my fuchsias with a balanced fertilizer, i.e. 18-18-18 at half strength each time I water. It is hard to do but I try to water my fuchsias as individual plants. When it comes to water, fuchsias are like people. Some drink a lot of water while others require very little. What seems to work best for me is letting the soil show signs of drying out before I water it again. One of the most important factors affecting fuchsia survival is not having a well-drained soil or over-watering fuchsias in a potting soil that is holding too much water. Once the roots begin to rot, it is difficult for the plant to recover.
Step Four (early spring, continued)
Pinching: Pinching new growth affects the shape and number of flowers plants will produce. When new growth has made two sets of new leaves, pinch or cut out the growing tip. By removing the tip, the plant will send out two new shoots. When new shoots have made two sets of leaves, pinch out the tips again. Pinch two or three times. You can expect flowers six to ten weeks after the last pinching.
Step Five (early spring, continued)
Insects: Aphids/Whiteflies: This is the time of year when insect eggs hatch and start to feed on your plants. I have learned that you cannot kill all the aphids and whiteflies in the garden, and even if I could, the garden will be re-populated by insects flying in from the neighbors yards. I try to keep my plants healthy by attacking aphids when I notice the initial leaf damage and whiteflies before they become embarrassing. I always try to use the least toxic pest control product that I am aware of that works.
Step Six (summer months)
Maintenance: Most fuchsias will continue to bloom through late fall. Continue to water and fertilize plants as required. After fuchsias start blooming and the flowers become old, I remove the seedpods so that the plant will bloom again. Spider mites love a hot dry climate and fuchsias. Consult your local nursery for the best pest control products available for the pest you are treating. Keeping bugs from damaging plants is a continuous fuchsia care practice.
Step Seven (summer months, continued)
Hot Temperatures: Fuchsias will require more water during the warm summer months. Keeping fuchsias watered during a heat wave is critical. I try to water early in the morning or late in the evening. Remember a totally dry plant is a dead plant. A lot of fuchsia blooms will wilt in excessive heat and we need to understand they are not hot-climate plants. Hot and DRY days are a dangerous combination for fuchsias. If humidity drops below 20%, I lower my hanging baskets close to the ground and mist the leaves. I also try to keep the surrounding areas as damp as possible using a garden hose.
Step Eight (late fall)
Preparing for Winter: As the tree leaves start to turn color and the air stays moist, it is time to cut back significantly on the water and stop fertilizing. Only water individual plants when the potting soil looks like it is starting to dry out. Leave the seedpods on the plants so they will spot blooming and shift their energy to making the branches tough and durable to withstand winter temperatures above 32°.
Step Nine (cold winter months)
Winter Care: Water just enough to keep plants alive. Do not let the roots freeze.
The bottom line:
A totally dry plant or a plant with frozen roots is a dead plant. Take whatever steps necessary for where you live to protect the roots of your fuchsias