Spare the Secateurs and Spoil the Fuchsia
Journal of the Australian Fuchsia Society, October, 2004
Since my first fuchsia winter (two years ago) I knew the time would come when I would have to bite the bullet, or rather, prune the plants. I watched my first batch of plants straggle into spring, getting leggier and producing fewer blooms. But produce the did, so I kept putting it off, and of course, kept adding new plants. Oh, every now and then I would pinch them a bit, but I certainly didnt want to take too much off.
But the time had come. I had thirty odd plants in baskets and I could see that they werent happy. The blooms were at the ends of the branches and they didnt look anything like the pictures I had of abundant, fat flowers borne on thickly leafed stems. At least they were alive! What if I did it wrong and killed them?
In April of this year, the society was invited up to Don Scrases Wealdview Gardens to celebrate the nurserys 21st birthday. During the afternoon Don offered to demonstrate a winter prune on one of his baskets of Ed le Guarde. Beauty, I thought. Ill just do whatever he does and it is bound to be ok.
Don picked up the secateurs and started snipping at the big, beautiful basket. And kept on snippingand snippingand snipping. Within minutes, the floriferous, leafy plant had been reduced to a bunch of sticks. I was appalled. How could this be right?
I looked around at the other members. They looked very casual. They looked at me. They laughed and assured me that this was right. Come June/July, I too should be denuding my plants in this manner. (Remember that seasons in Australia are opposite of ours in the Northern HemisphereE)
The June meeting of the Society was programmed as a cutting swap and demonstration night. Three of the members were going to demonstrate their pruning and propagation methods. We were then going home to do just that: prune and propagate. When they began my worst fears were realized. Baskets and bushes disappeared in the wink of an eye, leaving a cluster of bare branches, sometimes with just a leaf or two. This was the cold, hard reality of the fuchsia world. Could I do this to my babies?
I walked straight over to Orange Mirage, picked up a long branch, and with one mighty clip of the secateurs, it was in my hands and into the basket. Without once looking him in the eye, I zeroed in on the last bud on each new wood, andsnipoff came the branches. I cut and I snipped and I cut and I pruned. As each basket was done, I selected good growing tips, sterilized them and placed them into the cutting mix. Labeled, dated and covered in plastic domes, they went into the shade house.
The next day I was out there again. I still had about ten baskets to go. The procedure was the same, except this time the cuttings went into polystyrene boxes and covered in plastic bags. I did not look up. I especially did not look any of my plants in the eye. If I saw just one sad face I knew I could not go on.
At long last, it was over. I felt as though I had just come through a war zone. The green bin was filled to overflowing with branches and trails of leaves littered the back yard. The shade house was filled with domed pots; the boxes were bagged and tagged. At long last, I looked up. I looked for my babies, hanging from trees, frothing over walls, hugging trunks and decorating brickwork. And all I could see was sticks.
Everywhere I looked, there were baskets of sticks and pots of sticks. A lone leaf stuck belligerently to a branch here and there, but other than that, the winter of discontent was upon us. Here was nothing left to do but wait.
Its now September, and as I write this, theres somewhat of a spring in my step. All my plants except Applause are back. Theyre as green as Kermit and some of them look better than when I bought them. Ive been pinching them out scrupulously, encouraging them into thick, bushy growth. Of course, now I have started worrying that they wont flower in time for the show. Does this anguish never end?
As for my cuttings, Im as happy as Larry. (Does anyone actually know who Larry is?) My previous attempts have run at around a ten percent strike rate, and when I put dozens of cuttings into striking medium of four parts premium potting soil to one part sharp sand, I didnt expect much of a return. I did not even buy extra five-inch pots because I did not think I would not need too many. How wrong I was.
About half of my cuttings were propagated in five inch pots, covered with domes of PET bottles cut in half (Pepsi in my household). In spite of a long, cold and very wet winter here on the Adelaide Plains, I only lost a few to mould when they just got too damp.
The other half were done by placing trays, tubes and pots of cuttings into a Styrofoam box, which is then placed inside a plastic bag and left for six weeks. Of course, the only real problem with this method (from my perspective anyway) is that if you use a white garbage bag, as I did, you cant see whats happening and the temptation to open the bag can be overbearing! Ah, but the pleasure of opening the bag at the end of that time and seeing dozens of beautifully upright stems sporting brand new leaves is worth the wait. One hundred percent success!
I had six boxes going and about thirty domed pots. I have had to buy five inch pots in bulk as I now have about 400 seedlings. Some are going to friends, I am keeping quite a few and hopefully the rest make it to the stage where I can sell them at the Show in November.
This spring I am finally beginning to think I might be able to make a go of this fuchsia thing. Now I just have to worry about summer. Sigh!