One of the wonderful things about gardening is the generous exchange of plants, information and tips between gardeners. This immeasurably enriches all our gardens over time. Earlier this year, a chance conversation with another gardener led me to question my whole attitude to the cultivation of hybrid fuchsias in the garden, and - following her advice - this November I have the best crop of fuchsia flowers I have ever had!
I'd written about fuchsias some seven years ago in a blog, but my advice to readers was shamefully inadequate. The fuchsias I grew were OK, but not that great. As it turns out, the key to better fuchsias is in when to prune them and how to treat them after pruning. I had always pruned my fuchsias in September - on what basis, I have no idea. It may have been something I read in a gardening book written for a different climate than ours or just my own misguided reasoning. What I learned this year is that in Sydney, fuchsias should be pruned back by about half (more lightly for younger plants) in JULY. Yes, at the same time as pruning roses and hydrangeas. By pruning in September all these years, I had been cheerfully cutting off many of my potential blooms!
So with some trepidation, I pruned my fuchsias in July. Sure enough, they soon started sprouting afresh. I did a little tip-pruning for a few weeks to thicken up the shape of the bushes and started feeding them fortnightly, which I had never done before either. I began with a nitrogenous liquid fertiliser during August and September, then I started alternating that with a flower-promoting liquid fertiliser. I have been rewarded with a profusion of blooms on my fuchsias! I have revelling in the beauty of these gorgeous flowers for weeks now. I will remove dead flowers by hand to help keep them going and keep up the flower-promoting fertiliser each fortnight.
Fuchsias do best in a fertile soil that is moist yet has good drainage. They don't bloom well in very shaded spots so do need morning or filtered sun. Some cultivars actually prefer full sun. In my experience, the very frilly, ornate fuchsia cultivars don't do well in the garden, and should be regarded as a short-term proposition. Some tough cultivars that I've tried that do well include 'Ambassador', 'Pixie' (both pictured earlier in the blog), 'Bianca' and 'Joy Patmore'. It is a good idea to take cuttings of your favourites when you are pruning, as my fuchsia mentor told me that younger plants in general seem to cope better with Sydney's hot and humid summers than older specimens. Avoid heavy pruning of the plants in summer and don't water them heavily on a very hot day as this can be fatal to them.
There are also some species fuchsias that grow very well in our Sydney climate. The tree fuchsia (Fuchsia arborescens) grows to 2 or more metres tall and displays posies of tiny rosy-purple blooms throughout winter and most of spring. It can look spectacular grown as a standard. I prune this hard in November when flowering finally ceases. Fuchsia triphylla (ht to 90 cm), with pendulous bunches of long-tubed flowers, has a number of lovely cultivars, including the exquisite hot-pink 'Gerharda's Panache' and orange-red 'Coralle'. They seem to be in bloom all year round, so occasionally light pruning will keep them looking good. Perhaps the easiest of all the species to grow is Fuchsia magellanica (ht 1.5 m), which has dainty purple and red blooms like colourful earrings! It flowers from October to May. I think this one can be pruned in July just like the hybrid fuchsias.
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