UK gardening help and assistance

This article was originally published on the web at however that website is defunct at July 2013. The copyright remains with the original author.

Fuchsias - overwintering

Fuchsias are in fact deciduous perennial shrubs that will normally shed their leaves as the temperature falls during the autumn and then naturally have a period of dormancy during the winter.

Though, with the aid of artificial heating the period of dormancy is greatly reduced by the enthusiast exhibitor there is still a lot to be said for letting nature take its course.

The basic requirements for overwintering fuchsias are:

  • Plants need to be kept frost free at all times
  • Compost must be kept slightly moist but never be allowed to dry out completely.

According to stipulations we can divide our fuchsias into four groups:

  1. Hardy Fuchsias, those that are permanently planted out in the open ground
  2. Mature Fuchsias, grown in pots and baskets with ripened, woody growth
  3. Young plants, with soft green growth, to be gently grown on (the biennial system)
  4. Triphylla types

A) Hardy Fuchsias, those that are permanently planted out in the open ground in the garden, need very little attention in preparation for their winter rest.

  • Tidy up the plants somewhat by only pruning back excessively long and straggly growth, but do not cut back hard. The topgrowth should be left on to give a little added protection against frost. If pruned back hard now the short hollow stems that remain will collect water which could result in severe frost damage.
  • Protect the crowns of the plants by mulching with spent compost, straw, leaves, bark or leafmould and/or draw up garden soil, also an excellent insulator.

Plants that have been in situ for a number of years will have a substantial root system, which will be deep enough down to be well protected. In a 'normal' winter frost seldom penetrates the soil more than a few inches here at the coast in Scarborough. However, occasionally a severe winter can occur and as we never know when it will strike it's better to be prepared every time!).

Newly planted hardy fuchsias or fuchsias used as summer bedding which you are going to take a chance with, will need some extra attention. The first winter when the root system is still relatively near the soil surface is critical. Better make sure you are extra generous with the mulching material for these plants and check occasionally during the winter that it is still in place. Blackbirds especially have the habit of dislodging the carefully built mulching piles in the hunt for juicy worms, scattering it all over. The wind too can play havoc with light loose material such as leaves or straw.

B) Mature Fuchsias grown in pots and baskets with ripened woody growth, including those deemed to be hardy need to be kept frost-free during the winter.

  • Prepare plants and ripen the wood (to slow down the sap) by standing them outdoors in a light airy area in September and reduce watering.
  • Defoliate plants. Naturally, by letting nature take its course as the first light autumn frost takes care of doing this for you, usually sometime during October. Or, remove the foliage the tedious way, stripping the plants down manually. Tedious yes, but ever so important to do. With the leaves you also remove the last traces of pests and diseases that could otherwise be harboured on the undersides of the foliage and set off an unwelcome outbreak at the onset of spring. You will also be able to put the plants closer together, won't have to worry about falling yellowing leaves that could aid botrytis, and you can see the compost surface better, facilitating the watering.
  • Prune plants back by about a third, this is usually a couple of leaf joints above the last stop. Do this when the sap has slowed down and cut just above a node . Do not cut back too hard to avoid die-back. If excessive bleeding should occur the pruning cuts can be sealed with (clear) nailpolish, copydex or a proprietary sealing compound.
  • Spray or dip plants using a combined fungicide/insecticide mix.
  • Place plants in a frost free place. (see below for method and suitable storage places)
  • Summer bedders need to be dug up carefully and left to dry out a little under cover. Then the roots are trimmed back to the original rootball so it fits the pot again and proceed as above.

C) Young plants, with soft green growth, grown on the biennial system do need to be kept in a heated greenhouse.

  • Provide some heat to keep the plants growing gently. It is however imperative not to give too much heat during the winter months when light levels are low. From November to February 35-40°(2-5°C) is adequate. This will do very nicely for the cost-conscience grower - an increase by 5°F will double the cost! (40°F in November/December increasing to 45°F in March/April is the favoured regime of many growers). It certainly is no good at all providing excessive heat before light levels naturally increase in spring as it will only lead to weak, long jointed growth.
  • As well as heat, good light and fresh air are vitally important. Keep window spic and span! Ventilate freely whenever weather conditions are suitable and that is actually most days!!
  • Provide the usual TLC. Turn every few days to ensure even growth. Check for watering and keep just slightly moist. Take care to allow adequate space around each plants to assist airflow, bearing in mind that your greenhouse should not be too crammed now, as the plants and space needed will roughly double in size by spring.
  • Some natural leaf drop is unavoidable, but great care must be taken to remove such dropped leaves immediately to avoid then decaying and causing botrytis.
  • Inspect plants frequently for first signs of pests and diseases - prevention is better than cure. (So much easier to deal with a few minor mites - just rub out with finger and thumb - than having an infestation on your hands in spring.)

D) Triphylla types are considered to be more tender but mature plants can be safely overwintered in a dormant state at a temperature of 35-40°F (2-5°C)

  • In the Autumn follow the normal routine of reducing watering, cut back by approx. one third, remove remaining foliage, spray or dip in fungicide/insecticide mixture.
  • Keep compost just moist, not wet. Check occasionally to make sure they are not drying out.
  • In spring move to light position and prune the upright varieties back hard to about 10cm (4"), trailers not quite as severe maintaining a well shaped framework.

However a better success rate seems to be achieved by overwintering tryphyllas in semi-dormant state. (Method preferred by exhibitors)

  • In August/September cut back hard to about 10cm (4") above compost surface.
  • Lay plants on their sides in sheltered position. A damp gravel area is ideal for this. Placed on their sides encourages formation of more shoots on the lower parts of the old wood - spraying this old wood occasionally will assist to keep this soft to ensure even more growth.
  • After a few weeks when sufficient growth shows and before first frost, place plants, upright again, in greenhouse in good light.
  • Minimum temperature of 40°F (5°C) needs to be maintained, increasing to 45°F (7°C) in February when light levels naturally increase. Avoid excessive heat - combined with insufficient light it leads to weak, leggy growth.
  • Water plants regularly to keep just moist and feed occasionally with diluted high nitrogen fertilizer.

Please note that young triphylla plants need a slightly higher temperature than the older ones and should be kept going through the first winter, just ticking over at 5-C (40-45°F) or even better, especially if you took autumn cuttings, actively growing (abeit slowly) at 45-50°F (7-10°C). You can place these plants in a propagator or partition off a small section of your greenhouse to maintain the higher temperature for them without incurring the cost of heating the whole greenhouse