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Fuchsia

Fuchsia flowersFuchsias add colour to borders, pots and hanging baskets. With a long flowering season, they range from upright bushes to trailers and large standards. The flowers include singles, semi-doubles and doubles, and can be upward or outward facing.

Recommended varieties

There are thousands of different types of fuchsia, having been bred from a handful of wild species found in Mexico, the West Indies and New Zealand.

The first to be named was F. triphylla, found in the Dominican Republic, probably around the end of the 17th century. The discoverer, Father Charles Plumier, was a French Franciscan monk and botanist who named the plant after Leonhart Fuchs - a 16th-century German doctor and herbalist.

Colours vary from pinks, purples, whites and reds to sober or flashy multicoloured mixtures (true yellow is still elusive). Several (for example Fuchsia magellanica) can even be grown as hedges.

They basically divide into the hardy ones that can be left outside all year, the bushy or upright and tender kind for pots, and the dangling, trailing ones for hanging baskets.

All of the flowers have three parts: the upper tube; the sepals beneath that often point out like wings (they look like petals but aren't); and the corolla (the real petals) - the skirt-like growth underneath the sepals. Each can be a different colour in some varieties.

Hardy fuchsias

These involve little effort, apart from a spring pruning to generate new growth.

  • F. magellanica: flowers non-stop from mid-summer to autumn. It makes a terrific red-flowering hedge, reaching 3m (10ft) high and growing nearly half as wide. Its two best forms are the 1.5m (5ft)-high var. gracilis with scarlet and purple flowers, and the low-growing, 60cm (2ft) high 'Variegata' with white-edged, light green leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has given var. gracilis and 'Variegata' its Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
  • F. 'Riccartonii': widely grown and justifiably popular, it makes dense, twiggy growth that can reach 1.8m (6ft). Its large number of single flowers have a scarlet tube and deep purple corolla. The RHS has given it the AGM.
  • F. 'Tom Thumb': a dwarf hardy variety, about 23cm (9in) high, which has single flowers of crimson and mauve. It's ideal in a rockery, where it can be seen clearly. This plant's also been given the AGM.
  • F. 'Madame Cornelissen': low-growing at 30cm (75in), it makes a small hedge or divide, and has semi-double scarlet and white flowers.

Pot plants

  • F. 'Annabel': at 60cm (2ft) high and wide, this has beautiful white flowers with a pink flush. Because the stems are quite lax, it can also be grown in hanging baskets. It's been given the AGM.
  • F. 'Celia Smedley': highly rated by professionals and amateurs, it has a mass of large pink and red flowers, set off by the fresh green leaves. Vigorous and strong growing, 75cm (2.5ft) high and wide, it can also be grown as a standard. The plant's been given the RHS' AGM.
  • F. 'Tennessee Waltz': upright and bushy, with a height and width of 60cm (2ft), this has an abundance of pink and lilac flowers right through summer and early autumn. It has AGM accreditation.

Trailing fuchsias

  • F. 'Pink Marshmallow': makes a terrific show in a hanging basket, with scores of large, pink flowers set against its light-green leaves. It's been given the AGM.
  • F. 'Swingtime': a popular, flashy variety which produces double blooms of red sepals and fluffy bright white corollas. It's not for the timid. Measuring 60cm (2ft) high by 75cm (30in) wide, it too has been given the AGM.

Growing tips

Hardy fuchsias: Plant them in spring, with the roots slightly deeper than if they were in a container, to offer extra protection during winter. In colder areas of the country, place them at the foot of a sunny, sheltered wall in well-drained soil, and provide winter protection.

Prune hard in spring, leaving just 15cm to 30cm (6in to 12in) of stem, from which new growth will shoot. Plants grown as hedges should be less severely pruned, although a portion of the old frosted wood should always be removed. Only prune when new breaking buds are visible.

Container plants: The majority of fuchsias are tender and therefore prone to frost damage. However, they can be grown easily outside from June to early autumn, before being brought into a frost-free greenhouse over winter. Grow new young plants in John Innes No2, and pinch out the young shoots regularly to encourage bushiness. These can be used as cuttings.

Stop pinching out after late spring or you'll postpone flowering. Begin feeding the plants six weeks after you've re-potted them. Either use an all-purpose feed or high-nitrogen fertiliser in spring, to encourage leafy growth, followed by a high-potash feed once buds appear. Promptly remove fading flowers throughout the summer.

In early September, reduce watering to let the older wood mature. By the end of the month, the plants should be kept almost dry. Stand them in the greenhouse and remove any remaining leaves. Then stop watering. And don't prune until the spring, when new shoots will begin to grow from the base and all the older wood can be removed. Re-pot immediately.

Greenhouse growing: Any fuchsia can be grown year-round in a greenhouse. This is essential for species such as the red-flowering F. triphylla or F. procumbens, which has a prostrate habit and yellow flowering tube, to perform well. Plant them in pots of John Innes compost, or directly into the ground. Except for this species and triphylla types, which need a minimum winter temperature of 7°C (45°F), most, including the cultivars, can be over wintered successfully at just 10°C (34°F). If you want the flowers to keep blooming over winter, maintain a temperature of at least 13°C (55°F).

Greenhouse humidity, watering, and ventilation: This is best created by soaking the floor during hot weather using a watering can, and mist-spraying the plants. Never allow pots to dry out, and avoid the full intensity of the midday sun. Also, open greenhouse vents on hot days, as fuchsias dislike stagnant air.

Standard fuchsias: Begin by allowing one stem from a young plant to grow upwards, pinching out the side shoots as they appear. Once the stem has reached the desired height, allow three pairs of leaves to grow at the top, and pinch these out to create bushy growth.

Problem solver

Look for attacks of whitefly or greenfly. The bugs can either be squashed manually or treated with a proprietary spray.

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