by Naomi Mathews (Lanao2(at)aol.com)
It's that time of year when greenhouses and specialty nurseries are brimming with beautiful trailing fuchsias simply begging for a summer home. Visit any greenhouse in early spring and you will be greeted by gorgeous hanging baskets filled fabulous fuchsias. Their gaily colored flowers resembling miniature ballet dancers in multi-colored tutus will sway and nod winsomely toward you.
Could they be beckoning you to choose them to grace your deck, balcony, porch, or patio for the summer? If you're like me, you probably can't resist their charming invitations. But will they happily thrive where you live? This is an important factor to consider before you get carried away by their flirtatious ways, as fuchsias can be fussy about where they live.
Trailing fuchsias are especially persnickety about their environment. However, they can be successfully grown as tender annuals if their essential needs are met. Further, trailing fuchsias are superb plants for hanging containers. Given a fair amount of TLC, they will bloom profusely from early summer throughout late fall.
When we lived on what I call the "wet" side of the beautiful Cascade Mountains in Washington state, I enjoyed my hanging baskets filled with glorious trailing fuchsias every year. I looked forward eagerly to my annual spring pilgrimage to the nursery in search of the latest species of trailing fuchsias.
Some years, I purchased baskets already planted with full-grown fuchsias, their lush foliage and fabulous single or double blossoms drooping elegantly over the sides of their containers. Other years, I planted hanging fuchsia baskets myself. I loved filling containers with fresh potting soil, then carefully planting my new spring assortment. After my containers were planted, I knew it wouldn't be long until my pint-size fuchsias would be equally as lovely as those I had purchased full-grown.
If you're one of those do-it-yourself gardeners eager to plant a trailing fuchsia basket or two, why not join me and we'll have a planting party? We now live on the "dry" side of the Cascade Mountains, but I do have some shady areas where I can hang fuchsia baskets. I'll explain their "fussiness" as we move along in our fuchsia planting adventure.
Some Basic Fuchsia Facts
It's always wise to learn about the basic needs of any specific flowers or plants you decide to grow before planting them. This will save you time, effort, money, AND disappointment!
Fuchsias come in wide varieties ranging from tall shrubs to very fragile greenhouse specimens. The three groups within these varieties are classified as Hardy Fuchsias, Tender Fuchsias, and Trailing Fuchsias. Their dissimilar flower forms include the following: Single, Semi-Double, Double, and Clustered.
As their name suggests, hardy fuchsias can withstand colder winter temperatures than their "tender and trailing" cousins. Hardy varieties tend to be shrubby and are great for planting in mixed borders or hedges. Be aware, however, that some species labeled hardy are really only borderline hardy. If not protected during the winter, they will likely lose some leaves or suffer other cold damage, especially if temperatures dip below 39 degrees F.
Tender fuchsias always need some winter protection in colder areas. This variety is a superb outdoor summer container plant. It can be treated as an annual or moved to a sheltered area in the winter.
True to their name, trailing fuchsias are the most desirable for planting in suspended containers. Their branches are notably weaker than those of hardy and tender varieties. This results in a natural trailing growth habit that lets them cascade beautifully over the edges of their containers. When in full bloom, their delicate multi-colored blossoms droop in gorgeous masses from arching slender stems, presenting a dazzling, almost ethereal look. Trailing fuchsias are planted as annuals in most areas.
What "Fussy" Trailing Fuchsias Need to Thrive
Location is Critical
Trailing fuchsias are the most fussy about temperature, much like many humans. They don't like it too hot, they don't like it too cold -- but they LOVE it when it's just right! What does this mean for an aspiring fuchsia gardener who wants to grow some in a hanging basket?
Primarily, it means your fuchsias will want only about four hours of direct sunlight a day, preferably in the morning. If you live a temperate climate such as the Pacific Northwest enjoys, you're in luck. All varieties of fuchsias seem to love the climate the Pacific Northwest offers. Should you live in an area where hot, dry summers prevail, you will need a cool, shady spot to hang your fuchsia baskets. This can be a shaded corner of your patio, deck, balcony, or maybe an entryway on the north side of your home. Just remember, all fuchsias prefer moderate temperatures. Therefore, LOCATION should be your number one priority.
Selecting proper containers for trailing fuchsias is important. Containers come in many styles, shapes, sizes and are made from a variety of materials. Since the trailing fuchsias we're planting will be suspended, containers should be lightweight but sturdy. Pottery containers aren't a great choice as they are heavy and dry out quickly. Many people prefer wire containers filled with sphagnum moss. These are lovely and light, but also dry out faster than plastic containers.
Plastic containers are a great choice as they are lightweight and offer color selections, hanging devices, and drip trays. Since plants in containers require adequate drainage holes, drip trays are essential. Watering hanging containers without drip trays can be messy, especially when hung on balconies, decks, or entryways.
Soil and Fertilizer Fuchsias thrive in rich, fertile soil. I suggest filling containers with a commercial soilless potting mix. Soilless mixes help retain water while providing good drainage and aeration. Also, soilless mixes have been sterilized and are free of diseases and weeds. Soilless mixes contain combinations of organic matter including peat moss, fir or pine bark, and redwood shavings, as well as vermiculite, perlite, and sand. These ingredients make soilless mixes lighter in weight -- a definite plus for suspended containers.
I like to add a slow-release fertilizer following planting, as hanging baskets are more difficult to fertilize after they're hung. If you choose not to use slow-release fertilizer granules, fertilize your hanging fuchsias with a water-soluble fertilizer about every two weeks.
Select Fuchsias Wisely
With so many varieties to choose from, you won't have a problem selecting some that suit your tastes in color and form. Fuchsias are the most eye- catching when containers are filled with only one variety. Too many varieties planted in the same container often detract from the overall impression.
For example, some varieties bloom earlier or later than others and will need to be pinched back at different times. This could make your hanging basket look somewhat frazzled. Also, some varieties have large double blossoms while others bear smaller single blossoms. Planted together, the larger blossoms will likely dominate or even hide the beautiful smaller blossoms.
For variety, adding a companion plant to your fuchsia basket can be very charming. Several trailing lobelias can be easily interspersed, creating a light, airy look.
The Planting Process
Select an odd number of plants for hanging baskets. How many fuchsias you will need for a luxuriant overall effect will depend on your container's size. Purchase enough plants in 4-inch pots to space evenly around the outer edge of your container. Select at least one plant for the center so you won't have a bare spot in the middle as your fuchsias begin to cascade downwards.
Fill your container about one-third full of potting mix, spreading it evenly across the bottom. Arrange the plants in your hanging container before removing them from their small pots. Watering each nursery pot before removing the fuchsias will help loosen the soil without disturbing their roots too much. Tip the pots onto their sides and gently tap them until the plants and rootballs can be easily removed.
Plant your fuchsias along the outer edge first, spacing them evenly, then plant your center plant. Next, fill all the spaces between plants with more potting mix, smoothing the soil gently with your hand. Finally, add the slow-release fertilizer granules followed by light watering. Dressing the final layer of soil with mulch or bark will help retain water.
Situate the chains or other hanging device so your fuchsias can grow around them. This can be tricky, but take time to do it now as you won't want to untangle tender branches from chains later. Tie the chains to a slender cane placed in the center of your container to prevent them from becoming entangled in the plants. Voila! You are ready to hang your fabulous fuchsias with a flair!
Watering, Pinching Back, Deadheading, Rotating, Pest Control
Water hanging fuchsia baskets regularly and often enough to keep the soil moist. Don't let them dry out completely as they will become stressed. Pinch stems back as needed to maintain a uniform shape and encourage further blooming. Deadhead all spent blossoms to keep your basket looking tidy and your deck or balcony free of debris. If necessary, rotate your hanging baskets whenever they begin to look unbalanced.
There are a few pests to watch for that like fuchsias such as spider mites, thrips, whiteflies, aphids, and fuchsia gall mites. All pests should be treated immediately with an appropriate insecticide.
A Closing Note
Although fuchsias have no fragrance, hummingbirds are attracted to their bright colored flowers. Also, their nectar-rich tubular blossoms are perfect for hummingbirds to sip nectar from with their needle-like beaks. This is icing on the cake for fuchsia growers. What could be more fascinating than watching "jewels of the sky" sipping nectar from your fabulous fuchsias, hung with a flair!