How to grow fuchsias

Val Bourne / 26 September 2011

Val Bourne explains how to choose, grow and care for fuchsias, including tender and hardy varieties.

Fuchsias are found naturally in a wide range of countries across the southern hemisphere including New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Tahiti and the West Indies.

Therefore hardiness varies widely. There are a hundred or so species and some of them have been used to breed 8,000 garden cultivars. These are divided into hardies (that can be planted out in a garden border and left to their own devices) and tender basket types that need to be treated as bedding plants. Habit varies from pendulous to upright. Although out of favour at the moment, they deserve a wider audience and they do well in shady town gardens.

Choosing the best fuchsia

There are hundreds of varieties of fuchsia to choose from, and flower form varies greatly between fully-skirted doubles, semi-doubles and slender singles.

Their up-swept petals and long stems add movement and grace whether grown in a pot or a border.

Always use a specialist grower when buying: the range is greater and the plants are less expensive. Try to find small plants and them allow them to grow under your care.

When to plant

Always buy your fuchsias in May or June from a specialist grower. Plant hardy fuchsias in the ground before the end of May, that way they have plenty of time to become established before winter sets in.

Where to plant

Tender fuchsias

Tender fuchsias are normally grown in containers or baskets in summer. These frost-tender varieties need to be placed in slight shade in a sheltered position between June and October.

They need to be overwintered under glass in slight heat. A frost-breaking heater works well. However, there are hardy varieties that come up year after, although these are cut down to the ground in hard winters.

Hardy fuchsias

Hardy fuchsias often do well in the lea of a west-facing wall. The roots stay cool and the plants get sun for a few hours a day. They catch most of the rainfall in summer and they are protected from sudden thaws in winter.

How to plant

Once fuchsia grow larger, pot them up into John Innes potting compost 2 or 3 every time the roots reach the bottom of the pot. If in doubt, up-end the pot and look. Capillary matting on the greenhouse bench is helpful as it keeps the pots moist. Liquid Growmore is used by many fuchsia enthusiasts as a food when plants are young.

How to take fuchsia cuttings

The best fuchsia plants for bedding out are young plants and cuttings are almost always easy to take.

Fuchsias root faster in an electric propagator that provides bottom heat. However they will root in plastic covered pot or tray as well. Semi-ripe cuttings - new growth that has begun to firm up but still remains pliable - are the best. Take your cuttings. You can pull offshoots off with a heel. Trim the heel and then place into the potting mixture. Or cut off side shoots and trim under the node, removing flower buds if necessary.

  • Dip into hormone rooting powder.
  • Place into a 50% mixture of compost and perlite or 50% vermiculite/ compost. Use small seed trays or pots.
  • Water and place out of sun.
  • Cover with polythene or place in covered propagator.
  • When rooted (a gentle tug usually tells you), pot up into small 3-inch round pots.

Overwintering fuchsias

Most of us have to bring fuchsias in during winter, usually in October. The trick is to give them good light and some air to keep them ticking over during their rest. They will not thrive in stagnant air under closed-up glass.

If you plan to overwinter fuchsias successfully, you will need a frost-breaking electric fan heater to prevent frost from killing the roots. If this is too costly to run, take insurance cuttings in August and place the cuttings indoors in the lightest place possible, or buy new plants every year.

Water them a little in order to keep the leaves going. If they are not watered they die off. Fleece them in cold conditions, using a double layer of thick horticultural fleece.

They can be overwintered in temperatures that hover around 10C/50F as long as the plants are not cut down and kept on the dry side.

Certain areas of the country, like the south-west counties of Devon and Cornwall, have ambient winters and some gardeners here leave their fuchsias outside with success in most years.

Once March and April arrive increase the watering and start to feed them with a potash-rich tomato food, but continue to fleece on cool nights. They may need shading during the day at this stage too. Place them outside in June, in good light but not in strong sunshine.

When they bloom

Fuchsias are easy to grow once they are established and they provide continual flower from July until late autumn, when the first frosts arrive.

Fuchsias really come into their own in autumn because they enjoy cooler temperatures and shorter days. The crystal-clear light of autumn also enhances the rich mixture of pinks, reds, peaches and whites adding a jewel-box quality to the October garden.

Pests and diseases

Fuchsias used to be virtually trouble free, but the unsightly Fuchsia gall mite (Aculops fuchsiae) has recently attacked fuchsias in the south of England. It’s spread by a microscopic mite that’s blown about by the wind and garden chemicals are ineffective. The growth becomes distorted and brown and the plants do not flower and the problem is more severe when plants are grown under glass. It is a notifiable disease and your local FERA office needs to be told. Contact numbers are on the RHS website.

You may find a large, green caterpillar with eye markings and a long, trunk-like snout on your fuchsia plant, particularly in August. This is the larva of the beautiful pink and yellow/ green elephant hawkmoth and should not be considered a pest. Read more about the striking elephant hawkmoth.

Fuchsia turning woody

As fuchsias age they tend to get woodier and this gives them extra hardiness, but a severe winter can kill them. A period of time (up to July) should be given in case they regenerate from the base.

Grow with…

Hardy fuchsias make excellent specimen plants on the corner of a border. The simpler flowered forms also mix well with Japanese anemones as these colours (pinks and whites) tone with the fuchsias.

Best fuchsia varieties

Excellent tender fuchsias for containers

These can be as showy or as simple as you like. There are hundreds on offer.

'Thalia' AGM (Bonstedt 1905)
Slender scarlet, tubular flowers held in clusters and dramatically dark foliage. Upright with exotic personality.

'Devonshire Dumpling' (Hilton 1981)
Large frilly white flowers flushed in pink Trailing/basket.

'Voodoo' (Tiret 1953)
A vigorous, double fuchsia with waxy bright-red sepals and a purple ruffled skirt. Trailing/basket

'Ffion' (Welch 1999)
White and pink elegant single, very floriferous and simple - named after Ffion Hague. Trailing/basket.

'Royal Velvet' AGM (Waltz 1962)
An upright purple and red fuchsia with large, fully skirted blooms.

The best hardy fuchsias for British gardens

In milder areas the buds will break towards the top of the stem. Once this happens, trim back to the highest buds: this will give earlier flowers. If your plant is cut back to the ground wait for it to shoot again and then cut back hard to the shoots at the base.

The most effective fuchsias in the garden have simply-shaped flowers on long, arching branches. They range from the delicate slender-flowered forms (such as the white single 'Hawkshead' and the pearl-pink 'Whiteknights Pearl') to bolder singles like 'Mrs Popple' and 'Brutus'.

Fuchsia magellanica is also willowy and poised, with small purple and red flowers that appear along each arching stem. There are some hardy double forms too including the red and white 'Garden News' and the red and purple 'Margaret'.

'Margare' AGM ( Wood 1939)
A semi-double with violet skirt with red sepals.

'Brutus' AGM (Lemoine 1897)
Rich cerise and dark purple - with gracefully curving sepals over slender skirt.

'Mrs Popple' AGM (Elliott 1920s)
Bright-red sepals and a slender purple skirt -strong and eye-catching.

'Tom Thumb' AGM (Baudinat 1850)

A foot-high red and purple fuchsia with a compact habit - widely grown at Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire.

AGM (Smith 1881)

A cerise-pink and pink with open single bell-shaped flowers.

Did you know…?

Fuchsias are named after Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), a German botanist cited as one of the three founding fathers of botany along with Otto Brunfels (1489-1534) and Hieronymus Bock (1495-1554).

The first species to be discovered, named Fuchsia triphylla, was found on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola by a French monk and botanical explorer Charles Plumier in 1703. So Fuchs never saw the plant that commemorates him. The purple-red so often found on fuchsia flowers gave rise to a new colour - fuchsia.

Fuchsias in Britain

The climate in the south-west of England suits fuchsias greatly and there are fuchsia hedges in lots of villages close to the sea. One of west country’s most famous nurseries, James Veitch and Son of Exeter, sent William Lobb to collect wild species in the Americas. Lobb collected. F. spectabilis (known as the Queen of the Fuchsias) and F. denticulata in 1844. Veitch raised several hybrid fuchsias including 'Dominiana' named after its propagator John Dominy. It received the Award of Merit in 1853 and fuelled interest in fuchsias. They soon became a Victorian plant passion. Even today many named fuchsias have west country roots.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.