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When you picture fuchsia, you may imagine a hanging basket on a covered porch festooned with pink and purple blossoms cascading over the edge.
Or perhaps you picture a shrub growing in a shady corner of the garden with dainty white flowers?
It can be hard to get vibrant color into those spots that don’t see much sunshine, but fuchsia will happily bloom in the shade.
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The familiar pink and purplish-red pendulous flowers may be the most common, but you can find fuchsia with long, tube-like blossoms in a single color as well.
Flowers can be “single” with four petals, “semi-double” with five to seven petals, or “full-skirted” doubles with eight or more petals. They are available in a range of colors from soft pink, white, orange, maroon, lavender, and blue, to breathtaking bicolored varieties.
I’ve heard some people say that they don’t grow this eye-catching plant because it is fussy and temperamental, but I disagree!
Given the conditions it prefers, it will grow happily. Treated right, it will show off its luscious color for months at a time.
This plant isn’t just a pretty face, though. Those elegant, vibrant flowers are edible as well as decorative. As the blooms fade, small purple fruits form, some of which can be delicious.
Convinced you need to give fuchsia its due and add a plant or two to the garden? Great! Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be the resident expert gardener, able to help all your neighbors to coax their own fuchsia to thrive.
What Is Fuchsia?
Fuchsia, pronounced “few-shut,” is a genus of deciduous, perennial shrubs in the Onagraceae family.
There are over 100 species in the Fuchsia genus, and thousands of named cultivars and hybrids growing in gardens around the world. Most plants available from garden centers and nurseries will be hybrids.
Species may have one of two distinct growth habits: the trailing type that you often see in hanging baskets that are available each spring at your local garden center, and bushier, upright types that grow in the ground and are ideal for planting in containers. The latter may be trained into standards.
The upright varieties can reach mature heights of up to six feet, while dwarf varieties top out at two to three feet.
This eye-catching, vibrant plant is generally grown as a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10, depending on the variety, while hardy fuchsias, such as many hybrids and cultivars of F. magellanica, can thrive outdoors year-round in a slightly cooler range of growing zones, from 6 to 10.
Many people can’t resist having the plant around, even if they don’t live in the right climate for it to survive the winter. Growing it as an annual is an option, but containers can also be brought indoors to overwinter.
If you go this route, it’s easy to bring your potted plant inside for the winter and put it back out in the garden in the spring. No need to buy a new plant each year!
One look at the flowers and you can probably figure out why it’s sometimes called lady’s eardrops or angel’s earrings.
Throughout the summer, flowers bloom in a riot of shapes and colors, with vivid pink, deep purple, bright red, lavender-blue, peach, and delicate pink and white all making an appearance, depending on the type.
After blooming, 1/2-inch or slightly larger berries form. These turn black or dark blue when ripe.
And they aren’t just for show – these berries, believe it or not, are actually edible. They can taste like grapes, figs, or tart lemon, depending on the variety. Some have an intense peppery afterbite.
Don’t confuse plants of this genus with cape fuchsias (Phygelius spp.), several species of flowering evergreen shrubs native to southern Africa. We’ll cover these in another article.
Cultivation and History
The majority of fuchsia plants are native to South America, with most of the types available for purchase today coming from Chile and Argentina.
There are a few native plants that grow in the wild in parts of South, Central, and North America extending as far north as Mexico.
There are also a few species native to New Zealand, including the world’s largest, F. excorticated, which grows as a tree, and the smallest, F. procumbens.
Charles Plumier, a French botanist, identified the first fuchsia plant while working as a missionary in the Dominican Republic in the late 1600s. He named it F. triphylla coccinea, after Leonard Fuchs, a German botanist born in the late 15th century who is known for his passionate study of plants.
In the 1700s, various species were identified in Brazil, New Zealand, and parts of Central and South America, and by the early 1800s these were making an appearance in European gardens.
Early discoveries, including F. coccinea, F. fulgens, and F. magellanica, gained rapid popularity in England and growers hybridized the plant, creating the first cultivated double flower.
Thanks to the hospitable climate, a number of Fuchsia species naturalized across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Fuchsia doesn’t need too much encouragement to reproduce. Keep in mind that some methods of starting new plants are easier than others.
Seeds can take months to germinate.
Softwood cuttings are easy to root, and in some cases, you can divide established plants.
Beginning with nursery starts or potted plants from your local garden center is the easiest method.
You could purchase seeds, but you can also save some for replanting from a mature existing plant.
If you save seeds from a hybrid plant, keep in mind that they may not be viable, and will likely produce a plant with different characteristics from the parent plant if they do germinate.
Allow a few berries to form and mature until they’re dark in color. Pick them, slice them open, scrape the seeds out, and plant immediately.
If you want to save the seeds, soak them in water for 30 minutes, and then rub the pulp off with a paper towel. Set them somewhere cool with good air circulation to dry.
When they are dry, store them in a cool, dark place in a jar or paper bag.
To sow seeds, use six-cell seed trays filled with a light, porous seed starting mix. Make sure to clean your containers or use new ones, as well as fresh soil, to avoid damping off.
The seeds need light to germinate, so sprinkle them lightly on the soil and press them in place.
Moisten the soil and place the containers in a warm area that’s at least 65°F, near a window where they will get indirect light. Use a heating mat if necessary, as the ideal temperature for germination is 70-75°F. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
Then it’s time to start a new gardening project, such as building some raised beds, while you wait one to four months for the seedlings to emerge. When each seedling has two true leaves, thin them out to one plant per cell.
When plants reach six inches tall, and all risk of frost has passed, harden them off over the course of about two weeks.
You can do this by bringing the tray outside to a protected location with indirect light for 30 minutes on the first day, and then bringing it back indoors. Add 30 minutes each day until it can stay outside all day long.
Propagating from a softwood fuchsia cutting couldn’t be easier. You can take cuttings at any time of year.
Spring cuttings can be planted out as soon as they take root, but late summer or fall cuttings should be overwintered indoors for planting out the following spring.
In the morning, trim off a six-inch piece of stem with three or four pairs of leaves, just below a leaf node, at a 45-degree angle. Remove any leaves from the bottom half.
Prepare a four-inch seedling container with seed-starting soil. Dip the cut end in powdered rooting hormone and poke a hole into the potting soil using a pencil. Insert the cutting, planting it so that the first set of leaves is just above the soil line.
Keep the cuttings moist and provide them with a few hours of dappled sunlight each day.
After about three weeks, give the cutting a tug. If you feel resistance, it’s ready to be planted in its container or in the ground.
Unless you are growing it as a single-stemmed standard, you can divide your fuchsia plant if it has outgrown its space, whether it’s growing in a container or in the ground.
However, if the plant is over four feet tall and well-established, you risk damaging or even killing the parent plant because it is difficult to get enough of the roots out of the ground. Avoid dividing larger plants and try taking cuttings instead.
If you do decide to do this, plants should be divided either in the late fall after they have finished flowering, or early spring when they are still dormant, to limit stress. The plant should be pruned by a third before dividing (more details on pruning below).
Mature plants have an extensive root system, and you need to take care to dig as far out as the foliage was growing on the plant prior to pruning, and as deep as the plant was tall.
Dig up the entire plant, and use a spade to gently leverage the root ball out of the soil.
Gently shake and loosen the soil from around the roots. Use a pair of sharp clippers or a garden knife to cut the plant in half, roots and all.
Replant the original fuchsia, filling the hole back in with soil.
Plants require rich, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
Test your soil and amend it if necessary, particularly if you have heavy clay or sandy soil. You don’t want the plant to be growing in standing water or dry out too quickly.
Potted plants need well-draining but water-retaining soil. I like to use a standard potting mix combined with about 10 percent sand and 10 percent perlite.
To transplant, whether you’ve grown seedlings or cuttings yourself or purchased them, gently remove the plant from its pot.
Use a chopstick or your fingers to gently loosen the roots and trim away any that are dead.
Remove the bottom four inches of leaves from the branches of larger plants, and place the plant in the prepared soil. The existing potting soil level of the plant should sit four inches below the soil line.
Then fill in with soil so that the ground is even, completely covering the defoliated portions at the base of the stems.
Space upright varieties 12 inches apart or more, and trailing varieties four inches apart.
If you are growing it in a container, your fuchsia may need to be repotted periodically if it has grown too big.
Choose a pot that is one to three inches wider and deeper than the existing container – you don’t want to transplant it to a much larger pot, as these plants can’t tolerate wet feet and excess soil can easily become oversaturated.
Remove the plant carefully from the container, and examine the roots. Remove any dead sections, and at this stage, if you wish, you can divide the plant. Make sure that there is at least one stem on any divided section with attached roots, and replant in fresh potting soil.
Large containers with a big volume of soil tend to retain too much moisture, as described above and can result in waterlogged conditions.
To keep your plant healthy, it’s recommended that you repot your fuchsia every year or two in fresh soil, even if you don’t wish to plant it in a larger container.