Fuchsia winter care
Fuchsia Winter Care helps you get the most from these amazingly colourful and good value summer plants. Few plants give as much as a Fuchsia. Buy a new plant around Easter and it will fill a basket with colour all summer-long and, provided you prepare it correctly for the winter it will come back bigger and more beautiful next year! We show you how.
Generally speaking there are two kinds of Fuchsia: 1) The large, hardy outdoor varieties usually Fuchsia magellanica types, which can grow from just a couple feet or go right up to 10ft high shrubs and 2) the more tender varieties of Fuchsia commonly seen in hanging baskets and as potted house plants or patio plants. Cultivation advice for both types is described here and begins with the more tender varieties.
Fuchsia Winter Care for Tender Varieties
These Fuchsias include your pot plants and basket varieties. They are a little problematic but not unduly so. The treatment described here is based on UK winter conditions which can drop to -12C on occasion, but which is most often at or below -6C. So if your temperatures are significantly colder, you can use these same techniques provided your fuchsias are stored in similar temperatures. Extended periods below -15C and your tender varieties will be lost.
As autumn approaches and your Fuchsia plants begin shedding leaves stop watering. Or better still, add a liquid chafer grub killer on your last watering session of the year. Then start drying out your Fuchsia plants. This is crucial for your ultimate success. Aim to get the compost to ‘barely damp’ before October is out or the first frost – whichever comes first. It’s important to note that you are using the last few weeks of growth to dry the compost before there are no leaves to do the job for you. It is a question of timing and experience with your local weather conditions, but err on the dry side if you are in any doubt.
Warning: Plants with no foliage will not draw out any excess moisture in your containers during the winter. You must get the soil near-dry BEFORE cutting down.
When they get to barely damp and the leaves are mostly gone, chop all the stems to about 1/3 their summer length. Next, remove the foliage on the remaining stems. Your plants should just have bare stems.
Beware Chafer Grubs!
These fat maggot-like grubs will decimate your prized Fuchsia collection during the winter months, eating all your roots without you noticing. Until, that is, your plants start regrowth in the spring as normal – then the new leaves shrivel and die inexplicably. And your poor plant can be pulled out of its compost with little resistance because the roots have all but gone! That’s chaffer grubs for you!
Whether you add chafer grub killer around November time or not, a physical check for these blighters at any time during the winter months is still worth the effort and will not harm your sleeping plants. Tip the plants out of their containers and give the root ball a firm shake. If they are not evident then you are fortunate.
Beware using nematodes in Winter!
Nematodes are the natural killer for chaffer bugs and are often promoted for the purpose. I never used nematodes for several good reasons. First, nematodes have no appetite below 10C and they don’t get around much either. So, using them to protect any plant during the winter months is a pointless exercise. Second, at sub-zero temperatures the nematodes can easily die off themselves. Finally, if they are purchased on an annual basis in early summer when the soil is above 10C or more it will take time for any new nematodes to build up their numbers and get started – by which time your infected fuchsias are long-dead and the chaffer grubs have changed in to the harmless adult form and flown off!
With no foliage, your plants can now be stored in the dark, in a cupboard, under a bench, at the back of your garage or in any convenient low-light location that’s dry. They can also be crammed as tight together as you dare to save space. Their winter location does not require heat or light. I always stored mine under the benches of a cold greenhouse, stacked 2-high or in my darkest cold frames which would not otherwise be used during the early spring. They were stored without loss down to -12C on occasion for years.
Spring Treatment for Fuchsia Plants
This is the difficult part of Fuchsia winter care and its all about timing. While I can advise you what to do and what to look for here, you will need to ‘experiment’ with your exact timing for your local area.
April is the killer month for many tender Fuchsia plants. While your plants have survived the cold winter in their dry compost state, April is the month when they are keen to get into leaf and you the gardener are equally enthusiastic to see the green – especially after a long grey winter. But patience is needed.
You need to control your obvious enthusiasm to add water – to encourage the green. I know its hard – I’ve been there! But your success is dependent upon the amount of water given. You need to aim to give your emerging plants just enough water FOR THE DAY. Remember, you can still get short, sharp, cold nights at this time of year and if your plants have been watered too enthusiastically during the day and have not taken up their drink – leaving their roots covered in freshly wet compost the results will often prove fatal to your plant.
So, late March and April when your Fuchsia plants begin to show signs of regrowth move your containers out of their dark winter retreat and into the light. Then add water, slowly and minimally. I suggest splitting their allocation at first, to be sure it’s all taken up. If you are not sure how much water to give – then err on the side of caution during this difficult period when the foliage is emerging in fits and starts. Remember that until all the foliage is properly formed your plant can not absorb too much water anyway.
A healthy Fuchsia plant can ‘expel’ surplus moisture by producing water drops along the edges of the leaves. This is a sure sign of over-watering! If this is the case during April/May and a cold night is forecast bring the plant into the house for the night. This has happened to me on occasion when different people have mistakenly watered the same plant – doubling or even tripling its daily intake. – A rare problem when there are dozens of plants involved and the compost surface is not checked beforehand…
Once all the foliage has emerged and your regular night temps are upwards of 10C your Fuchsia should be out of the danger period… THEN begin adding a dilute feed to your watering (it should be around May by this time) as flower buds begin to form.
Most general feed instructions are keen to advise you to use ‘two spoons once a month’ in a gallon container. Well they would anyway – they’re selling it. But in spring time this is like having Christmas dinner and all the trimmings once a month. And you remember how bloated you felt then…. ! Right?
Instead of the feast and famine regime, it’s far better for your plants to have a more diluted feed more frequently. Of course, how much you actually give them requires some experimentation on your part and it does also depend upon how big your plants are. But as a general guide, my tender (non-fuchsia) plants which are growing in 30-litre containers, get about half the feed manufacturer’s recommended dose every 7-10 days. Larger plants in even larger containers actually get the ‘two spoons treatment’ – only they just get it even more frequently. Hope this has helped.
Fuchsia Magellanica Cultivation
These are surprisingly hardy and easy to grow. Indeed, the hardest part of growing these is finding a suitable location as they are big plants, preferring a light shade if possible around the hottest part of the day. Which is easily created with careful planting. They prefer slightly acidic soil and are quite hungry plants, so will appreciate a ‘heavy’ soil but not sitting in wet all day long. Any time from mid-October these plants should be dying down for the winter and losing their foliage, I help them along their way by reducing their stems to 2/3 of their summer length. This puts them away and the remaining stems help to shield the heart of the plant during the winter snowfall.
If you are at altitude or in a particularly cold area and expecting an unusually cold spell, then you can ‘wrap and tie’ up some frost fleece around those cut stems. Frost fleece works well because it allows the all-important air to keep the heart dry while the single skin shrugs off most of the wet and snow. If you do use the fleece – especially with young plants you are establishing in cold areas – it should be removed around mid-march so the additional light triggers the new growth.
However, before the new growth begins on an established plant I would trim the stems further once the coldest weather is over and before new growth appears. In these cases trim your already trimmed stems down to 1/2 or even 1/3 for improved flowering. Don’t worry unduly if the newly trimmed plant is a little sluggish to return when compared to previous years. This is normal – provided it was trimmed before new growth appeared.
Much of the advice in this article can help you overwinter other tender perennials.