by Georgie Smith
It’s May. Summer is just around the corner. Time to be hanging those colorful baskets and filling up those bland-looking corners of the garden bed with a plant that brings some serious PIZZAZ to your landscape. AKA – Fuchsias!
Whether you are looking for soft and subtle creamy pinks, floriferous magenta pink, bright red or eye-popping purple blooms fuchsia’s are guaranteed to brighten up any summer-time porch.
Resembling a living fireworks display, fuchsias are one of those flowers that come in so many shapes and forms, colors and sizes that it is hard to NOT find one (or two, three or four!) you’ll fall in love with. And in the Pacific Northwest, with our often shady, woodsy gardens, it is an extra bonus to find a brightly blooming plant that will be happy in 6 to 8 hours sunlight and happily tolerate our cool evening summer temperatures.
Annual or perennial?
The first thing in your hunt for the perfect fuchsia to ask yourself…Are you looking for an annual or a perennial plant? They both have their advantages and, of course, disadvantages depending on what you are looking for.
Annuals are plants that will not live through the winter and come on next year. That can be because of their inherent life-cycle (i.e think about a sunflower plant that grows quickly from seed, puts on a flower, makes seed and dies, all in just a few months). Or, in the case of annual fuchsias, it can be because they are ‘temperature sensitive’ and unlikely to survive our cooler winter weather so they are “not cold hardy.” (Note….there are tips and tricks for ‘overwintering’ cold-sensitive plants like fuchsias, ask your friendly Garden Treasures staff for a few tips on that if you are interested come fall to try and nurse your annual fuchsia through to the following year…A greenhouse helps!).
Annual fuchsia varieties are typically ones that originated from ‘tropical’ climates, and if you have ever had the pleasure of traveling to a tropical region they express a common trait of tropical plants you saw there – i.e. big, beautiful, abundant, and outrageous blooms! Annual fuchsias are the varieties you find in those mouth-watering hanging baskets. They were started from cuttings in the winter and carefully babied in heat-controlled greenhouses with warm temperatures and proper light so they are full, gorgeous and ready to grace your summer-time porches right now. You can also purchase annual fuchsia starts in small pots ready to pop into any garden spot looking a bit dull and dreary and needing that signature fuchsia color infusion, or if you want to create your own basket display.
Perennial or “hardy” fuchsia varieties, on the other hand, are ones that will survive the winter. (Hence ‘perennial’). If you are shopping for perennial fuchsias to add to your landscape, you’ll first want to check your plant tags and make sure you are selecting a variety hardy to Zone 7 which is our Pacific Northwest growing zone. There are some that will be marked as ‘semi-hardy.’ That means – ‘maybe.’ If we have a mild winter, they are in a protected spot, or you give them a little extra winter protection, you may (or may not) get them through the winter. A true hardy fuchsia variety though is pretty tough through even the coldest of our winters. But, unlike their ‘not hardy’ fuchsia cousins, you’ll find that perennial fuschias will have smaller and not quite as eye-blazing colorful flowers – though there are some impressive cultivars out there bucking that trend! Regardless, these are plants that can grow quite large, with lovely upright and arching structure, and put on a still impressive display of beautiful, if slightly more reserved, blooms. Like most perennial plants they will take a year or two to get well established and offer the most impressive displays after a few seasons of growth.
Annual (not hardy) fuchsias.
Pros – ready to impress NOW. Will pump up blooms all summer with proper care (see below). Great if you’re impatient and want something GORGEOUS right now. Best choice for hanging baskets or annual bed plantings. Cons- Won’t probably last the winter for next year (unless you are dedicated!).
Perennial (hardy) fuchsias.
Pros – long-living plant great will offer flowers for a long period throughout the summer. They WILL survive our winters (usually). The best choice to offer structural interest and color in perennial beds. Cons – Take longer to get established. Not as big and flashy blooms (though depending on your style that might be a pro!).
Quick tips for fuchsia care
So now that you have figured out what kind(s) of fuschia you want….here are a few quick and easy tips for fuschia success.
- Pick healthy plants! It’s easy to want to grab those plants that are blooming madly right now, but look a bit closer. Your best bet is a plant with lots of flowering buds COMING. Maybe not blooming right now, but they will be soon! Glossy, and growing green leaves are also important. And look for a stocky, well-filled out plant versus something spindly.
- Site them appropriately. Annual fuchsias tend to be more sensitive to wind and direct sunlight. A spot protected from drying winds and indirect light is perfect. Shady porches are great. Perennial fuchsias seem to survive both in partial shade (at least 6 to 8 hours sunlight is best) and full sun. They do need well-draining soil for winter-time or you risk them rotting out.
- Keep them well watered. Annual fuchsias, especially those in baskets, need consistent watering. They should never be allowed to try out completely so a gentle water once a day is in order through the heat of the summer. Perennial fuchsias will become more drought tolerant once established but need consistent watering that first year and, like most Pacific Northwest perennials, will benefit greatly from a lovely layer of mulch to keep their roots moist and cool through the summer.
- Gentle pruning for shape and blooms. Fuchsia baskets and annual plantings will typically just need minimal pruning to remove spent blooms or add a bit of shape or structure. Perennial fuchsias will benefit from a springtime light pruning for any dead wood but don’t prune them before winter (the stems help for winter hardiness!).
- Fertilize them! Annual fuchsias are really pumping out the blooms through the summer, a monthly balanced fertilizer is best. Perennial fuchsias do best with a spring application (March or April) of a balanced fertilizer. Ask the Garden Treasures staff for some great recommendations on fertilizers for your fuchsia plants.
Garden Treasures Nursery has a fantastic selection of annual and perennial fuchsia plants available NOW! Stop by to check out the pretties. Fuchsias make fantastic Mother’s Day gifts as well!
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