When I lived in the Midwest 25 years ago, the word fuchsia suggested only a vibrant color to me. I had no idea there were fuchsia flowers. Then I moved to Southern California, and a profusion of exotic blooms were revealed to me.
Fuchsias promptly became my passion, and I packed our patio with "ladies eardrops," as they were once known. Since then, more than 400 varieties have pirouetted through my garden, and this number is only a fraction of the 5,000 or so named fuchsias.
Fuchsias are usually divided into two categories: upright or basket varieties. I've always favored the fancy basket cultivars, so heavy that the blooms bend the branches and tumble becomingly over the edges of their pots (Pink Marshmallow, Hula Girl, Trade Winds, Quasar, etc.).
Singles in the Ground
But there's much to be said for single upright fuchsias grown in the ground (such as Checkerboard, Rocket, Cardinal, Display and the diminutive Mrs. J. D. Fredericks). For one thing, these fuchsias can tolerate more sun than others.
Although they usually require staking, fuchsias in the ground get by with less water, less food, and less care than do container-grown plants. They don't demand your constant presence, because their extensive root system prevents them from drying out or running out of nourishment frequently.
At this time of the year, fuchsias are just beginning to show their stuff. Since February, serious growers have been pinching out the tips of all branches to produce symmetrical bushes and sumptuous bloom. And they have been feeding their plants.
I have begun to think of my fuchsias as glamorous gluttons. Fuchsias require frequent fertilization, but they're not too particular about the kind of plant food they get. I used to provide only the finest fertilizers, using solutions high in nitrogen in the spring and others high in potassium and phosphorus after buds appeared.
Recent research suggests, however, that nitrogen represents their principal need (and that of most other flowers). Now I use low-priced acid-based fertilizers high in nitrogen (look for 16-4-2 on the label), and my blossoms are as big and beautiful as ever. To keep fuchsias continually nourished, water their roots and foliage with a diluted fertilizer solution every two weeks.
The best spots for fuchsias are locations where they receive strong filtered light and good air circulation most of the day. The more light they receive, the more they flower.
The two pests that fuchsia growers worry most about are whiteflies, so small they look like the ash from a cigarette, and spider mites, which are hardly noticeable until they stipple leaves by sucking the plant juices. Both of these can be controlled with spraying with Orthene. To control a sizable invasion, spray every 7 to 10 days.
A new pest, the fuchsia gall mite, fortunately, is not the disaster we California growers anticipated when it appeared in Southern counties about two years ago. It can be eradicated by destroying heavily infected branches and by spraying healthy ones regularly with Sevin.
When the weather gets warm and the fuchsias wilt, don't run straight for the hose and fill them up with water like a gasoline tank. It's natural for fuchsias to wilt in warm weather. If the root ball is damp, don't add more water. Instead, place your plant in the shade, temporarily, and mist it with a fine water spray.
Every year the American Fuchsia Society registers scores of new fuchsias, the majority from British developers who seem to prefer single blooms on upright plants. In this country, Annabelle Stubbs of Oceanside is the leading hybridizer.
Mike Kashkin, owner of Fuchsia Land in Culver City, says: "Glowing Lilac is the best new fuchsia in years. It has good growth, good form, and great flower production."
By the way, when you purchase a new plant, take a tip cutting or two immediately. This practice makes the new plant bushier and also provides a backup in case calamity befalls the new arrival.
Fuchsias can provide years of pleasure.
Guffey grows hundreds of fuchsias in her Malibu garden.