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GARDENING

Ka-Bloom! Exploding Into a Pro-Fuchsian of Color

April 11, 1998|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jane Deeming is fascinated with fuchsias. She loves their vibrant colors. And she's intrigued with the challenge of coaxing each plant to flower with great abandon.

She's filled her Garden Grove garden with pots, planters and hanging baskets of fuchsias and sells their offspring to fellow members of the Orange County Fuchsia Society and at spring garden shows.

"I have more fuchsias than sense," she says with a wry laugh. "It takes me 20 hours a week to pinch them and care for them. They're very labor intensive."

With more than 10,000 fuchsia varieties, fanciers are tempted to collect innumerable numbers. Deeming limits herself to 60 permanent residents in her garden. Every spring, she raises another 900 plants from cuttings.

Although fuchsias demand a great deal of attention, fans adore them because of their colors and floral profusion. Although they have no fragrance, their striking flower forms and color combinations are alluring to humans and hummingbirds.

A single mature plant can display 400 or more flowers at a time. They're showy in hanging baskets; cascading blooms liven up patios or decks. Upright varieties can be tucked into a garden setting, where they prefer filtered sunlight. They perform best under a tall tree or in a northern exposure. They'll tolerate an eastern exposure if protected by lathe or shade cloth.

It takes effort for them to thrive. The secrets to success with fuchsias are to pinch and prune systematically, follow a consistent watering and fertilizing program and make sure they're in the right location.

The ancestors of fancy, modern fuchsias originated in the cool, moist mountains of South America; today's descendants still prefer moist ocean air. Coastal gardeners can sustan any fuchsia variety.

Hybridizers have created heat-tolerant varieties that will grow inland when protected from afternoon sun. Red and purple flower varieties are the most heat-tolerant.

Deeming recommends that fuchsia first-timers select only heat-tolerant varieties and grow them in the ground before tackling hanging baskets, which require more attention.

Pinch Power

The more you pinch, the more they'll flower. It also keeps plants from getting leggy. Unpruned fuchsias grow but will only flower at each branch tip.

The best way to correct this is to remove the top pair of leaves while the plant is in its active growing stage, usually January through April. Two new pairs of leaves grow from each pinched leaf node.

When two new pairs of leaves emerge from the previously pinched stem, these are also pinched back. Systematic pinching produces a bushy plant, with 30 or 40 branches. At this point, stop pinching. The plant will set flower buds that will bloom seven weeks after the pinching stops.

Feed for Flowers

Fuchsias bloom continuously from May or June through December, when their growth should be pruned by at least half. This much flower power requires food, especially for hanging plants.

Fuchsia experts recommend a balanced fertilizer, 14-14-14 or 20-20-20, every two weeks from mid-April until December, usually a water-soluble fertilizer applied at the rate of half a tablespoon per gallon of water.

Some people prefer timed-release fertilizer once a month. Fertilizing in intensely hot weather can stress the plants.

Water, Water Everywhere

These plants love water, especially if they're in containers. Still, too much can cause root rot. A guideline is to water plants thoroughly and let them dry out between waterings.

"I drown mine twice a week," Deeming said. "I pour water into them three or four times, then let them dry out."

In summer, especially when Santa Ana winds howl, fuchsias may need more water, possibly daily.

Still, be careful. A plant may wilt from the winds yet have damp soil. Then, watering can harm the plant. Instead, move the plant to a more sheltered location until windy conditions end. If that's not possible, periodically hose off the surrounding deck, patio or lawn area to reduce temperature and create humidity in the microclimate.

Pest Control

Fuchsias are susceptible to aphids, whiteflies and worms and have recently come under attack from fuchsia gall mites. Apply conventional insecticides according to package directions. For an organic approach, Deeming recommends using a hot pepper wax (call (800) 333-7979).

If fuchsia gall mites attack, be prepared to fight for an intense two weeks. The fierce pest is spread by hummingbirds, bees, wind, even tools and human hands.

The first sign of infestation is a growth on the plant's tips. Unchecked growth spreads quickly; it looks furry, with a reddish color. To treat, wear rubber gloves and remove affected growth. Place in a sealed bag and dispose in garbage.

Spray plant thoroughly with insecticide or pepper wax. Repeat every four days for three applications to combat newly hatching mites. Watch for future infestations.

More Information

The Orange County Branch of the National Fuchsia Society meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Women's Civic Club, 9501 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. Guests are welcome.

Deeming will have fuchsias for sale and loads of information about their care at the Crystal Court Garden Show, Friday through April 19. On Friday, she'll speak on "Fabulous Fuchsias" at 2 p.m.

Other upcoming fuchsia events include a sale by the Orange County Fuchsia Society at the Green Scene at the Fullerton Arboretum, April 25-26. There will be a sale at the Huntington Beach Mall, June 26-28.

Fuchsias will be featured at the Orange County Fair--July 10 to 26--in Costa Mesa, where it's the official city flower. More than 3,000 fuchsias are being grown and groomed for a mass display at the fairgrounds.

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