Does the word fuchsia conjure up the image of a beautiful Mother’s Day hanging basket with hundreds of dangling jewels in rich reds and purples? If so, you’re not alone.
You’re likely seeing them at nurseries this time of year, displayed in long rows at hoop houses, providing instant color gratification for yourself or that special loved one.
However, I feel compelled to mention the other fuchsia, the unsung hero and shrubby plant that deserves every bit as much praise as the famous hanging basket type — the hardy fuchsia.
When I was a kid, I was always enchanted to see Fuchsia magellanica blooming in summer gardens. Its presence added a colorful, tropical flare to the border. You’ve probably seen it, too — hundreds of thin, earring-blossoms with red sepals surrounding a purple corolla complemented by dark green, glossy foliage. This is the most common of the shrub or hardy fuchsias. But thanks to gifted plant propagators and hybridizers there are hundreds more varieties nowadays.
The word “hardy” in plant terminology means able to survive the winter and return each spring. Many of the hardy shrub fuchsias are completely winter hardy here in our USDA Zone 8 Pacific Northwest gardens.
They’re big plants, two to five feet tall and wide. They’re long blooming, from June until frost and will attract all kinds of pollinators including territorial hummingbirds.
Hardy fuchsias are easy to grow with only a few requirements to keep them healthy and happy.
First, rich, organic soil is a must, so if your soil is heavy clay, like mine, you’ll want to incorporate a good amount of organic matter (compost) into the planting area. Fuchsias like moist soil but don’t want their roots in soggy-wet mud so make sure water doesn’t pool in the spot where you’re planning to grow them.
Full sun is OK for hardy fuchsias if you can keep the soil consistently moist with a sprinkler or drip system. If you’re like me and don’t have automatic watering, morning sun and afternoon shade is probably better. Too much shade and you won’t have flowers so experiment with placement.
If the plants aren’t performing well in one spot, they can be dug up and moved when they’re dormant. Early spring is ideal.
Gallon-sized plants, planted in spring, are more likely to do better than smaller ones planted in fall because the spring-planted ones have all summer and fall to get their roots established. The bigger the plant, the better the chance of winter survival.
Unlike most plants which should be planted right at the plant’s crown, fuchsias should be planted a few inches deeper. This will keep the crowns from freezing during the winter, especially if you cover the plant with leaves in the fall.
After a frost, it is tempting to cut off the woody, bare stems but hold off doing so until you see new growth in spring. After a mild winter (like we had this last winter) new growth will develop not just at the base of the plant but also along those bare stems that you were smart enough to leave alone, giving your plant a head start.
During the growing season, you can fertilize the plants but an annual top dressing of compost and consistently moist soil is really all they need.
Hardy fuchsia blossoms come in colors of red, pink, purple, lavender, white and coral, from smaller single blossoms to big, fat blossoms like the ones in the hanging baskets.
My favorites are ‘Baby Ann’ with medium-pink sepals and a dark pink corolla; ‘Lady Bacon’ with a thin, red tube, white sepals and bluish-purple corolla; and ‘Debron’s Black Cherry’ with deep, shiny-red chunky sepals and a plum-purple corolla. But I’ve never met a hardy fuchsia I didn’t like.