Pushed too far – fuchsias strike back
I posted the other day about growing standard fuchsias. Of course not everything always goes to plan as I found out last year. I grew various standards as an experiment and most were fine. Cuttings were taken of ‘Beacon Rosa’ which is a pretty plain and boring pink fuchsia, common because it is easy and reliable, ‘Genii’ a yellow-leaved hardy fuchsia with small red and purple flowers, and ‘Jack Shahan’ a good deep pink/red trailing variety. The results were mixed. ‘Genii’ grew well, though with thin stems. The biggest problem was that it kept suckering from below ground – I should have removed possible buds from the base of the cutting. But they made good standards until a summer storm snapped one off. My fault for not staking better.
The biggest problem was with ‘Jack Shahan’. It is always a problem making standards from trailing fuchsias because they don’t really want to grow upwards for a metre! But I removed sideshoots, kept them tied to a stake and fed heavily to make a strong leader. But despite all my efforts, they rebelled.
Just like trying to take a cat for a walk on a lead, things did not go to plan.
When I finally pinched out the growing tips late last summer so they could start to form a head, the plants had had enough. Instead of throwing shoots from the leaf axils the plants were so desperate to bloom, or so fed up with growing the way I had forced them, they produced strange growths that were basically flowers but part shoots. The flower pedicels produced leaves. I am sure this is not unique but I have never seen it before. In the least upsetting examples, the flowers were normal and had a pair, or more, of leaves on the pedicel. It looked quite cute but this was supposed to be a shoot that was going to be pinched out and make the head. Because this was a pedicel not a growth shoot there were no axillary buds at the base of the leaves so no subsequent growth.
In more extreme examples these flowers had leaves on the pedicels and leaves on the ovary too – though part leaf and part sepal. In addition the flowers had more parts than usual and had five or six sepals. In the most extreme examples the flowers had multiple parts with leaves on the ovary and general distortion.
The good news is that, by pinching all this weird stuff off I managed to force the plants to make good shoots but because the mechanical structure of the head was weakened the crowns of the plants were not very stable and they do not look great. They have been vulnerable to wind damage this summer, and goodness knows what the storm forecast today will do to them.
I will keep them for next year and they should be a lot better – after all, once you have created a standard fuchsia you can keep it for many years and it should get better each year.
To keep fuchsias from one year to the next they should be kept moist, but free from frost, in winter. Unlike pelargoniums, which can be dried off and kept almost leafless in winter, fuchsias will not tolerate drought so must always be kept just moist. They may lose their leaves but they will survive. Of course you can leave them in a cold greenhouse or outside and hope for the best – they will often send up shoots from the base in spring and act like a herbaceous plant – but you don’t want that to happen if you have trained it as a standard!
If you have nothing better, an almost foolproof way to keep large fuchsias is to wait till the leaves have dropped after the first really cold night, then lay them, on their sides, on the soil outside and cover them with a mound of old compost or bark. Thus interred they will be protected from frost and when, Burke and Hare–style, you resurrrect them in early March, they will be ready to repot and may already be sprouting.
Fuchsias can get so big and awkward if not frosted. I sort of prefer to prune them back to keep them vigorous and full. No one else agrees though.
Although there are some species that are hardy here and retain a woody framework most get cut back to the ground by frost and are no worse for it, acting like herbaceous perennials.
They are probably happier that way. Most of the problems I wee with them are a result of overgrowth, and pathogens that proliferate throughout the year, without interruption.
Love the one with several sepals, one of my goals is to breed a new range of fuchsias with as many sepals as possible, but as one can see, there may be problems in the growth and uniformity.
Another goal i am trying to attempt is an all black fuchsia, which if possible may take several years.
I am in the process of breeding a number of hardy fuchsias, with some success using Hawkshead as the mother plant. May have some in flower this year hopefully.
I will be interested to find out how you get on with the multiple sepals. Most of the other novelties have features found in obscure species but I think this will be a tricky one. Getting an all black flower may be easier but still tricky I would have thought. Hardy fuchsias will be interesting though I am not sure where I would start with that project! Good luck