Overwintering fuchsias seems to be one of the biggest hurdles for the newcomer. So much so that they tend to be treated as annuals, bought in Spring and thrown out after the Summer.The truth is they can be kept quite easily over the winter and will lead to bigger and better plants the following year and will supply you with cutting material just by following 2 golden rules.Do not let the frost get to them. Do not let them dry out
During the winter, fuchsias can be kept two ways - DORMANT. This means that plants are kept in a cool enough (not freezing) environment that inhibits any growth at all and will look much like the one on the right for the duration of the winter. 2 or 3 degrees above freezing will keep these plants dormant.SEMI DORMANT. This is where growers have the benefit of a moderately heated greenhouse and are able to keep plants in growth through the winter. A temperature of 42 - 45 degrees Fahrenheit will keep plants ticking over and growing very slowly through the winter.Whichever method you choose, your plants should receive the same preparation for winter and that is being being pruned back and de-foliated. Pruning means that plants will be shaped and tidied up and can be stored closer together, whilst removing all leaves ensures you get rid of any bugs or diseases. Just when plants being kept DORMANT are prepared, depends entirely on when the first frosts come. In 2010 they came in November in our area with a vengeance with temperatures down to 17 degrees F. (-8 degrees C.) so don’t leave it too late.Ideally you should cut back on the watering a few days before pruning leaving the root ball just moist. Doing this avoids ‘DIE-BACK’. If too much water is present at the roots then it is drawn up in the usual way but appears at each cut as droplets (as seen on the left) which will rot the end which in turn will die back for about an inch or so. If the cut has been made just above a pair of leaves then any future growth will be lost. Some growers use Copydex to seal each cut, I generally prune well above a pair of leaves, these tips can always be tidied up later
Below I have used a standard as an example of pruning and de-leafing which is usually done in that order. To make it easier to see what is going on I have de-leafed first. Each leaf has been cut, (not pulled) from the branches and whilst it may seem an arduous task it is a necessary one as the plant needs to be as clean as possible. The middle picture show the framework built up during the summer whilst the one on the right shows it after roughly one third has been trimmed off including any weak growth. Again cutting back to a good inch or more above a leaf joint (or where the leaves where) this is where the new growth will come from.
The same method applies to whatever fuchsias you have been growing. If they have been in hanging baskets with lobelia, etc then dig them out remove most of the old compost and re-pot them into fresh compost in a pot big enough to take the root ball. Trim roughly a third off and de-leaf them.
For plants that are going to be allowed to go DORMANT you now have to make sure they are packed away somewhere frost free. One way is to take a cardbox box lined with several layers of newspaper, put 3 inches of moist peat in the bottom, place your fuchsias on their sides into it (still in their pots) and cover them with more peat. The polystyrene boxes used by fishmongers are ideal for this. They should now go into a shed or garage or an unheated greenhouse. They have to be accessible as they need to be checked out on a weekly basis to make sure they have not dried out, water should be given sparingly making sure the root ball is just moist. More fuchsia are lost through the winter through over or under-watering than through frost. To check they are still alive scrape the bark, if it shows green underneath then all is well. Don’t be tempted to bring them into the house onto the kitchen windowsill. They will be far too warm and, because of the lack of light levels, will produce long leggy growth which is of no use at all.Because or their size, standards can be more difficult to accommodate over the winter and should really go into a heated greenhouse or maybe a cool conservatory (or your friendly neighbour’s). As an added protection, use foam pipe insulating on the stem, wrap the pot in bubble wrap and cover the head with horticultural fleece.
I prefer to keep my plants SEMI DORMANT and to do so they are kept in the greenhouse at 42 - 45 degrees Fahrenheit, if possible. I say if possible because the last 2 winters were so severe that it was a case of considering the cost of keeping the electric fan heater running against the cost of restocking in spring, which I ended up doing. The problem is, because we are losing fuchsia nurseries, it becomes harder to find the varieties needed for the showbench, so this year it is fingers crossed for a milder winter. (Written Oct 2011)I aim to have my plants cut back by the end of September, By doing so I know they will be back in growth before the winter sets in. The greenhouse is 14 feet by 8 feet and is lined with bubble insulation. The plants are still in the same compost that they have been in all Summer and won’t be re-potted until Spring. I will now switch back to a high nitrogen feed which is given with every watering which won’t be much, again keeping them just moist.
Above is the same standard about 4 weeks after pruning and now putting on some nice new growth. It’s also trying to flower here and there, but these are removed a soon as possible.On the right above is a half basket, again with lots of new growth.On the right is a pot which was cut hard back taking almost two thirds of the top away. I wanted this as a stock plant and again it’s producing lots of new cutting material.
It’s amazing how tough some varieties can be. On the left is a basket of Trudi Davro which, after thinking about space in the greenhouse, I intended to throw out so I cut it back right down to compost level. It then got left and forgotten down the side of the green house and left to fend for itself.I guess it won itself a reprieve, at least all those cuttings its producing have and I won’t be any better off for room!
Any young plants i.e Summer cuttings or last minute bought plants are treat differently. These still usually have quite soft growth, so a light trimming all round is done and all the leaves are left on.
It looks like Spring all over again!
There is a list of recognised hardy fuchsias which are quite happy left to their own devices in the garden and can be cut down to ground level in Spring once all signs of frost have passed, but any which have been grown in pots should be given the same treatment as above. In the garden their roots are deep enough to come to no harm but in pots they are open to the elements.If you still prefer to go out and buy your plants each year then all well and good but there is only so much growth you can get off one plant bought in Spring. Try over wintering at least 2 or 3 and see the benefits of a second year plant and feel the satisfaction of keeping fuchsias through one of the worst times of the year.