Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Fuchsia Flair

by Joseph F. Williamson


I have had the good fortune to live my entire life in the heart of North America's magnificent fuchsia land: the mild-winter, cool-summer, at- or near-sea-level climates of California, Oregon, and Washington. In these climates (USDA Hardiness Zones 9 through 10, west of the deserts and the Sierra Cascades), fuchsias seem almost incapable of failing, and unless their keepers neglect to supply one of the plants' requirements, fuchsias also seem incapable of mediocrity.

Fuchsia Origins

Fuchsias did not evolve in middle-latitude marine climates similar to the ones in our western America fuchsia land, or in fuchsia lands elsewhere: in France, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, much of coastal Australia, and New Zealand. No, the native regions of F. fulgens and F. corymbiflora, two of the three main ancestors of today's showy garden forms (F. hybrida), are in high elevations (3,000 to 9,000 feet) closer to the equator: 11° to 23° South. The third important ancestor originated near the cold-winter tip of South America, at 53° to 55° South. That predecessor, F. magellanica, is also the hardiest garden fuchsia that's widely grown today. If you live in a cold-winter area (the warmest parts of zone 6 for these tender beauties), one of the many varieties of this species is the fuchsia to try. For instance, F. magellanica 'Riccartonii' makes a handsome shrub or hedge, bedecked all summer and early fall with attractive, 1 1/2-inch, pendant red and purple flowers.

Growing Conditions

In mild climates, fuchsia plants thrive in their full range of forms: in hanging baskets or containers, or as 3- to 12-foot-high plants in the ground.

Fuchsias dislike consistently high temperatures. That makes them difficult to grow wherever sweet corn flourishes, because sweet corn begs for the same hot nights that make fuchsias collapse. During the growing season, fuchsias prefer temperatures in the 60° to 75°F range.

Also, fuchsias need light shade, not too much direct sun, and not much wind. They respond happily to generous irrigation from rain or from a garden sprinkler, but very high humidity does not benefit them. Their soil must be permeable and rich in humus, with a pH between 6 and 7.

Away from the West Coast, fuchsia cultivation varies from somewhat to considerably more difficult. The unfavorable climate factors are summers that are too hot (temperatures over 80° to 85°F), and winters that are too cold. Once daytime temperatures reach the low 40s, most fuchsias lose their leaves. Below freezing many die, and at 20°F, very few of the more than 600 hybrids can survive. Below 0°F, none survive.

Many gardeners in these unfavorable climates get around the fuchsia's petulance about hot nights by treating the plant as a one-season outdoor performer. They buy a fuchsia in a container (hanging or standing) in April or May, enjoy its myriad blooms until the very hot summers defeat the plant, and then they compost it. Or, from early summer to fall, they keep them from the heat in an east- or west-facing window, a shady porch, or other protective structure.

Some varieties definitely can take more heat than most. See the descriptions of 14 favorite varieties (below), or check nurseries, catalogs, or books.

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