Fuchsias, often called "Dancing Ladies" because their many petals resemble the tutus of tiny ballerinas are making a comeback in the Bay Area. All of the brightly colored flowering forms are hybrids of the native plants growing in South America.
Since the 1850's, the San Francisco Bay Area with its ideal Fuchsia climate was the center for Fuchsia breeding, growth, flower shows and landscaping. Unfortunately, in 1981, the minute Fuchsia mite entered the United States on contraband plants from South America. It quickly spread throughout the Bay Area and infected plants developed unsightly galls with twisted stems, leaves and flowers that rendered the plants almost unrecognizable. Many gardeners and landscapers gave up trying to control the mite and tore out their plants in the ground and dumped those in hanging baskets.
Since then, growers working with horticulturists from the University of California have developed a list of mite resistant Fuchsias. Originally, most of these were the plants with attractive but tiny flowers; Fuchsia Minutifolia and F. Thymifolia. More recent hybrids have larger, more recognizable flowers; Fanfare, Dr. Mahoney, and Dr. Godroson. So the good news is, one way or another Fuchsias are back to stay in the Bay Area.
Fuchsias grow best in a cool moist environment, a rich, organic, well-draining soil, with filtered sun and regular feeding. If you grow large Fuchsias in the ground, they will probably need a trellis or espalier support in addition to soil well amended with organic compost such as Gold Rush. Leaf mold or conifer compost was the organic mulch of choice in the past but are now largely unavailable. Forest Blend or Gold Rush to which a dash of ammonium sulfate has been added is an acceptable substitute. Fuchsia bushes should be trimmed to shape each spring. Fuchsias bloom on "new wood," so don't be reticent about your pruning. Remove about one-half of the shrub plus any dead or crossing branches. This would also be the time to train new branches onto a trellis or fence is the plant is to be espaliered. Otherwise, treat your shrub Fuchsia as outlined for the hanging types mentioned below.
Most gardeners still enjoy seeing their Fuchsias in hanging baskets. These basket Fuchsias should be repotted every year and treated as follows:
- About President's Day, cut the top of the plant back to the edge of the pot, remove dead or crossing branches, knock the plant out of the pot and trim one or two inches of root off the root ball (sides and bottom).
- Repot the Fuchsia in a suitable soil mixture (such as eight parts Gardeners Gold potting soil, two parts Gold Rush and one part perlite); water thoroughly.
- Fertilize your Fuchsias once a month with water soluble Maxsea "Bloom" (3-20-20 plus trace elements) or half strength twice a month.
- Water to keep the soil moist and until the water runs out the bottom of the container. This may be once every two weeks in February or once a day in August.
- When the new leaves emerge in March, pinch off the tips when two pairs of leaves are showing. Do this two more times to produce a bushy plant.
- If your plant is an old fashioned Fuchsia and not one of the new mite resistant varieties, U.C. recommends spraying it with carbaryl (Sevin) once a month starting as soon as you transplant it if you had any mite damage last year. Otherwise, start spraying when you see flower buds. The mites are so small; they can be spread by wind, insects and humming birds.
- Hang your basket in a place with filtered or morning sun, sit back and enjoy!
- The July/August/September 2006 issue of Pacific Horticulture lists 36 Fuchsias resistant to Gall Mites such as "Angel's Earrings", "Campo Molina", "Elegant Rose", "Fanfare", "Hennerike", "Popplecorn", "Red Fanling", "Strybing's Peach" and 28 more.