Hardy fuchsias are stunning beacons of color in the garden from early summer to fall and deserve much more attention from a horticultural perspective both in nursery production and on garden center benches. There are few other plant genera that are as useful in garden design as hardy fuchsias. They bloom from June until well into October, much to the appreciation of hummingbirds, who thrive on the sweet nectar from the flowers.
The genus Fuchsia was first observed by French botanist Charles Plumier on an expedition to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, now Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in 1696-97. Plumier is widely considered the most influential botanical explorer of his time. He named this new plant Fuchsia after German physician and botanist Leonhardt Fuchs, (1501-1566). Plumier published Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera in 1703, a year before his death, where along with hundreds of other genera, you find the new genus and species Fuchsia triphylla. The vast majority of fuchsia species are native to Central and South America, with the exception of a couple of very interesting species native to New Zealand, F. exocorticata and F. procumbens.
Putting the word "hardy" in front of a plant name can be problematic, especially if you live in say, northern Minnesota, where the hardiest of fuchsias are certainly annuals. However, anyone gardening in USDA Zone 7 or higher can enjoy hundreds of fuchsia cultivars that will be reliably perennial. A trick I’ve learned to eek-out a little more cold tolerance is to plant fuchsias very deep, covering at least half of the stems so that only the top third of the plant sticks out above ground. Like a tomato plant, everything below the surface will quickly form roots, and the deepest roots will be 1-2 feet below the ground and more protected from winter freezing. Mulching heavily in USDA Zone 6b might help protect fuchsias from freezing. Even if you’re not able to over-winter fuchsias in colder climates, they are fast growers and are beautiful in the landscape as annuals. In maritime climates, fuchsias are definitely best grown in full sun with plenty of summer water. In hotter and more humid climates, they will benefit from afternoon shade.
In nursery production, a 72-cell liner will finish a beautiful gallon by April if planted in late August or early September and grown in a cold frame or greenhouse with minimal heat. The plants will establish easily through fall and go through a brief dormancy until late February. They will be blooming nicely for Mother’s Day, when you’ll have a robust root system ready to grow in the garden.
Why grow hardy fuchsias?
- They are beautiful, long-flowering perennials in USDA Zones 7-9.
- They come in a wide variety of plant sizes and flower colors.
- They are highly collectable plants, given the wide variety of forms.
- They are attractive to hummingbirds and other pollinators.
- They can be grown in nursery production with minimal heat inputs.
Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. firstname.lastname@example.org