The Ballerinas of the Plant World

The daintiness of these little ballerinas hanging from elongated pedicels, the colourful little frocks encircling the graceful stamens which end in tiny ballerina feet, are a source of fascination for many gardeners.  A fuchsia laden with delicate and graceful blooms is one of the most elegant and exquisite of all plants, whether grown as a bush, as a standard or trailing in a basket.

Fuchsias are first mentioned in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the Incas in Peru were cultivating the species F.boliviana for edible berries.  But it was only in the late 17th century that Father Carole Plumier, a Minim monk who was also an eminent botanist, discovered an unusual plant with scarlet flowers and coppery bronze foliage;  he named it Fuchsia triphylla flore coccinea after Dr. Fuchs, a celebrated German botanist.

Fuchsia magellanica

A ‘Wild” Fuchsia  used to grow at the back of Mother Holly’s coffee shop near Jubilee Creek and also near the old Goldmine Museum in Goudveld.  They must have been introduced by the early settlers who established a settlement near Jubilee Creek.  The area attracted gold diggers from all over the world, once settled they must have established little gardens because various herb species, roses, digitalis and this fuchsia  have been found growing amongst  the other vegetation which have taken over the once organised little ‘village’. The recent fires had a devastating effect on that region, it is doubtful if any of these historical plants have survived, however some old varieties of fuchsias can still be found in the older suburbs of Knysna.

Fuchsia boliviana

Fuchsias flower freely and there are literally hundreds of cultivars available.  They are easy to cultivate: any fertile soil will suit their needs, and given moist conditions and a moist atmosphere they will flourish to near perfection.  You can propagate fuchsias at any time of the year provided the conditions are right.  Their cuttings root easily, but never take cuttings with buds or flowers present. Keep cuttings moist, and never allow them to wilt or dry out.  Don’t use fertiliser at any time during the rooting period.  Once rooted plant cuttings in a well drained plant medium that contains humus, and organic fertilisers. Three weeks after  you have transplanted the rooted cuttings, you can give the plants  a weak feed of liquid fertilizer. Thereafter follow the maintenance programme.


Feeding:  as fuchsias are heavy feeders, use a high nitrogen fertiliser in the early stages of growth such as 3.2.1 SR.  When buds and flowers start to appear, change to a high-potassium fertiliser of 5.1.5 SR.  A weak weekly application of Organic liquid fertilizer  (half strength) is also recommended. Yellowing of leaves is a serious sign of magnesium deficiency;  sprinkle a teaspoon of Magnesium sulphate around the base of the plants and that should solve the problem.

Pruning:  Fuchsias only bloom on new wood, so growth from the base should be encouraged.  Pruning assists this growth, so at the end of winter prune the old wood back to force new growth. If you wish you can prune fuchsias very lightly in early autumn to improve their shape.

Stopping and Pinching:  Regular pinching of fuchsias in the beginning of the growing season encourages bushy growth.

Pests and Diseases:  A variety of pests can attack fuchsias, the most common being  Red Spider Mite that appears when it is dry and hot: infestation weakens the leaf tissue, the leaves turn bronze and yellow, dry up and eventually fall.

White fly is another fairly common pest. The waxy white adult whiteflies are up to 2mm long and fly off in clouds when disturbed.  They are sucking insects that feeds on sap and excrete honeydew, and are very difficult to control.

Rust and Botrytis are both serious problems as they restrict  the amount of food produced and stunt the growth of the plant.