The Ballerinas of the Plant World

My love affair with fuchsias started  years ago when I was a little girl growing up in Sabie.  My mother had a large collection of these fascinating plants, all old varieties as none of the hybrids were available in those days in a little backwater like Sabie. The daintiness of these little ballerinas hanging from elongated pedicels, and the colourful little frocks encircling the graceful stamens which ended in tiny ballerina feet, were a source of fascination and imagination for my young mind.

Fuchsia-magellanicaOn a visit to Vancouver, my hubby and I  visited Butchart gardens where they had the most spectacular display of fuchsias that I’ve ever seen.  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. The old love affair was ignited again and I have been growing these wonderful plants ever since.  Some of the old favourites have accompanied me to new locations, but alas, some have succumbed due to unfavourable climatic conditions.

 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.  During the early 19th century several more species were discovered, mainly on the western slopes of the Andes in South America.  Since then the French, English and German hybridists raised many new introductions every year.

 Cultivation:.  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 and transplanted you can give the rooted cuttings  a weak feed after they have been established for about three weeks. Plant rooted cuttings in a well drained plant medium that contains humus, and organic fertilisers.


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 Seagrow (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.

Diseases:  Rust and Botrytis are both serious problems as they restrict  the amount of food produced and stunt the growth of the plant. For more information on how to treat infected plants log on to:

Photos and Text: Esther Townsend

Fuchsia "Swingtime"
Fuchsia “Swingtime”
Fuchsia "Purple splendour"
Fuchsia “Purple splendour”