OVER-WINTER TENDER FUCHSIAS
Tender fuchsias in containers can sometimes be overwintered in warmer parts of the UK simply by placing the container in a position which is protected from winds and teh worst of the frosts.
I discovered this by accident in the winter of 2019 / 20. Around early November time 2019 I moved a fuchsia (and a regal pelargonium) in a container to a corner of the garden next to our house.
This was really just a tidying up exercise, I had no hope that the plant would survive the winter. The winter of 2019 / 20 must have been a mild winter because the fuchsia (and the regal pelargonium) survived. Not only did it survive but it produced a magnificent flowering display in the summer /autumn of 2020.
Most British winters, however, will kill tender fuchsias if they are not prepared well and protected. This article describes how to give your tender fuchsia the best chance of surviving a British winter without the use of heat. The key factors for survival are:
- Avoid low temperature combined with windy conditions – the combination is terminal for tender fuchsias.
- Do not allow the soil in the container to dry out
- Do not allow the soil in the container to become water-logged
- Prevention of fungal diseases
Each of the above factors are described below in more detail. Note that the above list is not in order of importance, any one condition has the ability to prevent your fuchsia surviving a British winter.
WHY OVER-WINTER TENDER FUCHSIAS?
One key reason for overwintering tender fuchsias (without the use of heating) is cost. It costs virtually nothing to over winter a tender fuchsia in a greenhouse or cloche. You have the plants for free the next year.
Another reason is the satisfaction of preserving a plant which would otherwise be thrown away.
Then there is the larger size of the plant the next year if you overwinter it. The picture below shows the fuchsia I accidentally over-wintered last year. It’s at least 45cm (18in) wide and tall this year. Much larger than could be achieved compared to buying a small plant in the spring and then growing it on through the season.
The fuchsia below is slightly bedraggled because it had suffered from a slight frost but the size of the plant is clear.
PREPARING THE FUCHSIA FOR OVERWNTERING
Tender fuchsias will stand a small amount of frost with no significant damage but it’s safest to prepare the plant before the first frost of autumn / winter. This date ranges from early September in cold areas of the UK to late November in warm areas. We live near Warwick (slightly cooler than the UK average) and we start the process at the end of October.
At this time of year your fuchsia may well still be in full flower, but almost certainly a frost is not far off. It’s contrary to human nature to severely cut back a plant when it is in full flower but if you want to overwinter a fuchsia, it has to be done.
The procedure outlined below is the same for all tender fuchsias, from those grown in hanging baskets to those grown in larger containers. It is just a matter of scale.
For fuchsias grown in hanging baskets it is best to remove the plant from the basket, prepare it and then pot it into a suitable sized container. The reason for this is that a hanging basket takes up a significant amount of unneccessary room. See our aricle on the Marinka fuschia which can be found here.
The picture below shows the fuchsia pictured above, fully prepared. If you click on the picture it will enlarge, making it easier to see it in detail.
The first step (with a clean pair of secateurs) is to start removing the fleshy foliage and flowers. It’s best to do this gradually, moving the plant around as you clip off the outside growth step by step. You want to end up with a prepared plant which has the following characteristics:
- Remaining stems are within the width of the pot.
- Remaining stems are “woody”. They should be light to dark brown with no green stems remaining.
- Crossing stems are removed.
- All diseased stems are removed.
If you are potting fuchsias grown in hanging baskets, it is fine to trim off some of the roots to fit into the pots have. The compost should be slightly moist but certainly not wet through or dry.
The surface of the soil of a prepared fuchsia should be as clear as possible of all leaves and flowers. The clearer the compost surface the less risk there will be of fungal infections developing in the winter.
WHERE AND HOW TO OVER WINTER A TENDER FUCHSIA
Your prepared fuchsia now needs to be placed in a position that will best suit it to survival over winter. This article does not deal with fuchsias stored in a heated greenhouse over winter. Heating a greenhouse over winter is very expensive. We describe how to overwinter with no heat.
If you have a greenhouse then that will protect the plants from wind and a large degree of frost.
An excellent alternative, probably better than an full-sized greenhouse, is a mini greenhouse or a cloche. The advantage of a mini-greenhouse is that it can be positioned against a house wall which will provide a small amount of warmth over winter.
The aim over the winter months is to keep the compost slightly drier compared to normal conditions. But don’t let the compost dry out completely, that will kill the plant. The plant will be in a dormant condition over winter and will not require frequent watering. I would suggest inspecting the plant every three weeks or so and water it if required. Do not feed the plant when over wintering.
The weather in October to December can sometimes be warmer than expected in the UK and it is possible that the fuchsia may start to grow again. Each time you check it for water, also snip off any growing shoots and leaves. The leaves will die down of their own accord and, if left on the plant, will fall off and start to decompose on the surface of the compost.
Your fuchsia should be removed from the greenhouse the next spring when all danger of a frost has passed. Water it, feed it and with luck it will spring back to life.