Why do we Prune?
Fuchsias are pruned to reshape lanky overgrown plants and allow new shoots to grow. Fuchsias flower at the end of branches – judicious pinching of the new shoots will result in a well-shaped plant with abundant flowers. At the same time weak and diseased branches and any pests are removed. Fuchsias left to their own devices very rapidly get leggy and ugly, bearing a few flowers at the ends of straggly branches. Therefore, it is important to prune once a year, even if there are still a few flowers on your plants.
Pruning trains the main structural branches to form the framework of the plant and encourage vegetative growth. Pruning can restore vigour, and enhance the appearance of plants.
When do we prune?
In the mild, frost free climate of the Western Cape we can prune from the middle May, and if we want good plants in full flower for the show in November or December we should finish pruning by the end of June. In Gauteng, if fuchsias planted in pots are well protected throughout the winter, they will be fine. However, ones in the garden usually get severely frosted during winter.
It is possible to wait for spring (late August or September) before pruning, but that limits the growing and pinching time available before the show. Lastly, you need to use the best quality cutting tools you can afford, freshly sharpened and clean. Make a straight cut about 5mm above a node to allow for some die-back to occur, thus avoiding damage to the dormant shoots in the leaf axils.
[Billy (left) before, and (right) after pruning]
Start out by removing any dead or damaged wood from the plant and any branches that are crossing badly. Then step back and take a long hard look at the shape and structure that is left. Next, cut all the remaining branches back by about a half. This is quick and dirty cutting, just so that you can see the structure of your plant more clearly. Afterwards, tune your pruning by cutting away all the thin weak growth, which will only produce weak shoots. Remove any dead or damaged growth that you missed previously. If branches are crossing, cut out the weaker one. This opens the plant up to receive more air and sunlight.
Finally, bear in mind that we are aiming for a fat round plant covered in leaves and flowers. Cut each branch back further to leave two nodes of current year growth.
The current year growth is easily recognisable as the bark is smooth and shiny, while that of older growth is rough and dull, sometimes even flaky, depending on the age of the plant. This flakiness can be gently brushed off with a toothbrush or a rough glove to make sure no nasties are hiding under it.
Remove all remaining leaves from the plant: they are going to fall off anyway, and might be harbouring the eggs or larvae of pests or the spores of fungal diseases, so it’s best to get rid of them now.
After pruning your plants, you may find the ends of the pruned branches will start to bleed. This is quite normal. The globule of sap leaking from the branch end may be attacked by a white fungus which will feed on the sap until the wound has healed. As the end of each pruned branch heals the fungus will die. It will not harm the plant in any way. Seeing the branch bleeding is a good indication that the branch is alive and it will now maintain its shape and produce some nice sturdy growth. If you are unsure whether any particular branch is dead just scratch the outer tissue, the epidermis, with your nail: if the wood beneath is green and moist, it is still alive; if hard, brown and dry, it is dead and must be pruned back.
The last thing you need to do is remove all the debris from the top of the soil and about 2,5cm of the soil. This also helps to ensure that you are eradicating any pests or diseases that might be lingering in the top of the soil.
[Wilma Versloot (left) befirem and (right) after pruning]
By the end of the season, baskets are lanky with very few remaining flowers at the end of branches. Use the same procedure as for bushes and in addition, prune any branches over-hanging back to the edge of the basket. In plants that are just one year old, this usually leaves 1 to 2 nodes of the current season’s growth.
[On the left, Pink Rain is pictured before being pruned, and on the right it is covered in new growth about two weeks after pruning]
Standards can and should actually survive for a number of years, so it is important to prune them carefully at the end of the season. They are pruned the same way as a bush and your aim is to develop a sturdy frame for the next season. stabdards are treated ub exactly the same way as bushes - they are, in effect, bushes on long stems. Take care to keep a good balanced shape to form the base of a full, round standard. this is also a good timeto check your stakes and ties and replace them if necessary. you willprobably need a second pair of hands if you are going to repot or root-prune a large standard - they are both heavy and unwieldy and you run the risk of hurting yourself, or breaking off the head, if you go it alone.
Very young plants, those younger than one year that might or might not have carried a few flowers, don’t need pruning, but they must still be lightly trimmed to shape them and encourage new growth.
Summer pruning/trimming is done between the end December and early January to reshape plants. One or two leaf nodes are removed at end of branches. Mother plants may be cut well back from mid to late summer in order to provide plenty of cuttings in autumn; some cultivars however continue to flower and do not produce new shoots in summer. Garden Fuchsias also require annual pruning.
After Care of Pruned Plants
Spray with an insecticide to eradicate over-wintering pests. It is also beneficial to spray the plant several times a day with lukewarm water and weekly with a dilute Epsom salt (1tsp/5litre) and Kelpak. Epsom salt attracts water and keeps the bark moist, which facilitates the emergence of new shoots that begin to appear from the topmost leaf nodes. It takes between two and three weeks for new shoots to appear and then a good covering of new leave will develop. It is on advisable to start feeding the plant only once this occurs – use dilute feed of Seagro initially.
Do not overwater recently-pruned plants, as new shoots, as well as the plant, will die.
Re-Potting & Root Pruning
Now is the time to decide whether you need to pot this plant up into a bigger container, or to keep it in the same pot for another year.
Slip the plant out of its pot and examine the root ball. Squeeze the pot all the way around and tip the plant into the palm of your hand. If it resists, tap the bottom hard and tug gently.
If it looks as if there is still plenty of room for growth, just slip the plant back into the pot and refill the top of the pot with some fresh soil mix.
If the pot is full of roots that are clearly visible, the plant needs either to be potted up into a larger container, or else have the roots pruned before being replaced in the same pot.
To prune the roots, gently tease out the root ball (left), removing at least a third of the soil, so that you can see plenty of the long, thick roots.
Cut the long roots off all the way around (right), reducing the root mass by about a third. Also take away any roots that look dead or damaged. Try to disturb the small feeding roots as little as possible.
Clean up and thin out until there is a good, compact root ball (left). Sterilize your old pot with a solution of Jeyes fluid, or it is perhaps better to use a new pot of the same or smaller size.
Replant your fuchsia in fresh soil mix, and water lightly. Remember always to replace the label, as pruned plants all look the same! You have now finished and new growth should start appearing in a couple of weeks.
It’s time to put your plant back into the shade house, where you will spray it thoroughly with a general pesticide like ‘Rosecare 3’ to kill any pests that still may be lurking around. After a week or so, a spraying with a weak solution of Magnesium sulphate (Epsom Salts) is a good idea as this helps to keep the ripe bark moist and supple and so facilitates the emergence of the tender new growth. You can use 1 teaspoon dissolved in 5 litres of water.
Remember that your newly pruned plants have no leaves and, therefore, are not doing much in the way of photosynthesis or transpiration. They need only enough water to prevent the soil drying out, and no fertilizer until they show new leaves that are recognisable as true fuchsia leaves. When once recognisable leaves are present begin to feed again with a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and low in potassium such as 3:2:1. I also like to give at least one feed of Kelpak (about two weeks later) as the growth hormone content of this product really boosts the growth in the early stages.