THERE is no more popular plant for culture in the window-garden than the Fuchsia, and yet we seldom see it grown well there. Generally it is a scraggly, sprawling specimen, with few branches and inferior flowers. As usually grown, it is far from being a satisfactory plant, but there is no reason why such should be the case if the grower will give it the care it requires. One reason why it fails to give better satisfaction is-it is a misunderstood plant. An impression prevails that it is a winter-bloomer, and because of this it is neglected in summer, being held in reserve for winter work. When winter comes, and flowers are expected from it, it fails to meet the expectations of the grower, and it is blamed for misbehavior. The explanation of its failure is this: It is not a winter-bloomer, with the exception of two or three varieties. These varieties are not as showy as others, and they are not extensively grown, and therefore the amateur in her search for brilliant flowers is pretty sure to select the kinds that will not bloom in winter. Get rid of the idea that the Fuchsia is a winter-flowering plant (with the exceptions noted) and give it a treatment that will enable it to do itself justice during the summer months. As a summer-bloomer it is in no way inferior to the Geranium, except, perhaps, in point of brilliance. It lacks those glowing scarlets and vermilions that make the Geranium bed so dazzlingly bright, but what it lacks in this respect it makes up in its profusion of bloom and gracefulness of habit. The Geranium, as ordinarily grown, is not a plant remarkable for grace, but the Fuchsia, if allowed to follow out its own instincts, is grace, beauty, and luxuriance in a delightful combination.
As an out-of-door bloomer it is not a success, unless it can be given a shady and sheltered location. It does not take kindly to hot sunshine, and strong winds play havoc with its brittle branches. It is in the house or greenhouse that it displays its beauty most effectively. For summer use I consider it one of our very best plants.
If the plant with which you start out in spring is a young one it will not require a large pot during the earlier stages of its growth. But as its roots fill the soil in its old pot, it must be shifted to a larger pot. If a young plant is allowed to remain for some time in a pot too small for it, it receives a check from which it will be a long time in recovering-so long, in fact, in the majority of cases, that but little can be expected from it during the remainder of the season. One secret of successful Fuchsia-growing is to keep the plants moving steadily ahead from start to finish. That is, for the first season. After they are a year old, and you have them in large pots, it will only be necessary to give fresh earth in spring, depending on fertilizers for the nutriment needed during the rest of the season.
In my experience young plants have never been as satisfactory when grown on fertilizers a when given rich soil only. The explanation probably is that the young roots are not in proper condition to make use of very rich and concentrated food. Later on they will be able to digest it.
The best soil for the Fuchsia is one made up largely of leaf-mold, or its substitute-turfy matter, sharp sand, and just enough loam to give it a little more body than it would have were this left out. It should be light, friable, and porous.
The best of drainage must be provided. While the Fuchsia is fond of considerable water at its roots, it does not like to stand in a soil so wet that it is little better than mud. See to it, therefore, that at least two inches of drainage material goes into every eight or nine-inch pot. Let a plant get really dry and it will drop its leaves and buds. Make it a rule to water your plants daily.
The Fuchsia is almost as fond of water on its foliage as at its roots. You cannot grow it to perfection unless frequent showerings are given. If one has a florist's syringe-something every amateur should have-water is easily thrown all over the plant. The application of water, especially to the under side of the leaves, will be of great benefit in keeping down one of its enemies, the red spider. If sufficient moisture is not provided for its foliage, this pest frequently injures the plant to such an extent that its buds and leaves drop, precisely as when it has been allowed to get dry at its roots. Shedding of buds and foliage is almost always due to one or the other of these causes.
The Fuchsia is, comparatively speaking, a shade-loving plant. It does best in a window with eastern exposure. Exposed to hot sunshine it will soon dwindle into insignificance, and general ill-health will set in.
There are as many ways of training the Fuchsia as there are individual tastes. I have seen it trained to a prim trellis, with every branch tied up, making it look as uncomfortable and awkward as the traditional small boy in Sunday clothes. Others give it a row of sticks about the pot, around which a fence of twine is constructed, outside of which no branches are allowed to grow, making it simply ridiculous. The only satisfactory manner in which this plant can be trained is to study the habit of each variety and allow it to follow out its natural instincts, giving it only such assistance as seems absolutely necessary. Give it a central support, and let its branches droop. That is successful Fuchsia-training in a nutshell. Treated in this way, a healthy plant will be a mass of foliage from the pot up, with a profusion of graceful branches, each one terminated with buds and flowers.
Few varieties are strong enough to get along well without a central support. A rod of iron is better than a stick, because a well-developed plant will have a very heavy top, and as a stake soon becomes rotten when inserted in damp soil, there is great danger of the plant being broken in moving it about. Be on the safe side, and provide a support that will not fail you at the time when needed most. Tie the main stalk of the plant to it, as it goes up, and let every branch take care of itself. Rather than insult a Fuchsia of dropping habit by tying its branches into unnatural positions-positions it would never think of taking if left to itself- I would forego the cultivation of it altogether.
Some varieties of the Fuchsia are naturally upright in habit. Rose of Castile-white and violet-and Black Prince-carmine and coral -are types of this class. Were it not for the precaution taken against accident in moving the plants, no support would be required by these varieties.
Other varieties, like Convent Garden White -ivory white sepals and rose-colored corolla, -and Speciosa-carmine and pink,-are very strong, rampant growers, and can be trained to the top of a window, if desired, provided sufficient support is furnished. For these I would advise a rod of iron, in which holes have been made at intervals afoot apart. Through these holes run a stout wire, weaving it about in such a manner as to form arms reaching out in all directions. These will give the slender branches all the support they need, and no tying will be required. Trained in this way a plant is a most beautiful sight when in full bloom. The difference between a Fuchsia properly trained and one trained in a formal and artificial manner can only be understood fully by seeing a specimen of each side by side.
We have single Fuchsias and double ones. Some of the double kinds-like Elm City and Phenomenal-have corollas almost as large as small Roses, and quite as double. Personally, I prefer the single kinds, considering them more graceful. This, however, is simply a matter of taste. Both kinds are worth a place in all collections.
It is not necessary, as some persons seem to think, to grow young plants each season. Young plants may excel older ones in vigor, but they will not give as many flowers, and they lack the dignity of larger plants. I prefer two and three-year-old Fuchsias to younger ones for the same reasons that I prefer old Geraniums to young ones for winter use-the more branches there are the more flowering-points your plant has.
If your plants do not seem to be making as strong a growth as you think they ought, apply a good fertilizer once a week until they reach the vigor you demand of them. They will stand feeding better than most plants.
In the fall, when flowering ceases, give less water than you have been giving throughout the season, and let the plant get ready for cold storage. Put it in the cellar in November, and leave it there until March. Never mind if it drops its leaves. The plant will not be injured by losing them. Aim to keep it as nearly dormant as possible while it is resting. When you bring it up in March, water it well and place it in the light. It will soon start into growth. Then-and not till then-go over the plant and cut it back severely. Cut away at least one half its old branches. Keep in mind the fact that flowers will only be produced on new growth, also that severe pruning induces the formation of many new and vigorous branches, and you want as many as possible of these. At this time fresh earth can be given. Pruning should be deferred until growth sets in, in order to know what branches it is safe to cut back.