Q: A recent article discussed the wintering over of upright fuchsia plants (Plant Life, Nov. 21, Pacific Northwest magazine). I really would appreciate your assistance on this...

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Q:

A recent article discussed the wintering over of upright fuchsia plants (Plant Life, Nov. 21, Pacific Northwest magazine). I really would appreciate your assistance on this, as our resident hummingbirds have grown quite fond of them, and my husband has grown quite fond of the hummingbirds.


A:

I’m assuming by upright fuchsias you mean hardy fuchsias, as opposed to the dangly, fluffy annual fuchsias most often sold as hanging baskets around Mother’s Day. Be aware that in springtime, nurseries also offer a number of upright fuchsias that are annuals, like the popular Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt.’ These will die during a cold spell, although some have wintered over in recent warm years when grown in a sheltered spot.

That said, many upright shrubby fuchsias are reliably hardy, and my guess is that is the kind your hummingbirds so enjoyed. Don’t cut them back, even though they look like a jumble of sticks by this point in the winter.

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The above-ground parts of the plant help protect it from the cold, so should be left alone until spring. It’s a good idea to add a layer of protective mulch around the base of your fuchsias. In early April, when the weather has reliably warmed up a bit, cut the bare branches back to the ground, being careful not to harm any new growth.

Fuchsias leaf out late in the spring and don’t bloom until at least June, making them one of the best flowering plants in the late summer and autumn garden, as well as a nectar buffet for hummingbirds.


Q:

A gardener friend talked about growing Christmas roses that bloom in December. I can’t figure out from my books which roses she means. Can you help?


A:

While some of the old-fashioned shrub roses offer a flower or two until nearly Christmas, I think your friend was talking about another kind of plant altogether. Because it sometimes flowers for the holidays, the perennial Helleborus niger is known as the “Christmas rose,” although it little resembles a rose in either blossom or shape.

H. niger has open, snowy flowers (the cultivar ‘White Magic’ has the largest flowers) and handsome, toothed foliage on stout stems. It is a magical sight when this delicate-appearing little plant flowers in the dead of winter.

However, this is one of the more difficult hellebores to cultivate. You might want to start out with the easier to grow and find Helleborus orientalis, known as the Lenten rose.

As you can guess from its common name, the Lenten rose blooms closer to Valentine’s Day in shades from ivory to plum, often freckled. H. orientalis are more dependable bloomers than their solstice flowering cousins.

Valerie Easton also answers questions in Wednesday’s Plant Talk on the back of Northwest Life. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.