These tough-and-lovable shrubs survive outdoors year-round, with colorful flowers that come in all sizes and shapes.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for an incredibly attractive, easy-to-grow shrub that hummingbirds can’t resist, give hardy fuchsias a try. Unlike the tender, shade-loving fuchsias that come in hanging baskets, hardy fuchsias survive outdoors year-round. These tough shrubs feature attractive, colorful flowers that come in all sizes and shapes, and bloom nonstop from late May until well after Thanksgiving. The flowers hang in clusters along the tip of the branches, and are composed of the calyx, the outer section made up of sepals (modified leaves that cover the bud), and the corolla, interior petals that form a tube.
Most hardy fuchsias come from South America, although there are species from New Zealand and Tahiti, as well. The hardiest fuchsias are hybrids of Fuchsia magellanica, native to Chile and Argentina. Easily surviving temperatures down to 0 degrees, these fuchsias are referred to as Lady’s Eardrops, because the narrow, bicolor flowers resemble little jeweled earrings. The flowers might be small, but there are so many of them, they put on a dazzling display irresistible to gardeners and hummingbirds.
There are hundreds of smaller, flowering varieties to choose from. Although most have red and purple flowers, ‘Hawkshead’ is covered in blossoms of pure white, while the blooms of ‘Peppermint Stick’ are streaked with red and purple.
There are varieties with colored foliage, as well. ‘Aurea’ has golden foliage and bright red flowers, while ‘Tricolor’ sports grey-green leaves edged in cream to pink, with red and purple flowers. If you’re in the market for a climber, Fuchsia regia SSP regia is a vine with red and purple flowers that can work its way up to 20 feet tall trained on a fence or trellis.
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As attractive as the smaller flowering varieties are, when it comes to putting on a colorful display, the fuchsias with bigger blossoms are the real standouts. One of the best is ‘Mrs. Popple’. Completely hardy in the Puget Sound region, this shrub can reach more than 4 feet tall and wide, and is covered in inch-wide flowers with bright red sepals and violet-purple tubes.
Just as gorgeous, with equally large red and dark-purple flowers, is ‘Lady Boothby’. This one also is capable of climbing, and can reach more than 15 feet tall tied to a trellis.
If you’re into red and have room for an upright shrub that can reach 12 feet tall, give ‘Cardinal’ a place in your garden. It produces masses of inch-wide fiery crimson blossoms that hummingbirds find irresistible.
Finally, perhaps the showiest hardy fuchsia is ‘Double Otto’. The 2-inch-wide double flowers feature deeply flared scarlet sepals with double, dark-purple corollas. This one is slightly tender, so mulch heavily over the base in fall. Plant ‘Double Otto’ for its beauty rather than to attract hummingbirds. As is often the case in the breeding process, the nectar-producing parts were sacrificed to achieve multiple petals.
Although hard pruning can delay blooming, hardy fuchsias can be cut back right to the ground in spring to create a compact plant. You can forgo pruning, but it usually results in crowded, twiggy growth, with most of the flowers showing only at the end of the taller branches.
After a cold winter, woody growth is often killed back to the ground. Wait to prune off the dead stems until new growth appears at the base. For extra cold tolerance on some of the varieties with larger flowers, plant your hardy fuchsia 4 inches deeper than it comes out of the pot.
Your hardy fuchsia will bloom better in a sunny location, but avoid extremely hot areas with reflected sunshine.
Fertilize with a mix of organic flower food and alfalfa meal every six weeks, beginning in early May. Then sit back, and watch the hummingbirds flitter about in a mad frenzy as they try to decide which fuchsia to visit first.