OVERVIEW: There are more than 8000 Fuchsia hybrids and cultivars available at present, many of which have potential for bonsai cultivation. I would however recommend using varieties that are reliably hardy for ease of cultivation and vigour in your climate. Though leaf size can be reduced, flower size cannot, and small flowered varieties are preferable. Suitable varieties include Fuchsia microphylla, F.’Tom Thumb’ and F. ‘Lady Thumb’. The most hardy and reliable variety for bonsai are members of the Fuchsia magellanica species. Try to avoid variegated forms as they are weaker and have a tendency to revert in poor light.
Fuchsia magellanica is a fast growing deciduous/evergreen shrub that has 1-2″ leaves, producing abundant red and purple flowers throughout the growing season. In the following notes I will be referring to F.Magellanica specifically though other varieties should be cultivated in much the same way, as long as care is taken with differing frost hardiness. Specimens of F.magellanica can produce trunks of over 4-5″ in less than 5 years if grown first in the ground prior to bonsai training. Fuchsias are suited to informal upright and cascade styles in small to medium sizes.
GENERAL CULTIVATION: Fuchsia are outdoor trees for much of the year.
Placement in full sun will encourage flower production at the expense of vegetative (foliage) growth; if the tree is still in training, it is worth providing some shade to encourage new shoots at the expense of flowers.
Fuchsia hardiness is variable depending on particular species. Fuchsia magellanica though is reliably hardy down to around -3°C(27 F). Temperatures below this will cause rapid leaf fall and can, on occasions, cause dieback of the branches, though the root system will tolerate temperatures of -10° centigrade (14 F) or less. Specimens do require a dormancy otherwise they lose their vigour. It is advisable to leave trees outside until at least the first frosts of the Autumn and then move to a light, frost-free position for the remainder of the winter.
After all possibility of frost has passed in mid-spring, place the tree back outside in full sun (though a little protection from the mid-day sun in the height of summer is advisable). Fuchsias enjoy high humidity levels and regular misting is necessary during high outdoor temperatures, however they dislike overly-wet compost and over-watering should be avoided. Growth is not prompted in the Spring until day-time temperatures reach 10 degrees centigrade (50 F) on a daily basis. This can result in plants not exhibiting growth until as late as May or June in cooler climates. Plants not showing new growth until this time should not be regarded as having died.
REPOTTING: Fuchsia should be repotted annually as root growth is very vigorous. Use a basic soil mix.
PRUNING: Fuchsia require weekly pinching during the summer to slow over-vigorous shoots and to reduce leaf size and increase ramification. As Fuchsia produce flower buds on a continual basis throughout the growing season, maintenance pruning will not reduce flower numbers significantly.
It is recommended that trees requiring strong trunk or branch growth have their flower buds removed continually to conserve strength for growth. Fuchsias have a tendency to sprout suckers from the roots and these should be removed.
WIRING: Due to their vigour and prolific budding, Fuchsia require little wiring as they are easily pruned to shape. Young shoots thicken rapidly so any wire applied must be watched closely to avoid wire-marks. Once growth has hardened off it becomes brittle.
PROPAGATION: Fuchsia are very easy to propagate, softwood cuttings can be taken in Spring or semi-ripe cuttings can be taken in late Summer. Better strike-rates are achieved from non-flowering branches.
Large specimens are easily collected from gardens. As Fuchsia have thick fleshy rhizomatous root systems, large stumps will readily root if planted in free-draining soil during early Spring.
PESTS AND DISEASES: Fuchsia are susceptible to aphids and regular inspection should be carried out. Trees experiencing wet soil conditions and poor air circulation are more susceptible to attacks of mildew and should be sprayed with fungicides.