If you're looking for a plant that covers itself with vivid flowers all season long, try a fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.). This plant comes in many cultivars -- some grow upright and others have a trailing growth habit well suited to hanging containers. All have gracefully drooping, often bi-color flowers and thrive when given good moisture and some extra care now and then.
The Correct Environment
Most fuchsias are frost-sensitive and generally grown as annuals in all parts of the United States. These varieties include the common fuchsia (Fuchsia x hybrida), which has long drooping stems and is often grown in a hanging basket, either indoors or outside. But hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) grows as a 10-foot-tall shrub and can withstand frost, growing as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. Like all fuchsias, these two types do best when given proper lighting and the right temperature.
If you grow a fuchsia in the ground, plant it in the spring after danger of frost has passed, choosing a site that's in partial shade and protects the plant from hot afternoon sun -- on a shaded porch or under a tall tree that casts shifting shade is ideal. When potted and grown indoors, the best spot is one that provides bright but indirect light, such as in a lightly curtained south- or west-facing window.
Whether indoors or out in the garden, it's also important to keep the plant cool in spring when it's actively growing and setting buds; a daytime temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, with a temperature that's about 10 degrees lower at night.
Water, Soil and Fertilizer
A fuchsia needs a regular supply of moisture to grow well; it might wilt and drop buds if the soil becomes dry. Test the soil surface regularly with your finger and water the plant whenever it feels dry. If you grow fuchsia in a container, ensure it has at least one drainage hole, and let it drain fully after watering. Never leave a potted fuchsia in a water-filled saucer, because this can cause fungal growth. If you grow hardy fuchsia in the ground, reduce watering in the fall, letting the soil dry slightly between waterings; to give the plant a rest, don't water in winter.
This plant tolerates any type of garden soil, provided it's well-drained, but prefers soil with good fertility. To increase the soil's organic content and improve its fertility, mix 2 inches of compost into your planting area before setting a fuchsia into the ground. For a container-grown fuchsia, don't plant in garden soil; instead, use a loam-based commercial potting mix for best results.
A fuchsia needs regular fertilizer to continue growing and developing flowers for the entire season. Apply a balanced soluble fertilizer, such as a 20-20-20 formula, diluted at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water, but check your product label for further directions. Use the fertilizer in place of a regular watering, and repeat the application every two to four weeks while the plant's growing. If you over-winter a potted annual fuchsia indoors, stop fertilizing about two weeks before you move it.
Avoiding Pest Problems
Although usually a trouble-free plant, a fuchsia might attract hard-bodied, iridescent Japanese beetles or fluffy white mealybugs. Both pests suck juices and damage the plant, and are best controlled by hand-picking. Spider mites -- microscopic pests that leave visible webs on leaves -- can also cause problems, as can tiny green aphids. Control both pests by spraying the plant until dripping with insecticidal soap, diluted at a rate of 5 tablespoons per gallon of water; wear gloves when spraying, and repeat as needed every two weeks.
To prevent damage to the foliage, do not apply the insecticidal soap during sunny conditions or when temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Test the mixture on a small portion of the foliage before applying to the entire plant.