A fuchsia plant (Fuchsia spp.) needs mild winters to grow as a perennial. So you may think it would be perfect for Florida's warm climate. Because fuchsia is native to high altitudes, however, it also does best in a location with cool summers, which makes growing fuchsia in Florida a bit complicated but not impossible.
Fuchsias for Florida
U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11a cover Florida. The plant most people think of as fuchsia is a hybrid of two fuchsia species and commonly called ladies' eardrops (Fuchsia x hybrida), and it grows as a perennial in USDA zones 9 through 11, which include central and southern Florida. Other fuchsia species include the hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), which is perennial in USDA zones 6 through 9 so grows well in northern and central Florida.
Cultivars of ladies' eardrops and hardy fuchsia are available and may have different USDA zones from their parent plants. Because all climates in Florida are hot and humid in summer, the state's gardeners should choose heat-tolerant fuchsia cultivars. Usually, fuchsia varieties with orange or red flowers are more tolerant of heat and humidity than the ones with lighter-colored or blue flowers.
The Right Place
Fuchsias require bright light, but direct afternoon sunlight is too hot for the plants. To combat the heat in Florida, put the plants where they will receive bright, indirect sunlight most of the day and afternoon shade. Fuchsias also grow best when provided shelter from strong wind. A light breeze can help keep them cool, but stronger winds are too drying and may damage the plants.
Most of the soils in Florida are sandy, though clay soils are in a few northern and central Florida locations, and some peat-based soils are in central and southern Florida. Fuchsias grow best in rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. So amending most kinds of Florida's soils is necessary before planting fuchsias.
Peat-based soils don't need amendments. For sandy soil, add peat, compost or well-rotted manure to improve moisture and nutrient retention. For clay soil, add peat and wood chips or shredded bark to improve drainage. Apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of the amendments to the soil surface, and then work the amendments into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
Fuchsias grow well in containers. In central and southern Florida, ladies' eardrops fuchsia can grow in a container outdoors year round. In northern Florida, however, the only way to keep ladies' eardrops alive during winter is to grow it in a container and move the container indoors before the first fall frost.
Growing a fuchsia in a container gives you the opportunity to provide it with ideal soil conditions without amending your garden's soil, and you can move the potted fuchsia to different parts of your yard to find the best place for the plant.
Select a container that is only slightly larger than the nursery container in which your new fuchsia grows, and ensure the new container has bottom drainage holes. For the best results, make your own potting mix by combining equal portions of peat moss, vermiculite, organic potting soil and coarse sand. You can either pot the fuchsia in a slightly larger container each spring when the plant's new growth starts or replant the fuchsia in the same container with minor pruning of the plant when it reaches the size you want it to be. Wiping your pruning tool with rubbing alcohol before and after pruning will help prevent the spread of plant diseases.
If you live in northern Florida and take a potted ladies' eardrops indoors before cold weather, then prune, or cut, the plant back to 6 inches tall when you move it indoors, and keep it in a location where the temperature remains 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during winter. Water the plant's soil just enough during winter to keep it from completely drying out. In spring, move the plant to a location with bright, indirect light, and water its soil on a regular basis to prompt new plant growth.
Water and Fertilizer
When you water and fertilize fuchsias depends on how long the growing season is where you live. In northern Florida, the growing season lasts from mid-March through early December. Central and interior Florida's growing season lasts from early February through late December. On the southern coast and the Keys, the growing season lasts all year.
During the growing season, both ladies' eardrops and hardy fuchsias need enough water to keep their soil moist but not soggy. Often, they need watering every day or every other day during the heat of summer. If you have fuchsias in containers, water their soil when its top is dry to the touch. Because fuchsias do not do well in high humidity, water the soil directly and avoid misting the plants' leaves.
Whether you have fuchsias in the ground or in containers, fertilize them every two to four weeks throughout the growing season. Use a complete, water-soluble plant food as the fertilizer, and apply it to the soil in place of a regular watering after diluting it in water. If, for example, you use a 24-8-16 blend of plant food, then mix 1 tablespoon of it with 1 gallon of water for outdoor plants, or mix 1/2 teaspoon of it with 1 gallon of water for container plants. Always read and follow label directions for your specific fertilizer, however. If you grow fuchsias in containers in USDA zones where the plants do not grow as perennials, then stop fertilizing those plants two weeks before you plan to take them indoors for winter.