Shady parts of the garden, or cool patios or terraces, are often the most comfortable place to be on a summer’s day, but few plants in these spots flower well.
Two that do are, of course, fuchsias and hydrangeas. And both respond to pruning and shaping.
These are especially adaptable: they can be made to trail from banks or baskets or be compact shrubs, formal standards or vinelike espaliers.
Some types, it’s true, are naturally pendulous, others more erect, so check these points with the nursery when buying, or note typical growth if you are getting cuttings from a friend. The growth of most fuchsias, however, can be controlled by pruning.
It is usually done in late winter or very early spring just before new growth starts (some gardeners in frost-free areas like to prune in autumn so that the first new blooms come in time for the spring display). This is how you do it.
Bush type – If growing from your own cuttings, remove the top pair of leaves and center shoot when the plant is about 15cm (6in) high. This brings new shoots from the junctions of at least the top pair of leaves. Pinch back again when the new shoots make six leaves.
This delays flowering but makes a bushier plant with more shoots and so more flowers when they do come.
When pruning an established bush, cut out old stems with thin twiggy growth. Then cut the remaining stems, made last season, back to about finger-length. New growth is pinched back, as described, and it is preferable to repeat this at least once unless you are happy to sacrifice more compact growth for earlier flowers.
Espalier – Unless you have a vigorous variety producing long sappy growth, it takes a few years to build up a large espalier on a wall or fence. Start by pinching the top from the young plant when about 30cm (1ft) high. New growth comes first from the junctions of the two top remaining leaves and heads in the direction of these leaves, so pinch back to a pair more or less parallel with the wall.
Pinch back again when the new arms are about 25cm (10in) long. After that, you can allow shoots to make flowers and continue building up the espalier framework for the next season. The alternative is to sacrifice flowers the first year so as to build-up a more branching espalier form. Rub off or pinch back any growth coming forward, leaving only the two base leaves.
Standard fuchsias – Encourage only one vertical shoot, occasionally lightly tying it to a thin but firm stake the height of the standard required – anywhere between 35 and 45cm (15-30in). Remove tip when growth reaches the top of the stake, inducing shoots to come from junctions of top pair of leaves. Rub out any side shoots that come from the standard but retain leaves where possible. New top growth is then pinched back similarly to the bush types.
Basket fuchsias – These are pinched back initially like the bush types to encourage branching, then again when new growths are nearing the sides of the basket. Pinch back to side-facing leaves, to encourage spread in the desired direction. If necessary, upright growth may be carefully tied down to the edge of the basket.
The best effect usually comes in the second year when the previous season’s stems are just pruned back lightly, even though they may be a foot or two long, and all but a few of their new shoots are pinched back to about four leaves.
Feeding – Give fuchsias a little complete plant food after pruning (about a heaped teaspoon for a plant in the garden or a level teaspoon in a pot or basket). Watering with half-strength Aquasol or Thrive when bud color appears will maintain good quality flowers.
Don’t let the bush dry out in hot weather. Dull mottling of foliage can be caused by either red spider mites or thrips. Spraying below the leaves with malathion will usually control both pests, which are more prevalent in dry conditions.
These bushes flower with little attention but become tall if not pruned each year. It’s best to prune in July or early August. (An exception is the few dwarf types which do not make side buds. These are pruned soon after flowering, or by February, to encourage new base buds which form the next season’s flower stems).
The normal early summer flush of hydrangea flowers comes from the plump double buds carried on the previous season’s growth. Therefore pruning consists of cutting out any old canes carrying only dead or thin growth and shortening back last season’s flower stems to just above the lowest or second-lowest set of double buds.
The catch is that if bushes have not been pruned for several years the younger wood carrying these double buds will be quite high on rather leggy branching stems. The remedy is to cut the entire bush back to within a few feet of the ground so that you can keep it low-branching from the following year onward, even though the coming summer blooming is sacrificed.
Alternatively, cut half the stems well back this season and the rest next season – this assures some flowers this year but leaves the bush looking somewhat unattractive.
Stems from other than the double buds usually produce out-of-season flowers. So do those stems terminating in a bud rather than with evidence of the old flower head, so these are left unpruned unless they look too gangling above the pruned bush.
Feeding – Like fuchsias, hydrangeas respond to a complete garden food applied after pruning.
Later, as flower buds begin to show form, give them a good soaking with soluble plant foods.
Color changes can be brought about by doctoring the soil around the roots with lime for a pink hue and sulfate of aluminum for blue. Start treatment by May and repeat it two or three months later. But remember it’s difficult to bring about a complete change of color in an old, deep-rooted bush in one season. Control is easier with hydrangeas in containers. Too much lime can cause yellowing of foliage (corrected with iron chelates).