Some plants thrive when you smother them with love and kindness and others live to be neglected.
Take, for example, my least favorite hanging basket plant, the fuchsia. I've mentioned this plant in previous columns, usually to say how much I disliked growing it. I don't dislike fuchsia as a plant, in fact, I think it's lovely. I like the way the flower cups and petals can be two different colors. I've had fuchsia that were white and red, white and purple, red and purple, all the combinations.
So why do I dislike growing this plant? Probably because I've never had much success, and it's really not the plant's fault. I am confident enough to admit that it's all my fault.
There was a time when I grew difficult plants. I had gloxinia and cyclamen. I've gotten poinsettia and amaryllis to rebloom when others were tossing them in the trash. I've propagated African violets by sticking a leaf in sand for several weeks and keeping it moist. But I have been unsuccessful in keeping a fuchsia alive for more than a couple months.
The husband, on the other hand, loves fuchsia. He loves the way they drape over the container in large hanging baskets from the patio ceiling. He loves the surprise of an occasional hummingbird looking for nectar from the cup-shaped flowers. He nearly set up a sting operation this spring when a pair of mourning doves were scoping out the newly hung fuchsia basket for a nest location. (The doves instead chose the top of the rose arbor).
When a co-worker passed around a list in late winter of plants her organization was selling as a fundraiser, I filled out the form and ordered two large plants.
I wasn't disappointed when they arrived. They were full and lush and their colors sparkled. I knew my husband would be pleased. He carefully hung the plants on the giant hooks that are drilled deep into the trusses specifically for holding large baskets.
On the patio, they get bright morning sun. The outdoor faucet, always with a hose attached, is just a few steps away. What else could they need?
Little did we know that with all of this care, the plants were still being neglected. In all the years we've grown lush, lovely plants, no one told us fuchsia are heavy feeders. We weren't aware they require a dose of diluted fertilizer with nearly every watering. Just like my cat whenever I set foot anywhere near his dish, fuchsia will continuously feed.
We thought our fuchsia were well-fed. The husband would mix up a bit of plant food every four to six weeks, but neither of us were aware it wasn't enough.
By the end of July, we began to notice something was wrong. The leaves were turning yellow. We checked for insects and leaf damage. I looked through my gardener's loupe to get a better view of the leaf spots, but there was no evidence of fruiting bodies to indicate fungal disease.
We watched every day in horror as both plants dried up and died.
Here's what we should have done.
If watered once a week, give the plant one-half to one tablespoon of fertilizer per gallon of water. If watered more often, use one teaspoon of fertilizer per gallon. Use of a slow-release fertilizer is acceptable. How easy would it have been to put a few pellets of slow-release fertilizer in those baskets? Now we are hitting our foreheads with our palms and muttering, ''stupid, stupid, stupid!''
Fuchsia grown in shade have stems that are longer with more drape. Although they can grow in the sun, fuchsia tend to get compact and shrub-like in bright sun. Our plants were living under a patio ceiling, but they had sunlight from early morning until well into the afternoon. Also, our plants are in plastic containers, which can get fiercely hot. Had we transplanted them into wire containers with moss liners allowing for better evaporation and air circulation, they might have had a better chance.
Now that I have a better understanding of how fuchsia grow, perhaps I can make friends with this plant and try again next year.