Fuchsias: Let your plants dry and watch out for rust

Question: I live in King's Lynn beside the river. In this situation we very rarely get frosts anyway, but I have a very small courtyard garden which is exceptionally sheltered too. To date my plan has been to watch the forecasts like a hawk and be ready to put them into the greenhouse if a frost is likely. In the past I have lost fuchsias to mould. Your advice would be invaluable – I am sure there will be other readers of your column who have the same difficulty in this extraordinary season and with other tender potted plants. (S Turff, King's Lynn)

Answer:

Your plants are certainly in a very privileged position with such a sheltered garden and the additional protection from the radiated heat of the river.

However, the thing that is most likely to cause your fuchsias problems is the wet. As you have had problems with grey moulds in the past these are associated with high humidity.

The answer is to let the plants dry down in the greenhouse if possible and keep an eye on them watching for any sign of disease or rots.


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The fuchsias in my garden are also doing well and still in flower. I keep the pots close to the house walls so they stay dry and sheltered from the rain. I put them against a north facing wall and they seem to like it there.

Until last year I was successful with hardy fuchsias just by doing that not bringing them in at all. However, the severe weather last year did kill half of them and the others took a long time to come back in the spring. I don't cut the plant down until they start to regrow in spring as the branches offer some protection from frosts to the plant.

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Use some of the shoots that are there now to take as cuttings. These will root easily with some warmth on an indoor window sill and can even be rooted just in water (although this is not as good as putting them in multi-purpose compost seed and potting compost).

These cuttings will be ready to plant out in spring and can be an insurance policy if you lose your parent plants.

I would keep them indoors on a window sill rather than in the greenhouse as they can suffer from rots and things like the parents in the overhumid conditions of the winter greenhouse.

Another big problem with overwintering fuchsia is fuchsia rust, a fungal disease that causes orange spots on the undersides of fuchsia leaves and reduces vigour.

Fuchsia rust is a disease caused by a fungus that spreads by airborne spores and reduces plant vigour. Rust may be seen all year on indoor fuchsias but in summer and early autumn outdoors. The fungus infects willowherbs as well as fuchsias and alternates between these hosts and Abies conifers.

The leaves initially turn pale,and ill-defined yellow spots appear on the upper leaf surface, corresponding to orange, dusty pustules on the lower surface. Later, leaves shrivel and vigour is greatly reduced.

Fuchsia enthusiasts should avoid ornamental species of willowherb and eliminate weedy species.

Pick off affected leaves as soon as they are noticed and feed the plants to boost vigour.

Fungicides containing difenoconazole (Westland Plant Rescue Fungus Control), myclobutanil (Bayer Garden Systhane Fungus Fighter and other formulations) and triticonazole (Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra) can be used to control rust on fuchsias, but note that fuchsias are stated to be very sensitive to damage by this type of fungicide and some authorities say that they should not be sprayed.

We suggest spraying a few leaves first and waiting at least three weeks to see if any damage occurs. This wait may mean it is then too late to spray in that season, but will give an indication of whether spraying can be carried out safely in future years.

The products permitted under organic regimes have little effect on rusts.

The fungus releases orange spores from the pustules and these are spread by the wind to initiate new infections on leaves. In late summer and early autumn these pustules produce dark, overwintering spores, but overwintering spores are not usually found on fuchsias. These survive over the winter on infected plant material and germinate in the spring to release spores which can only infect Abies, where the fungus goes through a further cycle of development, releasing airborne spores which can reinfect fuchsias.

However as mentioned above, the disease is probably present in fuchsias all year anyway.

The rust fungi are described as biotrophs: they grow within the living tissues of the plant and extract nutrients from the cells over an extended period. However, although they do not kill tissues rapidly, heavy attacks by rusts can cause tissues to collapse and die prematurely and this is the case for fuchsia leaves. This leads to a great loss of vigour and an unsightly plant.

•This article was first published on November 17, 2011.

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