Growing to Show


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About Showing Fuchsias

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If you have visited a local or National Fuchsia show then you will have seen what is achievable from these wonderful plants and what a show they can give when grown by the experts.  If you have never attended one of these shows then you're missing something.

It has been heard say at the odd show that, " I have a better one at home " or " I can grow them better than that ".  Shows are put on for fair competition between growers, and if it's not on the show bench it's only the owner that's the judge, and it wins no prizes.

Growing for show is not a secret science, there are always people on hand at the shows and at local society meetings, only too willing to help and give advice on how they grow their Fuchsias for the show bench.  It is no black art but it does take a bit of time and patience to gain the experience to compete at the top level, although many people can achieve this in a short time.  Very often it depends on the competition how well you do, and as stated if you're not in it how can you gauge just how well you're doing, maybe you do have a better plants at home.  Most shows have classes for beginners and novices so the opportunities are there if you don't have the confidence to take on the open classes.

I would encourage any keen grower to get plants on the show bench, as when you strive for perfection you learn so much more about your plants and become a much better grower overall.

This article is not intended to go into too much detail of how to grow for show as there are many top showmen who have written books on the subject and anyone serious about showing would be well advised to read at least a couple of these, as all individuals grow in a fashion that suits them best.  What the novice has to do is use the invaluable knowledge of the experts as a starting point and modify through trial and error what suits their own environment and of course location.  A shaded greenhouse in the North of Scotland would have a very different environment from one that gets full sun in the South of England.

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Glasgow & District Fuchsia Society Show

Growing to show starts with stock selection.  Begin with cultivars that are known to do well on the show bench, the British Fuchsia Society publish a list of the top ten most popular varieties every year.  When you have selected the varieties you want to show, only choose to take the best material as cuttings from the best plants to grow on.  Good plants provide good material and if cuttings are well rooted then these in turn usually make good plants.

Essentially we don't grow fuchsias, fuchsias grow themselves all we do is provide them with the correct environment, give them some feed and shape them to the desired effect.  The key is the better the growing conditions that suit them the better the plants will grow.

What is the correct environment?

All the cultivars we grow are derived from the natural occurring species that grow in the wild.  The majority of these species come from South America and grow in mountainous regions or forests amidst other native plants.  This implies an ambient temperature, light winds, humidity and dappled shade.

In our unnatural greenhouse or garden environment therefore, Fuchsias require the right temperature, light, air, water, humidity and nutrients, to suit them, much the same as we do and in the right balance.  Too much or too little of any of these and it will detract from the perfect growing conditions, which will inhibit optimum growth and in the extreme kill a good plant.

Temperature - The optimum growing temperature for Fuchsias is around 65° Fahrenheit.  Fuchsias will grow from about 45°F to the high seventies, outside this they struggle.

Light - Fuchsias enjoy plenty of light in ideally dappled shade.  In essence they need as much light as possible without direct sun for too long.  A challenge in itself and related to temperature also.  I know of one grower who stripes shading, almost like vertical blinds on the outside of his greenhouse to provide sun/shade/sun/shade to his plants as the sun moves along its course through the day.

Air - Ventilation is very important to fuchsias and they should have plenty of it and it's again related to temperature, greenhouses can get very hot if there is not enough fresh air to keep the temperature down on a hot day.  Many top growers put their plants outside from the last frost until three weeks before the show.  Not enough ventilation can also lead to disease problems such as botrytis.

Water - Watering is an art in itself, providing enough of what they need when they need it is a skill not easily learned.  There is a tendency to think that plants need water and we don't want them to run dry.  This thinking generally leads to overwatering and overwatering kills fuchsias.  Fuchsias do not like their roots suffocated and this is what too much water can do.  It depletes the oxygen available in the soil and the roots rot, which is not usually realised until it's too late and the plant dies.  I've ruined many a good plant by being overly cautious in making sure it does not dry out.  We want to avoid plants drying out completely but it is better for a short time to be dry than being waterlogged.  The golden rules are if there is any doubt whether it needs water or not don't water it, and because one needs water it doesn't mean they all do, each has to be assessed.  I only water plants now in the morning when they need it, unless they are completely wilted in the evening, when I give just enough for them to recover.

Humidity - This is again relative to temperature.  As the temperature rises so the humidity decreases in a greenhouse. In warm weather fuchsias relish high humidity to keep them cool, but conversely high humidity in cool weather is not good and requires ventilation to keep the air fresh around them.

Feeding - Nutrients are taken up by the plant from the growing media.  Whether the nutrients are in the soil, mixed into the compost or provided by liquid feeding the concept is the same. The requirements are Nitrogen, Phosphates, Potash and trace elements.  These are broken down in the growing media and are taken up by the plants with water.  Many growers use a high nitrogen feed early in the season to give the plants a boost then switch to a balanced fertiliser later in the year.  A reasonable guide to liquid feeding is to mix at quarter strength at every watering.

Shaping - This is perhaps the easiest part of the process but still not easy to achieve to perfection.  For bush and shrub shapes on the show bench all the judge is looking for is an evenly balanced plant with uniformity of growth and an abundance of flower.  Short jointed cultivars are normally used for show work and these require pinching out at every two or three nodes to achieve a bushy plant with plenty of flowers.  As you pinch and stop you're plant it is done in such a way that the plant maintains even growth both round and over the plant to form a close to a spherical shape as possible.  Stopping must cease nine to thirteen weeks before the show date to allow the plant to develop sufficient bud and flower.  It is also necessary in maintaining even growth around the plant to turn them a quarter turn every few days to ensure all side are getting their fair share of light, or you could end up with a lop sided specimen, either in growth or flower.

As stated earlier in this article there is much more to showing than can be given in detail here and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  It is intended as a summary and guide for anyone interested in showing. Much is to be gained from practical experience. If you do want to grow for show, join a society and try entering one of their shows, it's by far the best way to learn.

For more reading on the subject there is plenty of information available on the Internet, and many books available on the subject. One web site I'd highly recommend is Dave Clark's website at http://www.fuchsiaclark.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

Dave has a wealth of experience growing, showing, judging and is hybridiser with many raisings that have proved themselves on the show bench.

And a recommended book would be Ken Pilkington's - ' How to grow Fuchsias, A Practical Guide ' ISBN No. 095264231X. Ken compiled this book from notes he kept for his own record and from delivering talks on the subject over many years.