Any fuchsia plants that aren’t classified as Hardy by the British Fuchsia Society will definitely need to be brought into the safe haven of a greenhouse or any other similar frostproof refuge for the winter. The first job is to ensure that all the plants are devoid of leaves. Ideally, they should begin to fall off naturally on their first encounter with exceptionally cold weather, but if they don’t, then there’s no alternative but to remove them by hand. The reason to do this is to reduce the possibility of encouraging any fungal disease due to rotting vegetation. Plants may be sprayed with a fungicide whilst they are dormant. This is best done early in the day when the weather is mild so that the greenhouse may be left open to allow it to dry out.
Most importantly, remember this: Prevention is much preferred than a cure.
It is vital not to apply too much water to the compost that accommodates a sleeping fuchsia. Unfortunately, the demise of many fuchsias being protected during the winter is mainly due to over watering. The ideal condition for dormant plants is to retain the compost just moist throughout the winter period.
Whatever type of heating is used, the temperature within the greenhouse or any other form of shelter you happen to choose for over wintering your plants, should be maintained just a few degrees above freezing. If it rises too high, plants will start into premature growth. The shorter light hours during the winter and too high a temperature will encourage them to develop very weak and drawn shoots. This must be avoided because it will render the resultant plants absolutely useless. It is not necessary to keep fuchsias actively growing during this time of the year, but if you do, a temperature between 5°C (41°F) and 10°C (50°F) should be ideal to just keep them ‘ticking over’.
Be warned, unless you have many plants within the confine of the greenhouse to make it worth your while, this could result in expensive heating bills if there is a severe winter.
It is most essential that the door of the greenhouse should be left open periodically throughout the winter to allow air to circulate, but only if the days are mild for the time of the year and dry. Fresh air is a must for hibernating fuchsia plants.
An economical way to prevent the cold from entering (or the warm air escaping), is to double glaze the greenhouse by attaching sheets of bubble plastic on the inside of the structure. Bubble plastic, as the name implies, has air trapped within ‘pockets’ attached to one side of the sheet. The sheets are manufactured with different size bubbles, thus giving varying degrees of insulation. As a general rule, the larger the bubbles, the greater the insulation qualities.
An alternative method is to remove all the leaves and then prune back each branch by approximately one third. Insulate the plants separately with newspaper or some other similar material and then lay them horizontally (whilst still in their pot) in a strong cardboard box and secure the lid. These are to be stored in a place where the temperature is just a few degrees above freezing. Periodically you will need to inspect them to ensure that the compost does not dry out completely. The same rule applies as before, maintain the compost just moist. It is recommended to open the box occasionally on mild days to allow the fresh air to come into contact with the dormant plants. This is to prevent the possibility of encouraging botrytis.
After removing the leaves and pruning back approximately one third of each branch, the head of a standard can be protected by covering it with fleece. Completely wrapping the pot with bubble plastic will prevent its roots from becoming susceptible to very low temperatures. (Remember to maintain the compost just moist throughout the dormancy period) The main stem is also vulnerable. Placing a length of domestic water pipe insulation around it should give some protection. This protective material is to be removed periodically throughout the winter to allow the stem to ‘breathe’. An ideal time to do it would be whenever the temperature is mild enough to have the greenhouse door open.