Cutting back hardy fuchsias
Now that the risk of hard, penetrating frosts has passed, you can safely cut back hardy fuchsias and other ‘sub-shrubs’. These plants are half-way between herbaceous perennials, which die back to ground level in winter, and shrubs, which make self-supporting wood. In the coldest winters and in northern parts of the UK, you may find that a large proportion of the upper buds and stems on these sub-shrubs is killed back. Leaving the previous season’s growth in place over the winter does afford a little extra insulation to the lower parts of the stems. Here the plants retain the ability to re-grow from leaf joints or ‘nodes’, even if there are no obvious buds. In the warmest parts of the country and during mild winters, the stems may survive unscathed along their entire length. But if they’re not then pruned in spring, they’ll often become lax and floppy under the weight of new growth. The key to keeping your fuchsias and other sub-shrubs in good shape is to prune them back annually during the coming weeks. In the south and west of the UK, you should get on with this at the start of April. But the further east and north you are, the longer you can delay these essential cut-backs – the latter half of this month is ideal.
1Aim to cut back hardy fuchsias just as they start into growth. Left unpruned, the plants would become leggy and liable to splitting under the weight of new growth. In cold parts of the UK, the stems may have been killed right down to ground level, but the plants will re-grow from below the soil surface.
Remove the thinnest, weakest growth, so that all the plant’s energy is channelled into strong buds and shoots
Use secateurs to prune back the thicker stems to just above a ‘node’, composed of a pair of buds, low down on the stem. This will allow any stems that are still alive after the winter to heal, and prevents dieback down into the crown of the plant.
Remove all the thinnest, weakest growth that formed last year, as most of this is likely to have been killed over the winter months. Cut this back to the main stems, so that all the plant’s energy is channelled into strong buds and shoots.
Look for any stems that have split or been damaged over the winter or during pruning. Cut them cleanly below the damage, using loppers if they’re too thick for secateurs to cope with.
Leave the plant looking neat and tidy. The remaining lower sections of last year’s stems will help to protect new shoots that sprout from below soil level. Lightly fork around the base of the plant to remove weeds and relieve any soil compaction.
Wait until after the last frost to cut back the top growth