On other pages I very briefly mentioned the use of peat based composts so I thought it was time to expand on this subject slightly (nothing technical) along with just what to feed your fuchsias with. We are constantly being urged to abandon the use of peat in favour of recycled green waste, wood fibres, paper waste and coir. While these alternatives may work for other mature plants they are very hard to use when it comes to fuchsias, the main problem being controlling watering. Peat is very efficient at holding water and dissolved nutrients and maintains lots of air space in a growing medium. A peat based compost therefore maintains its water-holding qualities through the depth of the compost. It is clean to handle, light and easy to grow in. Unfortunately the reduction of peat for Horticulture is an ongoing process which will eventually lead to an end if its use in that area. Not something I entirely agree with, so until then I will keep on using it. I have never used the soil based composts so cannot pass judgement on them.
Take a walk around the garden centres and you will see examples of peat based composts like the ones above, but which one to pick? You might have your own favourite but the price usually dictates. For example the Verve (B&Q) costs £5.98 for a 125 Litre bale (priced at April 2013) This sound like excellent value compared with others, but how? Because there is less peat in it. On the back it states ‘alternative sustainable ingredients 37%’but no mention just what these ingredients are. It seems its fine to tell us they will be reducing the peat content, but how about telling us with what? So it pays to take a close look at the wording just to see what you are getting for your money. My choice is the one on the left, I have used Sinclair for a long time, tried other cheaper ones and gone back to Sinclair. It may have the odd twig and a few small hard lumps of peat but is far better than others and, for now, this particular brand is 100% peat. At the end of the day it is your choice.Is it ready to use?That might seem a strange question but it depends on the brand and what you are going to use it for. When I started growing fuchsias, some 26 years ago, I could use compost straight from the bag, but now some brands seem worse than others regarding having rubbish in them. Last year I bought some Verve and ended up having to riddle it and ended up with 2 buckets of uncomposted wood, and twigs, bits of wire, plastic and stones, “alternative sustainable ingredients 37%”.If I am going to use it as a rooting medium then I put it through a 6mm sieve and then mix it 50-50 with perlite or vermiculite, cuttings will be able to get their roots down easier. For potting up cuttings or plants then I put it through a 10mm riddle. It is so much easier dribbling riddled compost around plants when potting up. I don’t bother riddling at all when making up full or half baskets, just discarding lumps as I go along.
Whether it is riddled or not I add perlite and grit to the ratio of 6 parts compost : 1 part perlite : 1 part grit. It doesn’t matter what you use, either a bucket or a 6 inch pot the ratio stays the same - 6:1:1. This formula is widely used by fuchsia growers & exhibitors. The perlite will retain water and then release it back into the compost and also opens up the compost and helps with drainage. The grit can be omitted but most exhibitors use it to add a bit of weight to the pot as well as helping with drainage.Some fuchsia growers make up their own compost using bales of peat and adding Vitax Q4 and other ingredients, but bales of peat are becoming hard to find.
All composts will (or should) have base fertilisers mixed in. I say ‘should’ because I know some places bring out old stock from last year and any fertilisers may well have disappeared. A good fresh compost generally has enough to keep your plants fed for about 6 weeks after which, with all the nutrients gone, the compost now becomes just an anchor to keep the plant upright. If you want healthy fuchsias, you must now start with a supplementary feeding regime.
My choice of feed is Chempack. In Spring I want lots of new, fresh growth so I use Chempack No. 2 on the left and in late Spring/early Summer I switch to No.3 shown on the right. It is in a crystal form and once opened starts to absorb moisture and can end up in a solid mass so has to be kept in a dry place, not in the greenhouse.I have used others in the past which I have liked but, like a lot of products, they have been taken off the market, perhaps the powers that be think we have been drinking it in the greenhouse!Most fuchsia growers do not use the high Potash products like Phostrogen or Tomorite. Exhibitors might use them sparingly during the showing season to bring out the colour of the flower but if used too much it can harden the wood too much making the plants harder to produce new growth the following year, Saying that, it can be used sparingly early in the year if the use of a high nitrogen feed and/or the lack of sunshine is making your plants too lush and floppy. Potash will harden the stems up slightly after which you can revert back to a high nitrogen or balanced feed.
Ihave to admit I have never used any of the products in the illustration above so cannot vouch as to how good they are but I am quite happy with Chempack and have good results. One thing I believe in is feeding in small amounts and often, so I always make up a quarter strength feed and use this at every watering. Sometimes you may find white powdery marks on the leaves, This just an excess of salts and whilst unsightly does not do any harm. To help avoid this, at every fourth water I use plain water to wash these salts out,
So which is the best?
Fuchsias will also benefit from a foliar feed administered by a spray but only when no buds or flowers are present or they could end badly marked. There are various products on the market such as Maxicrop but one that has appeared recently is SB Plant Invigorator(available from Amazon). Not only does it claim to be a plant stimulant but will control pests including Whitefly, Aphid, Spider Mite, Mealybug, Scale & Psyllids. It will also control Mildew and is biodegradable and non toxic. It is not a systemic so has to be applied on a regular basis. Certainly sounds like a good product for the fuchsia grower especially for those who suffers with Red Spider Mite,Whatever brand of feed you use always follow the instructions. If it says 10ml to 1Lt then don’t think you are doing good by doubling it to 20ml. You will only do more harm than good.Finally, I can only tell you what works for me and that’s Sinclair compost and Chempack. There is no ‘magic formula’ for fuchsias, it’s what works the best for you and your growing conditions. Maybe you would like to get in touch and tell me what you use, I am always willing to learn.
Some growers go as far as making up their own compost with peat and fertiliser formulas like Hoof & Horn Meal (N) with Super Phosphate (P) and Sulphate of Potash (K), but as I mentioned earlier bales of peat are becoming hard to find.
Even more bewildering than compost is the amount of different brands of feeds available.Pick up any plant food and you will usually find an N.P.K. analysis somewhere on the packaging, ‘N’ stands for Nitrogen and promotes stem and leaf growth, ‘P’ stands for Phosphates which feeds the roots and ‘K’ is the chemical symbol for Potash which helps ripen or harden the plant and enhances the colour of the flower.Underneath the letters N.P.K. you will find a set of three numbers, If they are all the same such as 1-1-1 this means that this has the same ratio of fertilisers and is an equal strength feed, Some feeds will say 25-25-25, this does not mean it is any stronger, it is just the manufacturers way of saying it is equal strength feed. You will also see a list of trace elements such as Magnesium, Copper, Iron and Zinc, but its the N.P.K. that is important.A high Nitrogen feed may say 25-15-15 whilst a high Potash feed may say 15-15-25, Sometimes the analysis is in percentage form as in the Photrogen above, but you can still see it has a high Potash content. Anybody reading this in the U.S. may find that Phostrogen has been replaced with Debco Plant Food but it still has the same N.P.K. analysis.