STOPING AND TIMING

  • This chapter is written for both novice and expert alike to enable them to understand a little more about the myths and intricacies of stopping and timing of fuchsias and why some plants just don't conform to a set pattern from one year to another.   In the fuchsia world, more especially with show people and dedicated enthusiasts, this subject is always under discussion especially at show time.     Few growers really understand this subject which is rather complex with so many variables to be taken into consideration.    Both speakers and writers refer to the final stopping times for fuchsias as, sixty days for a single flowered cultivar, seventy days for a semi double/small double and eighty days for a large double.      These stopping times refer to the time it takes for the fuchsia to be in full bloom after the final pinching out (stopping) of the growing tip on each branch but, like everything else in the gardening world, nothing could be quite this simple.     Being able to time and control the flowering of individual specimens, for whatever reason, can only enhance the appeal and pleasure obtained from growing plants.     Once the techniques involved are fully understood and mastered the grower will be able to produce a plant in full bloom at almost any time of the year.   This will be more fully discussed a little later on.   I have had fuchsias in bloom at Christmas and well into the New Year.Starting at the beginning, this is when over wintered fuchsia plants start to produce side shoots in the previous years leaf axils.      Unfortunately these are produced progressively with the upper most shoots developing first.   The tiny leaves open very quickly in order that the plant can use the energy obtained by these leaves in the process of photosynthesis to power up the rest of the plant.      As more and more side shoots develop so does the plants ability to accelerate the process of growing.      Examine your plants carefully and you will see a marked difference in the size of the side shoots developing on any given branch, priority being given to the upper most shoots, which have access to the strongest light.   Right from this very early start an imbalance in the overall flowering ability of the plant has developed.     This is quite natural, the fuchsia is designed to flower progressively over as long a period of time as possible to ensure pollination and the fertilisation of seed for a new generation.      Keep this old ripe wood soft and supple by spraying with warm water using a wetting agent such as Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salt).  This will encourage more and more dormant buds lower down the branches to awaken and start developing.        The photographs below illustrate the  imbalance which, if the plant is to be used for exhibition, must be corrected.   

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    As the days lengthen so does the light and temperature increase.   The first and uppermost shoots will need to be stopped for several reasons.    Firstly, to encourage the side shoots lower down the branch to develop covering the lower half of the plant with fresh foliage, hiding unsightly ripe wood.   Secondly, to encourage side shoots to develop in the leaf axils of the new growth.    It  goes without saying that this first stopping of the new growth should be delayed slightly to allow the shoot to develop sufficiently in order that it can be used as a new cutting.    These first shoots without doubt make the finest cuttings to use for growing on to make show plants and from which to propagate your new stock.    They are very sturdy, short jointed and will root very quickly.      When the next batch of cuttings become available, which will be from the side shoots developing in the leaf axils of the new growth, they will have a greater elongation of the internodal length and will not produce such excellent compact cuttings.   You will only get once chance to harvest these cuttings because as the days lengthen so does the internodal length due to the growing imbalance of light and temperature.     (See the Chapter on Propagation for more in-depth information)    The photo's below again illustrate this imbalance.

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    This first stopping will not only stop the upward growth but will stimulate the shoots lower down the branch.   It will also trigger the dormant shoots in the leaf axils, below where the cuttings were taken, to start developing.    It is worth noting, especially for the beginner and novice, that every time the fuchsia is stopped, the growing tip removed, it effectively doubles both the size of the plant and number of flowers produced.     For the expert and exhibitors, it is also worth noting that if, during a normal growing season, you are able to get in just one extra stop you will double the size and flowering potential of the plant.     Being able to achieve this extra stop will increase the 'wow ' factor on the show bench.     The problem is of course, how to achieve this one extra stop in a given growing period.    There are two ways to achieve this, I have used both to great effect, as you can see from some of my show plants but it matters not whether you show or exhibit your plants, so long as you grow and enjoy the fruits of your labour. I shall explain both methods discussed above a little later on which will allow the grower to assess which, if either, will produce the required results.   A lot will depend on the individuals enthusiasm, dedication and priorities.  Not everyone who grows fuchsias will want to produce specimen show plants.  In point of fact, from knowledge gained from years of experience, I would estimate that only 5% of dedicated enthusiasts ever aspire to the show bench but bear in mind that it is, as a result of these devotees, that over 80% of the rest of the growers were inspired after seeing their show specimens at some time or other. After carefully selecting the best and most compact of the new shoots to use as cuttings, the other smaller shoots, unless needed for propagation, will also need to be stopped.    The decision on which shoots are to be stopped will invariably depend on their size.  If not stopped in the initial stopping, they must be allowed to grow on until the side shoots in the stopped shoots have developed sufficiently, two pair of leaves, to achieve a second stop.    This is when the whole plant must be scrutinised and every shoot stopped at the same time.    Never start stopping ad-lib, wait until the whole plant, all the side shoots, can be stopped together.    This will promote an evenly balanced plant, which if grown correctly, will really stimulate your enthusiasm.   If growing for pleasure, with no inclination towards exhibiting, I would suggest that a final stop be made in early May which will promote flowering from early July onwards depending on variety and type of fuchsia grown, also the vagaries of the weather.   Because of the complexity of this subject, I will have to digress a little here and there, in order to appease everyone, irrespective of expertise. From this paragraph on the writing is explicitly for the new enthusiast wishing to aspire to the show bench with as near perfect specimens as possible. Without question the successful exhibitor is always reluctant to divulge his knowledge and secrets to his competitors.     I was no exception.        Also under this heading I shall deal with disbudding, bud selection and final shaping.    This knowledge, if used correctly, should have a dramatic effect on the size and quality of your ultimate plant to say nothing about the extra pleasure and excitement of your achievements.Firstly, an interesting factor, very few exhibitors appreciate that there are two types of cultivars to choose from when selecting the varieties to grow for show or exhibition.   I will explain the subtle differences which can only be identified through by growing and careful observation.     The first type, which include most of the varieties included in the B.F.S. list of 'Accepted Hardy Fuchsias', which mostly, but not all,  have their origins in South America.    These species and cultivars, once they start to flower, will continue to flower whilst making vegetative growth.    This continues until the onset of winter which is wonderful for a garden or container grown fuchsia.     The problem with this type of fuchsia is that the flowers are mostly hidden by foliage until growth slows down in the autumn.   They are also extremely difficult to shape into an accepted form for the show bench.   The second type is far more suited for show and exhibition, not the hardy classes, because this type ceases to make vegetative growth whilst flowering.       This revelation may surprise a lot of growers who are unaware of these facts.     Once identified, careful observation will reveal that after the final stop only the two uppermost leaf axils will produce flowering branches.   These will develop several pairs of leaves then the metabolism changes from making vegetative growth into the reproduction cycle, producing flowers.   The branch will continue to grow but instead of side shoots in the leaf axils flowering buds will appear.     At this stage it will only produce between four to six pairs of leaves with flowering buds in the axils then the apical meristem, the growing tip, ceases to grow, going into semi-dormant condition.     All the plants energy is now transferred into producing flowers for fertilisation, seed production, to perpetuate the species.     It is only when these flowers die and are aborted does vegetative growth resume and a second flush of flowers produced.    This is the type which tend to make the best show varieties.    It is of little use to name any, the taste of the exhibitor is fickle and for ever changing.       The exhibitor, when choosing  cultivars will need to know the difference.     Some cultivars grow better in the Southern half of the Country whilst others are better suited to the slightly cooler Northern regions.    Having digressed a little from the main topic, I shall now deal with the question I posed above. How, in the course of a normal growing season, can one extra stop be made which will not only double the size of the plant but also the number of flowers it will produce.      It is not down to a single factor but a number of factors combined to make this possible.     The television gardeners and some authors advocate pinching out the growing tip using the finger and thumb or the use of  penknife surgery.     In using these methods the plant must produce shoots large enough to use the finger and thumb to remove the growing tip.     In the early part of the year this can mean a delay of up to three or four weeks and eliminates any chance of inducing that extra stop.  In addition it also bruises and damages tissue

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    Instead of the penknife, find a good Chandlers or other similar type shop and purchase the tools in the photograph below.     These tools, coupled with the knowledge of how to use them, will produce the all important extra stop.      Two pair of tweezers, one 13cm to 15cm in length and a slightly smaller pair.    The larger pair is easier to use if the end two cm are slightly angled.    Both pair of tweezers need to be honed, filed or ground to produce a cutting edge to prevent crushing or tearing the plant tissue when removing the tiny growing tip.       In some circumstances the scalpels can be used  to remove some of the larger shoots which can then be used as cuttings.      The photograph below is fuchsia 'Linda Mary Nutt'  14th. February, 2004 ready for its first stop and cropping for cuttings.

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    It is at this time of the year when viewing your plants that interest and enthusiasm is renewed, especially when seeing your plants developing like the one above.    Where to start?     This first stop and shaping is the most difficult one for the Novice.    Look closely at the photo above, although it appears to be fully furnished, the shoots are all at different stages of development.     Start by removing the tops, not tips, from the most vigorous shoots, which if large enough can be rooted to provide excellent new stock.     This first stop reduces the shoot to two pair of leaves using the special tweezers as shown in the photographs below.     If you look carefully you will see tiny buds already under development in the leaf axils.

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    These tiny shoots will match in size the growing tips in the under developed shoots lower down.     Do not attempt to stop these smaller developing shoots allow them continue to grow with the new shoots developing in the leaf axils of the shoots already stopped.       If, as often advocated, every new shoot is stopped at this time, it will create an imbalance that can not be corrected in time to produce a perfect show specimen.  Once this initial stop has been finished allow the plant to recover.     The plant will now transfer its energy into the smaller secondary shoots as well as the developing side shoots in the leaf axils of those shoots already stopped.   They will now start to develop together and fill any empty spaces within the canopy of the plant.     Under no circumstances attempt to stop any shoots that you may have missed whilst effecting this initial stop.  They will be stopped ultimately with the next overall stopping.       The next stop will be totally different from this initial one.    Several do's and don'ts must be pointed out at this time.       Under no circumstances be tempted to feed your plants and never water them with water that has been kept in the greenhouse for any period of time.     It may be stagnant or contaminated.     Always use fresh clean warm water.       Continue to spray the plant, again using warm water, to the underside of the leaves and the ripe wood.  Try, where possible, to spray during the warmest part of the day when the sun has raised the temperature above 15 C - 60 F.     Also use a small amount of Magnesium Sulphate as a wetting agent.     The leaves will take on a rich green texture and the top of the leaves will have a lovely sheen.   This sheen is provided by a waxy waterproof membrane.   It is virtually useless to spray the top of the leaves which only serve to shed moisture dripping from leaf to leaf to the plants drip line.    This lovely sheen is an undisputable sign of good health.   Don't be tempted to use too much artificial heat to increase the temperature it is far more prudent to increase the ventilation and light rather than heat.    Excessive heat will induce elongation of the internodal stem, spoiling the whole shape of the plant.      Finally remember to turn your plants a quarter turn each day as they develop.   The next step in the development of the plant is the second, subsequent, penultimate and the final stop depending of course on show dates and time available.   Also to be explained is disbudding and bud selection which will include 'Dressing for Judging'.       Before discussing the different stopping sequences outlined above I must first put the Novices mind at rest in explaining how some of the top exhibitors are able to win year after year, again I was no exception.  Before I fully understood the subtle art of timing fuchsias I, like so many other exhibitors, grew almost three times as many plants than actually needed so that when each show came around, I would have plenty of plants to choose from.     I would only take my best plants to the show bench therefore my competitors never knew what I had made a mess of or those that had been mistimed or damaged.     They only ever saw my best plants.    I soon learned that this was very wasteful in both time and materials all because I didn't, at this time, fully understand my plants.       In using the stopping times advocated by the experts, 60.70.80 days,  I soon realised that it wasn't quite this simple.    It wasn't.     The flowering of plants, fuchsias in particular, did not respond to days advocated by the experts, except at one time of the year just by accident.     I couldn't understand why, when using this method for the early shows, that my plants were always late and for the late shows they were sometimes over the top.     I then realised it was not the number of days from stopping to flowering that was the key factor, it was the number of hours of daylight that was all important, the critical factor.      I started to make notes and keep records the number of hours of daylight that the fuchsia required from final stopping to flowering at different times of the year.     This, coupled with a slight variation due to light intensity, was the key factor.      Now, armed with this knowledge, I was able to time my plants to perfection.    I was able to exhibit at five different Shows including two Nationals during the summer and take pink cards with almost every exhibit.     My competitors attributed it to luck.   I just smiled.     Having explained the anomalies in the 60, 70, 80 day rule it must now be very obvious that the aspiring exhibitor must be meticulous in keeping records.   Don't be complacent and think you can remember all the details, you can't.     If you want to become an acknowledged expert keep records, they make interesting reading in the future.   On completion of this first stopping and shaping the exhibitor must now work backwards, that is, the dates of Shows must be noted and the plants to be exhibited selected for each Show, allowing some spares in case of any disasters during the season.  Initially, until you have established a stopping sequence as outlined above, I would suggest that the final stopping times for the mid summer shows should be:-     For single and semi double flowered cultivars, 75 days and for double flowered cultivars 90 days.   For earlier Shows I would suggest an additional five days added to these times.     It is worth noting that it is far easier to remove premature flowers than it is to use artificial light to bring them into flower.Getting back on track, the second stopping can only be implemented when the buds in the leaf axils  of the shoots already stopped have grown and developed two pair of leaves.    These new shoots together with all the shoots that were too small to be stopped on the previous stop must now be stopped all together by removing just the tiny growing tips.     The first photograph shows the tiny tip being removed from side shoots which have developed after the initial stop.   The second photograph shows a shoot which has developed from within the framework that had been too small and had not been previously stopped.       It is worth noting at this juncture the benefit of using the Watch Makers tweezers which are the key to producing the one extra stop.     This instrument allows the growing tip to be removed so much earlier than finger and thumb method.  As soon as the tiny growing tip has been removed the plant will transfer energy to develop the new shoots in the tiny leaf axils.     This also helps keep the plant very compact.      The centre photograph shows the difference between using finger and thumb and tweezers.    So much extra growth can be saved.

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    This second stopping starts to redress any previous imbalance and your plants should now start to shape up nicely.   The next stop, which could well be the penultimate stop, should be timed to ensure there is sufficient time for the plant to produce sufficient growth for the final stop. Before progressing to the penultimate and final stopping sequence I shall now deal with another method of doubling the size of your plants using a little subterfuge which will fool the plant into producing extra growth which it would not otherwise produce.      Without the facility of the camera macro lens for use in close up photography, this sequence would be extremely difficult to describe.     I use the term, double single stop.      This method is fun to experiment with using several different varieties of fuchsias but here again, I reiterate, nothing in the plant world is ever for certain, mother nature can be very fickle.  

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    The two photographs above show in detail the double single stop, whereby a side shoot is stopped in the normal way, after two pair of leaves.    The top pair of leaves will produce side shoots in the leaf axils which will start to grow.   The pair of side shoots in the lower pair of leaf axils will, apart from a slight development, remain dormant.   This will be more fully explained a little further on.    The two uppermost side shoots will start to develop normally.     As soon as these shoots are large enough, after one pair of leaves, the tiny centre tip must be removed as soon as practicable.    The photographs show the sequence, the two stops can be seen quite clearly.   This is a shock to the plant, it must assume that its shoots are being browsed therefore it triggers off a multiple sequence of producing side shoots.       Under normal conditions, when a side shoot is stopped, say after two pair of leaves have developed, the plant will produce another pair of side shoots again, only in the uppermost pair of leaves and so on.     Each stop will only produce two shoots.       Bearing this in mind, if the two photographs above are closely examined, you will see a totally different scenario.         The new side shoots which were stopped after one pair of leaves will, as expected, produce side shoots in their leaf axils, but what is different is the plant has activated an additional four side shoots from dormant buds that would not, under normal circumstances be activated.     Therefore, after the second stop instead of having the normal four side shoots develop, there are now eight.     In this one sequence this method will double both the size of the plant and consequently double the number of flowers for any given size of pot.   The exhibitor wishing to use the methods I have outlined will need to fully understand the sequence if it is to be exploited.    Once the penultimate stop has been applied, the plant must not  be touched irrespective of how much growth it makes until the final stopping date.   During this time don't try to correct any imbalance produced by either basal growth or unstopped shoots from within the plants framework.  These must only be stopped and corrected during the final stop.       Now to the final stop.      This is another sequence where the novice exhibitor is given misleading information, both verbal and written.     The advice proffered for the final stop is that every side shoot should be stopped together for the last time but without further explanation.    Up to a point, this is loosely correct but if followed as written it will sadly lead to disappointment.    Your show specimen will never achieve the balance and floriferousness you would reasonably expect.     As a National B.F.S. Accredited Judge, I have judged many shows at all levels and have sadly seen the results.    Plants are often exhibited at less than half their potential mainly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of several very important facts.     The final stop, disbudding sequence and final dressing can make a tremendous difference to the quality of the end product, the show plant. The final stop.   Having established the date for the final stop it is now  imperative that the growth on every shoot be reduced to one pair of leaves irrespective of how much growth has been made.    I have never seen or heard this sequence discussed or explained before.     It is extremely important to get this final stop correct otherwise it will be a hit and miss affair,  all previous work on your plants will have been wasted if they do not shape up to your expectations.Assuming you have worked out your final stopping dates for each variety it is vital not to do any stopping or shaping once the penultimate stop has been made.    Allow your plants to develop naturally remembering to turn them daily.      I shall now describe the method to use for the final stopping in order to achieve the best overall results both in shape and floriferousness.    First, check the overall balance of the plant to be stopped and remove any dead leaves or other debris from within the framework and top of the compost.     A few missed dead leaves can cause local botrytis, ruining the plant completely.       Once cleaned start the final stop.    Examine each side shoot in turn and remove all the new growth back to  one pair of leaves.     See two sets of photographs below.

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    The first photograph clearly shows the penultimate stop where the two side shoots have been allowed to develop.   These have  grown on and have produced two pair of leaves and a tiny growing tip.    For previous stops this tiny growing tip inside the top smaller pair of leaves would have been the tip to remove for a normal stop but for the final stop all the growth above the two larger leaves must be removed as shown in the second photograph.       There are several reasons for this.      The average grower would naturally assume that, if the tiny growing tip is removed it would allow each shoot to develop four side shoots, two in each pair of leaf axils.    This is not so.    Only the uppermost leaf axils will develop flowering side shoots, the lower pair would remain dormant for a while then produce the second flush of flowers later in the season much too late for the exhibitor.  The photograph below clearly shows these secondary shoots in semi-dormancy.  They will remain in this state until the plant decides to furnish them with flowers later in the season.

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  • Another reason for removing the upper growth is that in the leaf axils of the lower pair of leaves the side shoots are already under development and with the upper leaves removed they have access to the best light.      One other prime reason for removing the upper pair of leaves is to keep the plant nice and compact.    It will not fall apart with the weight of flowers.    The third photograph also illustrates the final stopping technique but in addition, it shows the larger leaves which only a few weeks earlier had been subjected to near freezing temperatures which resulted in virtually all the uppermost leaves turning dark red.    Not being frosted they will recover in a few weeks with the lower growth unaffected.   This is a question I have been asked many times on my Lecture Tour, as to why  the leaves of fuchsias turn red.   It is caused by excessively low temperatures or where the plant is in a constant draft or cold spot in the greenhouse.    The answer, move the plant to another situation and water with warm water.     The plant below, in a basket, was severely chilled during a frosty night in February.    It soon recovered as indicated by the new light green foliage.    A close up view is on the right.

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    The final stop must include every side shoot, even those that are hidden below the upper leaves.   It must include even the smallest growing tip, but of course, there will be some shoots too small and others that will missed.    These if left unstopped will destroy the ultimate shape of your plant.   With this in mind it is vital to understand a little more about your plant.     Any unstopped shoots at this stage will have the apical meristem, growing tip, already under development and the plant will automatically transfer energy giving these shoots priority.      In order to bring these unstopped shoots under control they must be stopped within ten to fourteen days of the final stop.      This time factor is critical to bring these shoots into flower with the other shoots stopped earlier.    The reason for this is, a fuchsia flower normally lasts for ten days, which is governed by its reproductive cycle.  The pollen is produced within five days, the stigma degenerates within ten days, therefore it is reasonable to assume that these later shoots will produce flowers to complement the plant, not premature flowering shoots that will destroy the plants overall symmetry and balance.    Once the final stopping sequence is complete all manner of things can go wrong before flowering to test your resolve.   Examine your plants every few days for insect and fungal attacks.    Turn them regularly.     Where possible, try to grow all your show specimen plants outside where light and temperature are always uniquely  balanced.      Once your show plants have been potted  into their final pots, double pot them, especially those to be grown outside.    Choose a pot two sizes larger than the pot in which the plant is being grown.     Put some gravel or coarse sand in the bottom, insert the plant in its pot then fill in the sides with more sand or gravel.     This has two main advantages.   Firstly, it provides weight and prevents the plant being blown over but more importantly with plants grown outside, it protects the growing pot from direct sunlight.    Prolonged exposure of the pot to direct sunlight will virtually cook the compost and burn the roots.      Growers, not appreciating these facts, will attribute plant failure to over watering, when in fact the roots have been destroyed by excessive heat.     The first signs are when the temperature rises your plants start to wilt only to recover  when the temperatures fall.   This is a sure sign of root problems induced either by a drainage problem or cooking after exposure  to direct sunlight.    Below, some of my show plants being grown outside, all have being double potted.

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    The next time these plants are re-housed in the greenhouses is for disbudding and bud selection.

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  • The first plant above is in a five inch pot ready for disbudding and final bud selection.  It has been grown, stopped and shaped as described above.     The second photograph is the same plant after disbudding.      I shall now explain the sequence and reasoning for disbudding which only applies to specimen plants destined for the show bench. During the final stopping sequence the different side shoots were obviously at different stages of development and consequently the new shoots in the leaf axils were also at different stages.      As growth progresses, the larger shoots will start to develop flower buds much earlier than the others.   If the plant is left to its own devices it will be quite happy to start flowering progressively.    It  will concentrate on opening the prime buds first delaying the development of others.     Its prime objective is reproduction, setting seed for future generations, caring little about your aspirations on the show bench.    If left to take its natural course it will never fully furnish itself with open flowers.  It will open some here and some there, a little higgledy-piggledy.    You will be constantly removing dead flowers which will have been produced to the detriment of overall perfection.    In addition, the foliage will be covered with unsightly pollen and the older flowers damaged by Bees and Wasps which detract from perfection and will be penalised by the judges.  Once flower buds are observed developing in the growing tips, [see photograph one] it is time to give it the protection of the greenhouse.      Firstly, cover all windows and vents with netting , I use old discarded net curtains from the house, and make a loose drape for the doorway to prevent foraging insects from gaining access.     These insects are attracted by both pollen and nectar, are extremely clumsy, and will tear and scratch the flower petals.   One particular insect, I'm not sure whether it is a wasp or hover fly, actually emasculates the flowers by cutting away all the anthers and even the stigma.   Just one bee or wasp can ruin a plant completely in just a few seconds.  Once the greenhouse has been secured, take each plant in turn and examine it all over noting the different sizes of flower buds.    Some will be quite large whilst other barely visible.     Start by removing all the obvious large premature buds first.   This is not easy but if left they will only spoil your plant.   Your aim is to continue to remove buds until you can see that every branch not only has flower buds but that the size of these buds are all within 1cm. of each other.     This will ensure that once the buds start to open all the flowers will open together at one time then progressively for maybe two to three weeks.    It is important to remember that the life of a flower is approximately ten days and is at perfection after five days when the ripe pollen sacs start to ripen.    This matter will be discussed under the heading, 'Hybridising'.     Once bud selection is complete, remove any flower that opens up to ten days before show date.     If left they will only spoil your chances of a red card.      On many occasions I have approached a show bench and seen what appears to be a spectacular specimen only to find, on closer examination, that over fifty per cent of the flowers were dead, had not been aborted naturally, or  removed by the exhibitor.      One variety notorious for this was 'Leonora', a lovely pink single.  Another is  'Display' .     The tell tale sign as to the freshness of a flower is the colour of the stigma which starts to degenerate after about eight days.  This makes it is easy for the Judges assess flower freshness, a prime criteria in exhibiting.       Many exhibitors ignore this criteria and attribute their lack of an award to bad judging.       Not only do exhibitors have to abide by the rules, so do the Judges.     Make sure your plant is clean, fully furnished and dressed using hidden ties.    In another Chapter, I will recount some of my experiences both as an Exhibitor and Judge.             Below, a pair of Lady Isobel Barnett and three six inch pots, Cloverdale Pearl, Joy Patmore and Heidi Anne which were staged at Southport Flower Show.    The were all grown, stopped and timed as described above using the method of double single stopping.    These are just a few of some older cultivars which can still hold their own today.       The biggest challenge for any aspiring exhibitor is to grow Lady Isobel Barnett up into a six inch pot.      It is notorious for the dehydration of the ripe wood when over wintering.   The two plants of Lady Isobel Barnett below were grown on through the winter from cuttings taken in October and were less than 10 months old when exhibited.   The other three plants, all in 6 inch pots, are Cloverdale Pearl, Joy Patmore and Heidi Ann.  They are all two year old plants.   With the odd exceptions such as Lady Isobel Barnett, Estelle Marie and Bon Accord two year old plants are normally the best for exhibiting in the larger pot classes.    Plants older than two years progressively tend to suffer more from dehydration of the ripe wood making them very difficult to shape.    

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    Dressing.       I have seen some wonderful fuchsia exhibits, both in pots and baskets, which have not been cleaned or dressed prior to being exhibited.    Some of these plants must have taken nearly two years to grow and yet the exhibitors failed to spend a few minutes cleaning and dressing them before staging.    Whilst judging I have found tennis balls, crusts of bread meant for the birds, small children's toys, a babies dummy, a cigarette lighter and numerous other objects in the centre of exhibits not to mention plant debris, flowers and leaves etc.  The point I wish to stress, check your plants carefully before leaving home and dress them before staging. The following sequence illustrates the art of dressing and presentation.

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    The  photographs above are of one plant showing the sequence of dressing.  It was one of a set of four six inch pots of the fuchsia 'Ting a Ling' grown specifically to exhibit at a National Show in a class for 'Three six inch pots of Fuchsia', any variety or varieties.   They won their class and also took the top award.   The one left over also won its class.  A   class for a 'Single Flowered Fuchsia' grown in a six inch pot.     Ting a Ling is one of my favourite fuchsias for exhibiting and in my opinion, one of the best white single fuchsias  raised to-date, but it also rates as one of the hardest to grow.   It is very susceptible to botrytis and the flowers mark very easily, especially  traveling to shows but it makes a spectacular exhibit if grown correctly.    Not one for the novice but a real challenge for the expert exhibitor.  Another white to test your skill is 'Countess of Aberdeen'. There is very little literature, if any, available explaining the finer points of exhibiting for the novice and beginner.    The B.F.S. Judging handbook is available for members and worth studying.  A knowledge of the rules is paramount. If the first photograph is studied, all manner of faults can be seen.       This plant, along with the others,  had been grown outside during the summer and later taken into the greenhouse for protection and disbudding.      Between fourteen to sixteen days before the show all open flowers should be removed together with pedicel and seed pod.       If not done previously, any sagging branches should be tied up. for support.   Stakes, if needed, can be used provided they are not obtrusive.   I try to avoid these if at all possible.     It is now ready for initial dressing and tying in.   The first thing I do when dressing a plant is to turn it upside down and gently shake it up and down whilst easing the branches apart to allow all the flowers, hidden in the foliage, to dress out.       This makes final dressing so much easier.    If any flowers fall off during this process they should not have been there in the first place.       With most of the flowers and unopened buds dressed out it is now time to 'tie in' and pull the branches together using green garden wire to close any holes in the framework.    This is not easy and care must be taken not to break any branches.    Once these faults have been rectified, using a piece of garden wire with the end bent to form a hook, carefully  lift out any flowers that still remain within the framework.    Turn the plant progressively to examine the overall symmetry checking and rectifying any imbalance.    Finally, before returning the plant to the protection of the greenhouse, check the plant pot {see photograph above} and replace it if necessary with an identical clean one.        The plant in the centre [photograph above] has been dressed and cleaned and all that remains is to lift the two branches on the right and wire them in place, then wire and pull the two branches in the centre together to complete the dressing.   The photograph on the extreme right shows these faults corrected, it is now ready for show.   In considering which plants to exhibit, I have always adhered to one simple rule.   If I am not ashamed to say I grew the plant then it is exhibited.    Win or lose does not really matter too much, although it is nice to win.    It is the taking part  that is all important.    This ensures the show will be a success, not only for the exhibitor, but for all the staff who work so hard behind the scenes to ensure its success.   They provide the platform for your exhibits, don't forget to thank them.     My criteria for exhibiting is very simple which is, if I'm not ashamed to say I grew the plant I will exhibit it.   If it is beaten then the plant that won will be worth looking at.         See the chapter on 'Show Plants'. The rules for exhibiting state that a fuchsia must be shown in the pot in which it has been grown.   This must not be taken too literally, it is specifically worded and designed to prevent exhibitors from cheating, by potting their plants up or down into different size pots in order to meet the requirements of a particular class or schedule.   It does not mean that the pot can not be changed for a clean one to  complement the exhibit.    The second photograph illustrates the point. In changing a dirty or damaged pot, no advantage has been gained, it is presentation.  I shall now explain some of the finer points in the final dressing of your exhibit, opening flowers.    This is a very controversial subject and needs to be fully explained.     There is a huge difference between popping buds and opening buds correctly to enhance your exhibit .     I have never exhibited a plant that has not had some of the flowers opened prior to judging to enhance its appearance.      Used correctly, your exhibit can be outstanding, but popping the buds will deny you any chance of a prize card.    Firstly, as pointed out previously, a fuchsia flower only lasts for about ten days therefore any plant that is to be exhibited must have any open flowers removed 10 days before the day of the show.      There are two main reasons, A] a dead flower detracts from perfection and is classed as rubbish, B] if allowed to remain attached to the plant, the plant will divert energy away from developing and opening other flowers, in order to ripen any fertilised seed in the pod.     Once these premature flowers have been removed, allow the flowers to open and develop naturally.      Take precautions to prevent flowers being damaged by insects.    Three days before the show, examine your exhibits carefully, select only the largest buds and assist them to open.     Only the largest buds, those that are showing signs of opening should be assisted.    This is indicated by the sides of the sepals progressively starting to crack.    The inexperienced exhibitor, in an attempt to open the flower, will pinch [pop] the tip of immature  buds to open them prematurely.    In reality, what will happen, only the tips of the sepals will break and  turn back towards the tube thus disfiguring the flower.    If done clumsily, the sepals will also show signs of damage and will be penalised.     The correct way to assist  a flower to open is very simple.     First wash your hands to remove any grease or dirt.      Select a mature bud that is showing signs of opening as described above.   Take hold of the flower by the tube using your left hand and assert gentle pressure.   At the same time stroke the flower gently, using the  finger and thumb of the right hand, from the tube to the tip of the sepals.    Needless to say, vice versa if left handed.   The sepals will now part.      Taking hold of each sepal in turn ease it slowly away from the corolla using gentle pressure to ensure that the sepals open fully right back to the point where it joins the tube.    This will prevent the tips of the sepal from curling.  The last flowers must be opened at least twelve hours before staging to allow maximum development.  The following series of photographs illustrates the technique.  Note the damage to the bud that has been popped on the extreme left.  The sequence is described above.     After twelve hours or more the sepals will fly adding another open flower to your exhibit.    Done correctly this simple procedure can make a huge difference and make your plant really stand out from the rest.          

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    Anne H Tripp 

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    Nellie Nuttall

    Notice the two plants above, both have immature buds unopened, which are used to complement the plant.   No unsightly buds with the tips of the sepals curling.     When exhibiting treat your exhibit as a work of art.     You may have spent up to three years growing your exhibit therefore make sure your efforts are rewarded and not beaten by inferior well dressed plants.    The Anne H Tripp on the left is a one year plant in a five inch pot as opposed to Nellie Nuttall which is three years old plant in an 8 inch pot.      Once your show plants exceed three years of age it is time to discard them or plant them in a sheltered border.     They will be of little further use for exhibiting, constant feeding, especially with potash which will seriously over ripen the wood making it difficult for new growth.     Whilst the Chapter on Plant Nutrition deals with feeding plants I shall just reiterate a little on the subject here for the benefit of the exhibitor.     Firstly, I must point out, especially for the Novice, there is no such thing as magic feed, chemical formula or compost that will transform a poorly grown neglected plant into a show specimen, rather the reverse.   More show plants are ruined, or I should say poisoned, by over enthusiastic growers trying to boost growth and floriferousness using mineral chemicals.   This can be mostly attributed to writers and visiting speakers to specialist fuchsia societies advocating the use of high potash feeding when the flower buds appear.    I have listened and cringed with dismay when I have heard advice such as this being advocated.   It is a recipe for disaster.      Sometime in the distant past a gardening or fuchsia  guru has stated that fuchsias need to be fed with potash due to the large number of flowers and fruit they produce.     This has been taken out of context ever since because few growers have challenged this theory and put it to the test.      I have, by controlled testing and research, tested the three main elements, N.P.K. individually in various dilutions on a variety of sample plants always using a sample as a control and carefully photographing and recording the results.      One of my first mistakes when testing these various feeds was in using tap water.   I did not appreciate just how many chemicals were in solution in tap water, thereafter I  used de-mineralised water in all testing of chemicals in solution.    When growing specimen plants never be tempted to feed them whilst they are being systematically potted up all the time into larger pots using fresh compost.     This will make your fresh compost too acid and burn the tiny feeding roots and inhibit natural growth.     It is only when your plants are in their final pots and becoming root-bound that you need to consider feeding.     Before supplementary feeding follow these few snippets of advice.     After your plant has been potted up into its final pot for about three weeks, gently knock it out of its pot every so often to check root development.  In doing this, it also releases the pressure caused by roots compacting the compost thus reducing the oxygen content so vitally needed at this time.     Once the roots, in their effort to reach the drip line, start to run round the inside of the pot it is time to think about supplementary feeding.    First of all, crush some Perlite to the size of course sand.     After watering the plant remove it from its pot and dip it into the fine perlite or porous sand, not river sand which is mostly granite, until the whole of the root ball is covered.    Gently return it to its pot.     This will aid drainage, increase aeration and reduce damage through compaction of the compost, the main cause of disaster in the later stages of development.   Insert photo ....>>>> Now to consider when and what to feed your plants for optimum results.     This is always a dilemma for the novice exhibitor who often misinterprets advice both right and wrong, mostly given in good faith, by  fellow competitors.      This advice is invariably to feed the show plants with a high potash fertiliser.    This, unless you are an expert and fully understand the chemistry of these chemicals, is a recipe for disaster.    It will reduce the leaf size of your plant turning them a very dark green, reducing their ability to convert the other nutritional chemicals into digestible compounds through the process of photosynthesis.  In addition, if it does not poison your plant this season, high potash will over ripen the wood reducing the plants ability to produce new growth the following season rendering it virtually useless except for maybe one or two cuttings.    To fully understand plant nutrition is a science few are prepared to delve into.   It is a fascinating study which can bring great rewards.   Plants, similar to all other forms of life, thrive best on a balanced diet.  The cliché, 'a little of what you fancy does you good' and 'all things in moderation' applies more especially to plant life.       Once your cuttings have been selected, grown on and potted on progressively in fresh fortified compost as described earlier, there should be absolutely no reason whatsoever to supplementary feed your plants.       If the correct formula of both soluble and  slow release organic fertilisers  have been added to your compost the only time you should need to supplementary feed is once your plants are nearly root-bound in the final pots.   At this stage remember to knock them out of their pots occasionally to release the build up of pressure caused by expansion of growing roots.      Before even considering feeding, look at your plant very carefully, read it and ask yourself the question, does it really need feeding?    Only if the leaves of your plant are starting to get smaller should you consider feeding but first make sure the leaves are fresh and have a nice sheen.     If they are dull, and the plant does not need watering, it could well be a  prelude to problems, which can only be attributed to problems below compost level.     If your plants are growing well as described above and you feel it prudent to stimulate growth by feeding then use a balanced liquid fertiliser or one with  a slightly  higher nitrogen factor and use at half the recommended dosage.      Never use high potash feeds on fuchsias.     The leaf is virtually the plants stomach  which it uses with the aid of photosynthesis to convert both soluble and gaseous nutrients into the sugars and starches needed for growth and development as well as flower production.     It therefore follows that to help the plant to produce an abundance of normal sized flowers continuously it will require a large number of healthy full sized leaves to convert sufficient material to support and maintain natural growth.    Although potash is an essential element, it is the nitrogen that the plant uses to maintain the quality of leaf structure that is the key to producing flowers.     Without healthy leaves you will only get a few poor quality  flowers.     Therefore, provided the original balance of your compost was correct, the only feed you should consider using is a high nitrogen or at most a balanced soluble commercially produced fertiliser.     Use at half strength, too much will turn your compost very acid which will burn the feeding roots.    At least once during the later stages of growth, dilute a teaspoon of ground chalk in five litres of water and water your plants.   It will help sweeten the compost and assist in the breakdown of other chemicals the plant requires.     If you look at some of my larger show plants which are virtually all potted into five or six inch clay pots, they will only have been fed very sparingly with a weak dilution of Urea, which is approximately 46% pure nitrogen, never potash.  For a nitrogen feed use Urea as opposed to Sulphate of Ammonia.     Both these two fertilisers are nearly identical in percentage of nitrogen, but Urea, unlike Ammonia leaves no toxic residues.     If for any reason you wish to test any chemicals for feeding never test it on your whole stock.    Select only two plants and feed only one using the second plant as a control sample.    If you are wrong you will only loose one plant.   Heed this warning when testing chemicals or changing any growing techniques even your compost.    If your plants suddenly start to lose their lustre and turgidity and the compost is not dry, suspect root problems.   Other than insect or fungal attack nearly all growing problems can be attributed to the root structure or growing medium.      Check these out before attempting to feed.      You may well have heard the virtues of foliar feeding of fuchsia being discussed and even recommended by some growers where they hypothesize about the results not fully understanding the biological structure of the leaf and its functions.       As previously described above, the leaf can be loosely described as the plants stomach and has the ability to convert nutrients both in solution and gaseous into a food source. Diluted minerals in solution are transported to the leaf through the roots and branches using a system called osmosis, a very powerful muscular pumping action which is extremely efficient.     The other means of the plant obtaining and using gaseous material such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide is through  stomata cells situated on the underside of the leaf.      These tiny cells are not designed to absorb large amounts of minerals in solution it is the gaseous material they ingest.      These cells are temperature controlled opening and closing with the rise and fall of the ambient temperatures.   They are fully open at and above 60 deg C. and even at this temperature cannot absorb large quantities of liquid.    If a solution containing diluted minerals is sprayed onto the underside of the leaves only a tiny proportion, if any, can be absorbed before evaporation.      Most of the solution will drip onto the compost and be absorbed by the roots.     One other point to bear in mind using foliar feeds is that some chemicals falling onto the upper leaf surface can react to sunlight and damage the leaf.    My advice regarding foliar feeding is to forget it, keep everything simple, straight forward and natural for optimum results.  Always keep the foliage clean and free from insect and fungal attacks.      It is the succulence of the fuchsia leaves that attract so many different insects that is the difficulty in keeping your plants clean. It is a constant challenge.    This chapter is quite complex therefore if you find any part that is not as explicit as you would like, contact me using the email icon on the front page.   White fuchsias grown well are always winners and greatly admired due to the extra degree of difficulty in both growing and transportation.  They quickly show any blemishes.      Test your skills with these three 'Show Stoppers', Annabel, Anne H Tripp and Ting a Ling.     

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