STANDARDS

  • This chapter deals with the methods used to create beautiful standard fuchsias, their maintenance and care over a long period of time.       The techniques are very different from growing fuchsias in pots, baskets and other specific shapes such as espaliers, pyramids or fans.     Once you have decided to embark on this lovely facet of growing fuchsias the first consideration is to choose the variety or indeed the varieties best suited to your requirements.     These can be double or single flowered with large  medium  or small flowers.    Choose very carefully because the wrong choice can be disastrous when you consider it may take up to two years to achieve your aims.     In addition to the size and type of flowers, consider the growth habit of the different varieties.    If the variety is too lax all the flowers will be hanging below your eye level and all you will see are the tubes and sepals of the flowers.   The top of the standard will be almost devoid of flowers, just a blaze of foliage.    On the other hand if the variety you choose is too rigid and upright all you will see are the branches of the framework, so it is paramount to select the correct varieties to achieve your envisaged results.    Be ambitious.      In my opinion, the best varieties are those with medium sized flowers, either single or double, with a semi-lax growth.    This is where the weight of the flowers when in bloom cause the branches bend slightly under their weight.    In choosing your varieties pay attention to the length and strength of the flower pedicel, the stalk that attaches the flower to the branch via the leaf  axil.     If the pedicel is too long the flowers will fall into the foliage and be lost from sight spoiling the ultimate spectacle of seeing your standard in a blaze of colour.   Another factor to consider, which few growers do, is to select varieties that produce at least two flowers in each leaf axil.   These extra flowers help to improve the spectacle and prolong the flowering period.    The considerations outlined above help you to get off to a good start.     Commit your ideas to paper and review them from time to time looking at different options    Don't be over zealous just grow what you know you can cope with bearing in mind the conditions and room you have available.Propagation.  Correct timing is essential if standards are to be grown successfully.   The cuttings must be taken at the right time of the year with early March be being the optimum.  If cuttings are taken too early they tend to struggle, growth is too slow and little is achieved. Those growers who have their own stock plants from which to select cutting have a distinct advantage over those who have purchase them  from a specialist nursery.   Select a well established specialist nursery who guarantee their plants.   It is better to pay that little bit extra for clean healthy plants.    A lesson I learned very early when buying new plants or cuttings is to examine them very carefully and isolate them from your main stock for at least two weeks.       Examine new plants or cuttings every two to three days.     Look for any slight discolouration on the surface of the leaves, premature signs of rust, also  examine the underside of the leaves with a powerful magnifying glass for red spider.    Rust and red spider are the scourge of fuchsias, both being difficult to detect and eradicate.    See the chapter on Pests and Diseases.If you have to purchase your cuttings, insist they are unstopped, the growing tips have not been removed.    This practise is undertaken by the nurserymen to keep the growth of the cutting compact and induce side shoots to produce a more uniform plant.     Unfortunately, this is not what you want when growing standards. At this juncture, I would suggest that you read my chapter on ‘Methods of Propagation’.  It will help you better understand why the techniques for growing standards are so different.     Taking the correct type of cutting can make a tremendous difference.   When propagating to produce a pot plant a compact close jointed cutting is the best but for standards it is entirely the opposite.   You are looking for a large leaf cutting with good spacing between the leaves.  This chapter is designed to guide and help you achieve something spectacular that will be your pride and joy the envy of your friends. If you are able to propagate your own cuttings be absolutely certain that these are free from pests and disease.   As previously mentioned red spider mite and rust are easily missed and can be disastrous, ruining many months of work.    Cleanliness is paramount, check your stock plants carefully and only if completely satisfied select suitable material for  cuttings.    Select slightly larger cuttings than you would normally take to produce a shrub or bush plant.   These must be absolutely perfect, you will be investing a lot of time and patience so be meticulous.         The type of cuttings best suited to growing standards are the three leafed cuttings which are only produced on second year over wintered plants.      As described above three leaf cuttings as opposed to the normal two will produce a better more balanced head and a third more flowers than a standard produced from the two leafed type.    Couple this with a cultivar that produces at least two or more flowers in each leaf axil and you have a  perfect start in producing a spectacular  standard.      There are of course exceptions such as the triphylla family, several species and one or two obscure cultivars.  These are not normally suitable for use as standards anyway. When selecting your cuttings make absolutely certain that the balance of the three leaf formation is perfect.    Any imbalance at this stage, no matter how slight,  will effect your ultimate creation.   You will not be happy with the results.   This imbalance will not only effect the shaping of the head, but ultimately, the balance and number of flowers produced so take extra care when selecting your cuttings.    Unfortunately, not all cultivars produce three leafed cuttings but most do.A point of interest to bear in mind, if you pinch out the growing tip of a three leafed cutting all the subsequent side shoots produced will only have a two leafed formation.   A three leafed cutting will not produce three leafed side shoots, except in a few obscure instances outlined in previous paragraphs.    Below are examples of perfect cutting material, always aim for perfection.   

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    Take and propagate twice as many cuttings as you think you would like to grow.      It takes a long time to produce a good standard and there are many pitfalls along the way.  Taking extra cuttings is a good investment.  These can always be sold or given away later if not required. If you are considering growing standards then I assume you are an accomplished fuchsia enthusiast wishing to increase your expertise.    This is a lovely challenging facet of growing fuchsias  and the achievements can be spectacular.    Just one word of caution here before you start, be aware that fuchsia standards are not hardy and will not withstand even a moderate winter outdoors even if they are classified as hardy.     A standard left outdoors during the winter will surely  succumb to the cold.    The head and main stem will not survive unless taken indoors for the winter.  If left outside, the root stock may survive but you will most certainly lose the main stem and head.Having taken and rooted your selection of cutting material, this is where the growing technique differs from taking cuttings for pot plants, baskets or the garden.

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    The photographs above illustrate the difference between the type of cuttings used for creating a bush type plant 'A'   and  'B' the type used to create a standard.  Cutting 'A' is perfect for creating a bush plant where the leaf nodes are very close together and the side shoots already visible.    The cutting 'B' on the other hand, is typical of the type of cutting to be selected and used for creating a standard.   The production of the material used for the different types of cuttings is not accidental.     The cutting 'A' has been grown in cool, not cold, conditions using the maximum amount of light available whereas cutting 'B' has been grown in warmer conditions with a lower light factor.      The warmer conditions and low light cause elongation of the internodal length, the distance between the leaf axils.      This is achieved by the realisation of the stock plant to the imbalance in the light and heat levels. The low light levels sensed by the apical meristem, the growing tip, causes the shoot to elongate in an effort to reach a higher light factor.     This elongation of the stem is exactly what is required when growing standards.   It reduces the time taken to achieve the length of stem suitable for the height required for your standard.      A point of interest here, if you are ambitious and wish to exhibit your standard at some later date at a recognised Fuchsia Show, then you must adhere to the show schedule which will define the length of clear stem from the root ball to the first branches.    These usually fall into four distinct classes, mini, table, half and full.   The length of clear stem is always clearly defined in the show schedules.    These only apply to the dedicated show person. When your cuttings have rooted, remove them from the propagating frame and pot them up using fresh potting compost.    Never use old compost for potting up freshly rooted cuttings it may well be sour too acid for new cuttings.   Using fresh compost pot up your cuttings into a slightly larger pot than you would normally use for other plants.     For example, cuttings for bush and shrub type plants I use 2.5”- 6cm pots but for standards I would use at least a 3.5” - 8cm or even a 4”- 10cm pot depending on the size and vigour of the cutting.   This is illustrated by ‘photograph ‘C’ above.     Once potted up care must be taken to ensure the main stem of the cutting is grown as straight as possible.  As it grows turn it by 90 degrees every three or four days.  Once it has reached approximately 4 to 5 inches in height insert a small cane for support.   I have found the wooden sticks used for barbecuing are ideal.  Tie the main stem loosely to the stick  for support and continue to retie every four of five inches as the stem gains height and thickens.   If the ties are tied too tight they will reduce the flow of sap, produce an ugly scar and weaken the stem.   You must be constantly vigilant.As the stem grows and gains height so do the leaves and side shoots in the leaf axils.   As soon as the side shoots are large enough to handle remove them.      I use a model makers scalpel, but they can easily be removed using a pair of fine tweezers.    If they are allowed to develop they inhibit the flow of nutrient rich sap thus reducing the amount available to the main stem which in turn slows down growth rate.     Again, I must stress the importance of not removing any leaves from the main stem as the standard gains height,  remove only the side shoots in the leaf axils.    The leaves are in effect the plants stomach.    Quite simply the mineral rich sap is transported from the roots using a system  called osmosis, a means by which the plant is able to pump moisture containing dissolved nutrients through permeable membranes to the leaves and other parts of the plant.     The soluble nutrients absorbed by the leaves are, by the system of photosynthesis, converted into sugars and starches which the plant will use for cell production and division thus helping it to grow.    This is an extremely interesting and complex subject but understanding just the basics outlined here will greatly improve your growing skills.    Removing leaves from your new standard prematurely will, quite simply, cause your plant to starve.    A weak poorly grown plant is always a target for pests and disease.      Conversely, pamper your new standard whip by not letting it get root bound, pot it up frequently to provide all the food it needs for rapid growth and leaf production.   Premature removal of leaves as the standard grows is the most common mistake made by the novice, quite simply,  because when they see standards displayed either at a nursery, fuchsia show or in someone else's garden, the main stem is always bare, completely devoid of foliage.     They assume that this is the norm not realising that the standards they see are all at least twelve months old and not appreciating  fuchsia's are deciduous, similar to other trees that naturally discard their leaves annually each autumn.    

    Next in the sequence of growing a specimen standard is achieving the length of stem before developing the head. This must be achieved as quickly as possible using the techniques described above.  Once you have decided on the overall height you wish to achieve you must now make some very careful calculations.    The head of your standard proportionate to the stem height will roughly be about one quarter.  

    Whilst your standard is developing keep checking and remove the side shoots as early as possible.      If left too long the base of the side shoot growing in the leaf axil will swell and its delayed removal will leave a nasty scar. disfiguring the main stem.      Once three quarters of the required height of stem has been achieved, stop removing the side shoots.        When this point is reached, leave the side shoots to grow in the leaf axils as the main stem gains height.     Allow the main stem to continue growing for another five or six sets of leaves.  Once the last set of leaves have developed it is now time to pinch out the main growing tip to prevent any further upward growth.    The side shoots that now develop  in the leaf axils will be used to form the main branches of the head.   Allow the side shoots to develop freely and do not attempt to stop them until the uppermost side shoots have developed two pair of leaves.     When this last pair of side shoots develop two pair of leaves it is time to pinch out all the growing tips of  the side shoots.   These will naturally be in different stages of growth  and they must all now be stopped at the same time.    The fuchsia will now divert all its energy to the side shoots which now become the main branches from which you will be able to shape and form a nice well balanced head.       Remember also to check the support cane for suitability and loosen the ties to prevent them from biting into the main stem.  By the time you reach this point, most of the summer growing season will have passed and  growth slowing down.   Try to keep your standard growing throughout the winter if possible.   The original leaves on the main stem will now start to turn yellow and start to fall naturally.     The new leaves developed in the head will be sufficient to support the standard until the spring when they also will be discarded naturally.  The next stage in developing the head is correctly stopping and shaping the side shoots that have been allowed to grow whilst the main stem gained height.   These should already have  had their initial stop and will now be producing side shoots in their leaf axils.     This is the tricky bit, shaping the head correctly.       Allow the side shoots to grow and only stop them by pinching out their growing tips when they have developed two pair of leaves.      They must all be stopped at the same time to ensure even development of the head.        If you neglect to do this, and pinch out the growing tips at different stages of growth then the head of your standard will be unbalanced and flowering erratic and  intermittent.

  • It is worth noting at this point that when a side shoot is stopped the next side shoots grow strongly only from the upper most  set leaf axils.     Any shoots developing lower down will have their growth inhibited unless or until they are needed, for whatever reason, by the fuchsia, usually if the upper side shoots are inadvertently damaged.    With the onset of winter it would be prudent to spray the head with a propriety insecticide as a precaution.  Growing a table or half standard you may be able to develop a reasonably sized head in one year, but for a full standard development will take two years.  The first year to raise and start development of the head, the second year to complete it by which time the standard will have been potted up into its final pot or container.    A point worth noting and remembering here is a fault that could suddenly develop whereby the leaves of your standard start to lose their lustre and growth slows down even through you seem to have been doing everything correctly.    Unfortunately these symptoms are wrongly diagnosed by the novice as lack of nutrition and unwittingly starts soluble feeding.     This now exacerbates the situation simply because the cause of the problem has not been correctly identified.        This can be disastrous unless the cause is correctly identified and action taken.     If the standard does not die its growth and welfare will be greatly impaired.    The cause of the problem, as rightly assumed, is one of feeding but not the lack of food.    To correctly determine the problem remove the standard from its pot and examine the root ball.     In all probability you will find that the microscopic feeding roots running around the inside of the pot have died, turned red, instead of being a lovely cream healthy colour.   The roots are no longer able to absorb the soluble nutrients to sustain nice healthy growth.      The microscopic feeding roots have been attacked by a water borne fungi.    This is not unique to standards it can effect all pot and container grown plants.     To remedy the problem you need to understand the underlying cause.      In the first instance, more especially with pot grown plants, the cause is quite simply compaction of the compost.   This is caused by the roots, similar to the branches above, growing and expanding within the compost.     This expansion slowly compresses the compost material  to such an extent that it extrudes all the oxygen so essential to the plant in breaking down and converting organic and chemical material into a soluble form that the can plant digest.    When this happens the compost quickly turns sour, very acid.  This destroys the microscopic feeding roots which are then attacked by fungi.    If your plants seem to wilt in warm weather suspect root compaction.    Confirmation is easy, just knock your plant out of its pot and check the roots.    The signs will be self explanatory.To remedy the situation remove the sour compost and let the roots dry out for two or three days.     This kills the fungi and after trimming the roots pot them up into fresh compost and water sparingly.     This will save most plants.      To alleviate this problem in the future all that is required is to knock your plants out of their pots every two weeks and  leave them for several minutes for the compost to expand then loosely pop them back into their pots.       In addition, dampen the root ball and dust it with a fine grade perlite, sand, vermiculite or other fine porous material.   This keeps the root ball aerated and assists drainage.    I mentioned previously that there were two causes of plant failure.     The second one, which produces similar effects, is over potting, using too large a pot for a small plant.      If a plant is grossly over potted, over watered and unnecessarily fed by the enthusiastic novice it will also succumb, the compost turning very acidic.     Understanding the points raised above can greatly increase your chances of success in raising some spectacular and colourful standards.     To reiterate, it is paramount to constantly replace the main supporting cane as your standard gains in height and age.    Insert the support early and tie it loosely so that the ties do not bite into the stem of the standard as it grows.Next in the sequence of growing your standard is the formation and shaping of the head.    If you have taken note of my advice on the correct selection of your fuchsia varieties then success is almost assured.      Caring for your standard during the winter months can be a little tedious when growth is slow.   However, as daylight and air temperatures increase so will your enthusiasm especially when you see new growth appearing.    Continue as before, stopping all the new shoots at every two or even three sets of leaves constantly paying attention to the shaping of the head.   The question I am constantly asked is when will the new standard start to flower.   This, quite simply, is determined by the grower and their expertise which is mostly a hit and miss affair.   There are so many imponderables involved such as light intensity, day length and temperature plus the timing of the final stopping of the side shoots that will ultimately produce the flowering branches. The general consensus of experienced  growers is to be tidy minded pay attention to detail and keep records for future reference.If you seriously intend to aspire to the show bench then understanding timing, final stopping, is essential.     Very few  expert and dedicated show people truly understand what induces a fuchsia plant to flower at a given time of the growing season.   The next few paragraphs will deal with this in depth and explain how to get your plants to near perfection for a given show date. During my fifty plus years as a fuchsia enthusiast and National Showman I have read most of the publications and listened to many eminent lecturers and have yet to find one who fully understands the flowering idiosyncrasies of the fuchsia.   The accepted norm for flowering is to pinch out the growing tips, the final stop, of the flowering branches 60 days for a single flowered cultivar, 70 days for a semi-double and 80 days for a large double flowered varieties.    This of course is only a rough guide.   Bringing your plants to flowering perfection for exhibiting on a certain day is not quite  this simple.      Stopping your show plants on a given date maybe successful once but this will not work all the time.  I have in the past been caught out and missed taking possibly my best plants to a particular show simply because they did not conform as they had done in previous years.     They  had either  flowered too early or too late.   At first I found this difficult to understand until I suddenly realised  there was more than one factor involved, not just a number of days.      This realisation raised a lot of questions and made me re-examine my growing techniques.      I, like many other top showmen, always had spare plants available destined for different shows and I was able to juggle them to suit my needs but this was not the answer especially when it came to exhibiting standards.         This anomaly, the variation in flowering times had to be influenced by other factors, not just a set period of time.       The realisation suddenly became apparent.    The key factors influencing flowering were not measured in the number of days from the final stop, it was the number of hours and intensity of daylight that were the prime factors.  This and the varying intensity of available light were the key factors influencing the growth rate and flowering.      This may seem a little complicated  for the novice to understand until they realise that each day has a different length of daylight.     In December there are only eight hours daylight  whereas in July and August there are sixteen hours,  twice an many as in December.        I now completely understand why, using the standard stopping times, that my show plants did not always flower on time.      This coupled with the light intensity during the summer can play havoc with flowering times.      If we had a very good summer with plenty of sunshine my plants would, in all probability, flower on time but the following year, if we had a very dull rainy summer they could be up to two weeks late.     This is where keeping records can pay great dividends.        Using my records, I altered all my stopping times to suit my pattern of growing.    Invariably, I stopped my show plants two week earlier than I used to.    If the summer was bright they would start to flower earlier it was then only a matter of removing premature flowers and vice versa if the summer was dull.       This all adds to the excitement and fun of growing and exhibiting.     These last two paragraphs apply to all aspects of growing exhibition plants.         Finally, growing a standard fuchsia is a huge challenge it will test your resolve to the limit. If successful it will be very rewarding.     Following a few simple rules initially, such as not removing the leaves when developing the main stem.    Removing  the side shoots appearing in the leaf axils as soon as they appear and securing the main stem to a suitable cane as the standard grows.     Loosen the ties periodically  to stop them biting into the stem and remember to allow the side shoots to develop in the leaf axils only when the length of clear stem has been achieved.     After six pair of leaves have developed allow the side shoots in leaf axils to grow.   These will form the head of your new standard fuchsia.    Only when all the side shoots have appeared is it  time to pinch out the main growing tip to prevent further upward growth.  Allow the new side shoots to develop to shape the head.   Shaping and developing the head is identical to growing a bush plant which is described in detail in the chapter ' Stopping and Timing'.     This is tantamount to growing a bush plant on an elongated stem.    Take the challenge and test your ingenuity.

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