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RAISE YOUR STANDARDS By......Nick Dobson

Visit any fuchsia show and you'll usually find that the exhibits attracting the most attention and admiration from the public are the larger structures. In Victorian times, plants trained as giant pillars up to ten feet high would grace exhibitions, but nowadays the time, space and dedication required to produce these magnificent specimens has resulted in their virtual disappearance even from national shows. The standard remains the one large form still regularly found at local and national level. Once reasonable proficiency has been achieved in growing good bush trained plants, most fuchsia growers will want to challenge their skills with the standard form, and as the natural growth desire of the fuchsia is to grow straight along a single stem with all energy being focused into the growing tip, standards are not difficult to produce.

Standard fuchsias can be grown from cuttings struck at any time of the year. However, in order to ensure a maximum flowering season for your standard (or for show purposes), the optimum time for taking cuttings for quarter, half or full standards is in spring of one year to produce the finished article for the following year. Mini-standards are a different story and can easily be produced in one growing season, following the same fundamental training procedure as for their larger cousins, but using cultivars with small flowers so as to ensure that the finished specimen remains in proportion.

1. SELECT YOUR CULTIVAR

Just about any fuchsia can be trained as a standard, but excellent results can easily be produced from vigorous cultivars with fairly stiff stems that make the head of the standard reasonably self-supporting. With the most vigorous cultivars such as Checkerboard, Monsieur Thibault and Phyllis, show class standards can be produced by August or September from cuttings struck the previous autumn. Weeping standards can be grown using cultivars usually recommended for hanging pots or baskets, however, if you use genuine trailing fuchsias such as President Margaret Slater or Cascade, it can be difficult to achieve a well shaped head to your standard without extremely careful training (see below). A pleasing semi-weeping effect can more easily be attained by using cultivars with a lax habit of growth rather than true trailers.

RECOMMENDED CULTIVARS FOR HALF OR FULL STANDARDS:-

Barbara, Beacon, Beacon Rosa, Billy Green, Celia Smedley, Checkerboard, Display, Dollar Princess, Lye's Unique, Mieke Meursing, Monsieur Thibault, Mrs Lovell Swisher, Royal Velvet, Snowcap, Waveney Waltz.

RECOMMENDED CULTIVARS FOR QUARTER STANDARDS:-

Alison Ewart, Dollar Princess, Lye's Unique, Margaret Kendrick, Mieke Meursing, Monsieur Thibault, Mr A Huggett, Shelford, Snowcap, Waveney Gem, Walz Jubelteen.

RECOMMENDED CULTIVARS FOR WEEPING STANDARDS:-

Annabel, Coachman, F. Magellanica var. gracillis, Garden News, Marinka, Mrs.W.Rundle, Naughty Nicole, President Margaret Slater, Swingtime.

RECOMMENDED CULTIVARS FOR MINI-STANDARDS:-

Alison Ewart, Brenda White, Heidi Ann, Katrina Thompsen, Lady Thumb, Liebriez, Minirose, Nellie Nuttall, Tom Thumb.

2. SELECT YOUR CUTTING.

The method for taking cuttings is identical to that used for just about any other purpose. Use the method that works for you. Some cultivars occasionally produce stems with leaves in sets of three rather than two (fig.1). Since each leaf-joint is a potential growing shoot, a bushier head can be produced more rapidly using this type of cutting than one with leaves in the normal sets of two. However, as the plant develops, the three leaf fuchsia will throw some shoots that revert to just two leaves per stem (fig.2). This can result in uneven growth, so some experts now suggest that for show purposes in particular, strong healthy two leaf stems should be selected with leaves growing in an alternating north-south/east-west pattern (fig.2). Ensure that the leaves on your cutting are in balance (ie; of equal size). If one leaf is larger than its opposite number on the other side of the stem, stronger root growth will result on the side of the larger leaf leading to greater vigour on that side of the plant thus producing an uneven shape.

3. GROWING YOUR CUTTINGS.

When aiming to grow standards, take more cuttings than you need (the surplus can be given away, or better still donated to the society on show day for the sales table!) and keep only the healthiest, strongest cuttings for growing on as a standard. Pot up the cuttings into individual pots (if you are using vigorous cultivars go directly to 3" or 3.5" pots.) Leave the central growing point intact and place a small cane next to the cutting. To produce a standard, your cutting must be grown without check. If it feels its life is threatened by excessively low or high temperatures, a lack of water or by excessive root restriction, a fuchsia will start to produce flowers. Once the plant enters its flowering stage, the hormones controlling growth become subservient to those controlling flowering and it becomes more difficult to keep your fuchsia in vigorous upward growth. If flowers do appear, remove them carefully and go through the following checklist:

i) keep your whips at a constant temperature (50-70 degress F), below 50F fuchsias will not grow:
ii) keep the compost moist (not too wet) at all times:
iii) ensure the plant is pest and disease free (spray regularly against white fly and aphids and against rust and other fungal diseases):
iv) make sure that your whip never becomes pot-bound - as soon as the roots have filled the pot then progress to the next size pot. Once you reach the stage of a 4.5" or 5" pot, feeding can begin with a high nitrogen feed, such as Chempak Formula 2.

As the whip grows ensure that adequate staking and tying is observed, initial ties can be made with supermarket twist ties. As the plant grows and a larger cane is inserted, string, raffia or similar material can be used - don't tie too hard or you could cut into the stem weakening the plant's wind resistance - tie in a figure of eight style (fig.3). A tie should be made every two or three inches along the stem.

4. TRAINING.

As you whip grows, remove side-shoots as they develop, this allows nutrients to be focused into the growing point of the plant. If tackled early enough, side shoots can be easily removed by hand by simply tearing them away with a sideways movement; if the side-shoots have been allowed to grow quite large, you may require a sharp knife (take care not to wound the stem of the whip as any wound could provide a source of infection or become a weak spot on the trunk of the finished standard). Always retain the top-most four or five sets of side-shoots, you may be intending to grow a full standard, but should the growing tip be broken off when the whip reaches, say 2 foot in height, you can still develop it into a half standard if the top growths have been retained.

Even though side-shoots should be removed, retain the leaves all the way up the main stem until the head at the top has achieved a reasonable size. This is done to help keep the plant's energy being drawn up from the roots to the growing tip and the developing head where that energy is required. In addition, plants derive energy via sunlight absorbed through their leaves, and this process of photosynthesis will be aided by the presence of a larger area of green leaf.

When you achieve the desired height for your standard, remove the growing point of the whip with your fingernails or a sharp knife, leaving four or five sets of side-shoots to develop as the head of the standard. Ensure that the cane supporting the stem of your plant extends well into the head of the standard, this will provide extra support against the effects of strong winds. There is nothing more frustrating than having your standard beheaded by early summer winds when you have spent a year or so in training it! The length of bare stem (from soil level to the first break on the stem will determine the kind of standard (quarter, half or full) that you have. Cease high nitrogen feeds by mid August in order to allow the wood to ripen for winter.

The head of the standard can now be shaped (fig.4), and training takes place in exactly the same way as if you are training a bush fuchsia (a standard is only a bush on a stem). Pinch out each side-shoot at every two or three pairs of leaves, subsequent stops can be made at your descretion. as with a bush, the more stops you make, the bushier the plant and the greater the number of flowers. Although basically trained in the same way as an ordinary standard, the head of a weeping standard will benefit from additional support. Just as the whip is reaching its desired height (just prior to the final pinch of the main stem), an inverted conventional wire hanging basket can be securely tied to the top of the stake. As branches develop, the rounded shape of the upturned basket provides an ideal supporting framework for lax growth that would otherwise hang in a lank shapeless manner. The finished head of the weeping standard should completely cover the basket, so that when viewed no trace of the supporting framework is visible.

The finished standard should be in proportion with the head taking up about a third of the overall plant. By this stage, initial training will be complete and the season should be nearing its end, but with all the shaping done, your standard will be ready for the start of the next season when you can give it pride of place in your summer border or patio display, or, if you are ambitious it can be prepared for the showbench.

5. OVERWINTERING.

Even if you are using the hardiest cultivars, your standards will require protection during the winter. Winter frosts may not kill the roots of an unprotected standard, but the stem and the head of the specimen you have spent months in producing will be lost. A heated greenhouse will provide the ideal winter home for your standard fuchsia, but if you cannot provide such an environment, suitable conditions can be achieved using unheated glass, sheds or garages. An established, fully developed standard should be prepared for winter by an autumn pruning. The head of the standard can be cut back by about half at the end of the season, pruning away any straggly growth. Don't worry too much about the precision of the pruning at this stage, early spring is the time to shape your plant for the season to come. At the winter preparation stage, the priority is to remove any sappy growth leaving the ripe wood to provide a framework which can be overwintered. Strip off all the old leaves on your mature standard (they will only harbour pests and diseases) and ideally a winter temperature of 40 - 45 degrees F will be required. At such temperatures the plant's roots should be kept on the dry side without being allowed to dry-out completely. If you cannot provide heat, your standard can be kept alive in a shed or garage by covering the stem with pipe lagging. Ensure that the bottom inch of the stem, just above the root-ball, is left uncovered otherwise botritis can set in as moisture is drawn up along the inside of the lagging. The roots can be covered by straw or polystyrene chips, and the head can be protected with hessian or paper sacking.

In the spring your standard can be brought back into full growth. It is a good idea to root prune your plant, add fresh compost and pot back from, for example, a seven inch to a six inch pot. These actions will encourage fresh root growth and an actively growing root-ball produces a similar reaction above the ground. If kept just moist and at 40 - 45 degrees F during the winter, the standard will have been in a semi-dormant, "green leaf" state. Fresh shoots will have started to appear by early spring. Nevertheless, this is the time to prune back hard; fuchsias flower on current season's wood. Remove any diseased or crossing branches and cut back remaining branches to two or three nodes. A daily spray with tepid water will encourage the new buds to "break" into growth. Subsequent growth and training of the head will again follow the procedure normally employed for bush fuchsias, and all being well, you should now have the necessary framework for a standard fuchsia that will grace your borders, provide a focal point on your patio, or even win you a red card at the show!

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