Gardeners living west of the Cascade range have enjoyed using Hardy Fuchsias as perennials for over 150 years but is it possible in North Idaho? Being a Fuchsia nut myself, I decided to try a few. We planted four different varieties of Hardies when we settled here in 2004. All died the first winter except for one. That one, Fuchsia 'Riccartonii' lives to this day!
For the botanically inclined, HORTUS THIRD describes Riccartonii as a hybrid of Fuchsia globosa and Fuchsia magellanica. Other sources simply list it as a cultivar (variety) of F. magellanica. Whatever it is, we've found it to be as hardy as a rock (for a Fuchsia) and as tough as nails. Just how hardy? Some authorities list it as a zone 8 plant (an obvious error). Others list it in zone 6. We have enjoyed it in our zone 5 Selle Valley garden for going on 6 years, having experienced and survived temperatures as low as 16 below zero Fahrenheit!
In gardens experiencing only mild frost, Riccartonii is an upright shrub growing up to 12 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. In our garden it dies to the ground each winter, emerging in late spring and growing to about 2 to 3 feet by summer's end. Its dainty single flowers feature long red sepals and a purple corolla. It flowers profusely, all summer long and right into autumn 'til first frost.
Hardy Fuchsias prefer part sun or dappled shade though most will tolerate full sun or full shade. We've found Riccartonii to be best in half day morning sun. Expect the foliage to appear bleached in full sun and expect fewer flowers in full shade. They're not terribly fussy but prefer well drained, moist soil with a slightly acid pH and a generous quantity of organic matter. They will reward you greatly for the regular application of fertilizer. Hardies are relatively pest and disease free.
If you would like to give them a try in your garden, it is important to start right. Choose a protected spot such as against the foundation of your home.
A clear eastern exposure is best but if such an exposure is unavailable choose a site with some protection from the hottest afternoon sun. Acclimate them to their new environment. Even these tough little buggers can get sun or wind burn after being coddled in the greenhouse through the winter.
Work plenty of compost into the soil. If your soil is a bit alkaline use peat moss instead. Work a little of your favorite all purpose fertilizer in as well. Fuchsias respond well to Organic or timed release fertilizers.
Plant them as early in the season as possible, so as to give them plenty of time to establish roots before the cold weather sets in. May and June are best.
Now, this next bit is important. Once you've prepared your planting area, create a saucer shaped depression in the soil, about a foot or so across and about 4 inches deep in the center. Plant your Fuchsia in the center of this depression. As the season progresses, the depression will begin to fill in with soil and organic debris. This will ensure a deep root system.
Water your Fuchsia in and keep it well watered throughout the season. Fertilize regularly until August.
After the first hard frost, cut the stems back to about a foot above the soil line. Stuff some straw or fallen leaves in amongst the branches and around the perimeter of the plant. During the winter, ensure that the plant remains completely covered with snow.
In the spring, remove the mulch and cut the stems back to an inch or so. Soon you should see some new shoots arising from the soil. Apply some fertilizer and wait for the show to begin!