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The Secrets Of Bougainvillea: Sharing All I Know About This Colorful Plant


What I’ve Learned About Bougainvillea

I’ve done a few posts about bougainvillea but this one is straight up everything I know about it including planting and care.  I worked at a nursery in Berkeley, CA that carried bougainvillea and that’s where I first learned a few things about it.  I’ve since moved south and in this part of the state, it’s seemingly everywhere.  Love it or hate it you can’t go 2 blocks without a bougainvillea sighting.  Lots of colors, sizes, shapes and forms make it a very common landscape plant – especially fitting with the Mediterranean and Spanish architecture here in Santa Barbara.  I’m in the “love it” category in case you’re wondering.

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 My Bougainvillea glabra at the end of the driveway always draws oohh & aahhs – it’s a riot of color. Watch the video below & you’ll see how it looked in early Feb.

What They Need:  Sun – They need at least 6 hours a day to produce all that color we love.  Not enough sun = not enough bloom.  Warm temps – they love heat.  1 or 2 nights of a light frost won’t harm them but anything more that could.  The recommended USDA zones are 9B through 11.  They’re better suited to drier climes – we don’t get rain here for 8 or 9 months out of the year.  Well drained soil – they’re not too fussy about soil type but it must drain freely.  A mixture of loam & organic compost worked into native soil is what they like.  like. 

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Choosing A Bougainvillea: They come in many colors, types & sizes.  I’ve already done a post showing some of these options so be sure to check it out.  Colors run the gamut from white all the way to purple.  Double flowered varieties are available too.  You can get 1 with variegated foliage if you want some real pizazz in the garden.  There are ground cover & dwarf forms if you don’t want a monster plant.  And pay attention to height because some of the taller varieties don’t get as tall as others.  No lack of choices regarding choosing a bougainvillea.

Planting:  Bougs are tough as can be but are big babies when it comes to their roots.  They don’t like to have them disturbed.  You’ll have much better luck if you leave them in the grow pot when planting.  I cut the rim off & make slits in the sides & bottom of the pot.  Dig the hole twice as wide as deep & add in a good amount of loam (you don’t need this if your soil drains freely) & organic compost.  Water it in very deeply.  If you want it to grow against a wall or fence, then angle it that way.

Watering:  2 words – water deeply.  Bougainvillea likes to be watered well & have it drain out.  After established, they’re drought tolerant.  My Bougainvillea glabra didn’t get any water for 9 months last year & it’s lookin’ great.  Overwatering = no color (not to mention rot!).

Pruning / Trimming:  They need it as they’re very vigorous growers.  I give both of mine a harder pruning in mid-winter to set the shape I want them to be later on in the year.  I do this when the evenings are starting to warm a bit.  You don’t want to prune them if there’s any danger of frost on the horizon.  I do a few lighter prunings, or trimmings, after each flowering cycle during the seasons to keep them in that shape. The flowering cycles tend to run every 2 months.  Be sure to wear gloves – the majority of bougs have long thorns.  Blood has been shed!  They put out long, fleshy water shoots so be sure to prune those out – they mess up the shape.  Bougainvilleas bloom on new wood.  More pinching = more color.

Fertilizing:  I’ve never fertilized mine & they bloom just how I want them to.  There are lots of bougainvillea fertilizers on the market but the one that we recommended at the nursery was also for palms & hibiscus.  I don’t do this either but they’d probably enjoy a good dose of organic compost or worm compost every year.

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Pests:  The only pests I’ve seen on mine are the bougainvillea loopers.  These are small caterpillars which chew away at the leaves.  You’ll see black droppings around the base of the plant.  I just leave them be because they don’t appear until mid-summer or so & never permanently damage my plants.  BT or neem oil sprays are what is recommended to keep infestations under control.  Besides, too many butterflies & hummingbirds visit my plants so I want them to enjoy the flowers “au natural”. 

Training:  Bougainvilleas don’t cling or attach themselves so you need to train them.  As I noted above in “planting”, angle them towards whatever they’ll be growing on. They’re not hard to train but it does take a little effort.  Without support, they just flop down & can become a sprawling low blob. On a wall – If you have a chain link fence, after a little initial guidance, it will attach itself.  Otherwise, you’ll need to provide some guidance in the form of eye hooks & wire or something like that. On a trellis or arbor – Attach it with tie & train & prune it as it grows.  The new growth is easily to bend.  Hedge – just keep on pinching & pruning out all that soft growth.  Not as much flowering though.  As a tree – gradually started taking out the other stems to get it to 1 main truck.  I did this with my Bougainvillea Barbara Karst.

Transplanting:  It’s a crap shoot.  See “planting” above.  If you must try, make sure you get the whole root ball.  Dig a very large hole & add plenty of those amendments..  Keep it well watered & hope for the best.  They’re a very common plant & not very expensive so I’d recommend buying a new one.

Uses In The Landscape: Bougainvilleas are very tough & very versatile.  Use them as a vine, ground cover, hedge or tree.  On arbors, trellis’, fences, buildings & walls.  In containers & hanging baskets.  I could add topiary or bonsai because here in Santa Barbara I’ve seen it pruned into the shapes of a large basket & swan.  Now that’s an Edward Scissorhands at it’s finest! 

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In Containers:  They do well.  If it’s a larger growing variety, just make sure the pot is large too.  It must have drain holes to enable the water to flow through.  You will need to water them more often than when in the ground.  A container enables you to wheel your bougainvilleas into a garage or covered porch (or a conservatory if you’re lucky) for a month or 2 if you’re borderline zone 9b.  

Winterizing:  If you must have one, see above.  We’re in zone 10a & can get a light frost for a night or 2.  They do just fine.  This winter was very mild for us but in colder years, more leaves have dropped off my plants & flowering hasn’t started as early.  When I lived in San Francisco there were 5 or 6 straight nights of  frost years ago.  In many parts of the Bay Area, this knocked bougainvilleas out & they didn’t recover.  We heard many sob stories at the nursery that Spring! 

Indoors:  I have absolutely no experience in regards to this. Bougainvilleas  need a lot of sun & heat so I imagine you wouldn’t get any blooms.  There are much better houseplants you can choose if you want flowers.

Another thing I learned early on is that this colorful plant doesn’t make a good cut flower.  It wilts almost immediately.  Too bad because they scream “look at me!” when in full bloom.  How do you feel about bougainvillea?

Other posts I’ve done about bougainvilleas:

Bougainvillea, So Much More than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea Tips & Facts

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129 comments:

  1. Pingback: Check Out My Bougainvilleas In October: More Tips Coming Your Way -

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  3. Hello:

    Can – -or should — bougainvilleas be trained to grow up and around a big tree, such as a pine or oak that is about 16 inches in diameter? The trees are over 30 feet tall.

    Thank you,

  4. Hi Barbara – Growing vines up a tree is generally not a good idea unless it’s a small scale vine. The trunk of the tree needs to breathe. In the case of bougainvilleas, definitely not. Bougies need a lot of sun & heat – the crown of the tree will provide too much shade. Also, the soil below will be too compact & perhaps too acidic for the roots of the bougainvillea to grow successfully. Hope that helps, Nell

  5. Hello Nell,
    Thank you for your prompt reply. I will find another location for my bougainvilleas!

    Cordially,
    Barbara

  6. Hi Nell,
    When you say leave it in the container when planting a new Boug, how large of slits are you talking? Do I cut the whole bottom off? Any help on this would be appreciated! I just bought a beautiful pink one and I’m very scared I’m going to kill it.

    Thanks,
    Bethany

  7. Hi Bethany – Smart move to plant your new bougie in the grow pot! I cut out chunks of the pot on the bottom, basically enlarging the drain holes. Then, I would make 5 single slits all the way up & down the sides of the pot (for a 5 gallon size). As I said, they’re very, very tough plants but big babies when it comes to their roots. Don’t worry because the roots will grow out of the pot over time. And, they don’t like to be transplanted so choose the location carefully. Hope that helps! Nell

  8. Am I expecting too much too fast? I’ve had my bougainvillea since Aug 1 2015. I’m doing everything right as far as I know and my bougainvillea are not growing or blooming; in the full sun all day, not over watering (waiting for the soil to get good and dry then saturate), they’ve even wilted a couple of times, the right plant food 6-8-10 bougain food for “powerful bloom boost” it proclaims. Not fair. 🙁 Help.

  9. Hi Marie – Bougainvilleas typically don’t bloom too much (if at all) in the 1st year or 2 after planting. They bloom on new growth so you have to wait until there’s enough of it. Mine are both very well established & I routinely pinch them for that reason – to bring on the color. Also, if you took it out of its grow pot to plant it, it takes longer to establish (if it doesn’t die – they don’t like to have their roots disturbed). So, wait until next year or maybe even the year after. Hope that helps! Nell

  10. Thank you Nell; Your reply was encouraging. I know now my plant is acting normal. However, I didn’t plant my boug in the ground. He’s still in the same pot I purchased him in 4 weeks ago. It had a nice spray of bright white bracts that turned to light pink (beautiful). It bloomed once, it wont bloom again in the fall?
    I trimmed the branches back 1/3 after the bracts fell off and feed it 6-8-10. Another year or 2 huh? Lots of new leaves all along the length of each branch though. Oh well. At least he’s healthy.
    Regards!

  11. Hi Marie – It can take Bougainvilleas a couple of years to really get going. Yours may or may not bloom again this year – pinching helps. My 2 are both well established so they put out 3 or 4 big bloom displays each year. 1 hasn’t been supplementally watered for almost 3 years now & is blooming away like crazy despite our drought here in CA. I’ve found that they aren’t heavy feeders in regards to fertilizers, especially when in the ground, so go easy on that. Nell

  12. First off, let me mention what a great site you have with tons of info! My question is, my mother is in search for a multi-colored Bougainvillea Tree. Now, is this only achieved through grafting several different colored Bougainvilleas? Whether the answer is yes or no, what would be the best place to purchase Bougainvillea trees? We currently live in the U.S. Any information would be appreciated.

    Thank you so much!

  13. Thank you Alex! Where are surrounded by bougainvilleas here in Southern California but the trees are a rarity. I trained my Bougainvillea “Barbara Karst” into a tree – it was a tall, columnar shape when I bought the house. There are growers, mainly in Florida, who grow the trees. The multi-colored bougie trees are a result of grafting. The only ones I’ve seen are from a man in the Philippines doing the grafting. I don’t know of anyone online who sells them. I would recommend going to a local reputable nursery & see if they could specially order one for you. You most likely won’t get the multi-colored one but perhaps they could locate a tree for you. Not the answer you were probably hoping for but I hope it helps! Nell

  14. Pingback: My Bougainvilleas: Fall Color In My Garden - |

  15. Thanks madam for your good advise

  16. Prativa – You are very welcome! Nell

  17. Pingback: Attach Bougainvillea Fence | iron - chainlinkfence

  18. I’ve just moved and I’m anxious to start landscaping my huge sun-drenched garden. Is this a bad time to plant bougainvillea? I live in So Cal but the nights have been rather cold lately and it’s only going to get colder. Am I better off keeping the plants in their pots until spring?

  19. Hi Nancy – The bougainvilleas will love your sun drenched garden! I’m in Santa Barbara & the evenings have been very cool so I would recommend keeping them in pots until at least the beginning of March or when the evenings start to warm up. Bougainvillea, even though it’s a very tough plant, has sensitive roots when it comes to planting. Here’s an important thing to know: do not take your bougies out of their pots when planting. Make slits in the pots for the roots to grow out & just sink the plant. pot & all, into the ground. Hope that helps! Nell

  20. Pingback: Attach Bougainvillea Fence | gardengates

  21. Hi I’m from Australia, love your site! Just wondering if you can tell me how many bougies would I need to cover a fence line of 15 metres? And how far should each be planted apart from each other. They grow really well here in Perth and I can’t wait to get mine going!!

  22. Hi Rachel – Greetings from California, & thank you! It depends on what bougies you’re going to plant (some grow to be much bigger than others) so I’ll assume it’s 1 of the more robust ones. You can plant 6 if you want them to fill in faster or 3 if you’re patient – also, these figures assumes they’re in 5 gallon grow pots. Remember, they do best if you plant them directly in the ground in the grow pots, just make a few slits. Hope that helps! Nell

  23. Thanks very much, ill definitely plant them in their pots!

  24. Great – Bougainvilleas are tough as can be but don’t like to have their roots disturbed! N

  25. Hi, I’m a boug lover as well. I’m planning on using it in a wedding I’m decorating for in August (we live about 90 miles north of Santa Barbara ) any recommendations on keeping blooms fresh after cutting or sources on where to purchase? I have my heart set on some beautiful fuchsia bougainvillea.
    Thank you! Sirena

  26. Hi,
    I live in California in zone 9B in the San Fernando Valley (North Granada Hills). I recently purchased a home that was terribly overgrown with plants everywhere. The whole west wall of the huge backyard is a compilation of at least 8 multi trunk bouganvilleas along the wall. The old owner never cut it back…ever, just a hedge type trim from the gardeners every now and then as he liked his privacy. This thing is pretty but also just a mess with lots of dead debris inside. It was easily 12 – 15 feet high and at least 6 – 8 ft deep and at least 20 feet wide (6 – 8 trunks/plants). A monster with minimal new growth and blooms, lots of brown ugliness inside. I recently had some tree trimmers come out and they said they would take it back as far as possible. They did just that. Now what? it looks like a mess of sticks with a bit of green here and there that I asked them to leave. How do I tell what is alive and what is dead? HELP!!!!

  27. Hi Sirena – I don’t know anyone who sells cut stems of bougainvillea because it’s not a long lasting cut flower. If you are going to try, then be sure to cut the soft stems (which tend to be short by the way) because the blooms on the hardwood will start to wilt in 5-10 minutes. I’ve hear that if you cut those softer stems & immediately put them in hot water, then it has a better chance of making it. It’s definitely not a flower to use in big arrangements nor work with the day or 2 before the wedding! If you want to use it, I think you’re going to have to find someone who has a good sized bougie & cut from that. I’d definitely do a trial run well in advance of the wedding. Hope that helps, Nell

  28. Here in Chile I am trying to get every color, except purple. The purple ones here grow massive, like a tree, maybe 15 meters tall. And they look awful in the fall when the leaves turn brown and stay that way until they fall off in the winter. The other colors do not seems to get so huge and perhaps their leaves fade but do not turn ugly brown. So far I have fuchsia, white, pink, and red. I bought an orange one but it turned red. And then I had one that was white with pink mixed in but I transplanted it and then a horse or maybe rabbits chopped it off so I lost that one. Have not seen that color for sale anywhere since.

  29. Hi Walker – Sounds like a lovely array of colors. We have lots of varieties here too. Nell

  30. Hi Gina – Bougainvillea is very tough & because it sounds like that stand is well established, you should get new growth appearing soon. Bougainvillea loves sun & heat so new growth will come in the spring. The only thing that would knock them back is to be severely pruned & then a cold spell hits. Nell

  31. I have 3 beautiful Bougs that flank pillars on my patio…however, they are constantly dropping flowers which makes a huge mess all over the patio and in the pool. Is there an alternative flowering vine that you would suggest to replace the boug? We live in southern California, Palm Springs.

  32. Hi – Yes, Bougainvilleas do shed a lot but I call it a beautiful mess. And having them near a pool would mean a lot of clean up. Every flowering vine I can think of for your climate is going to make a mess. The only solution may be to find a vine with larger flowers so the mess wouldn’t be as extensive. Nell

  33. Hi-I planted 5 bougs 2 yrs ago. In the spring 2 didn’t make so I replaced them & all 5 did great THEN comes winter. I covered the base of each with manure & covered them from tip to bottom when the hard frost hit (a few days) I uncovered them, moved the manure around & turned on the water letting them get a good soak. Each have new growth shooting up from the bottom but how do I get them to pick up where they left off last year? I am a newbie when it comes to these plants. My neighbor didn’t do anything & his are beautiful. Please Help!!!

  34. Hi Laura – Established plants can withstand a hard freeze much better than younger bougies like yours.They’re native to the tropics so they don’t like those cold temps. Give them regular water (which you can back off after they’re established) & as much sun (at least 6-8 hours per day) & heat as possible. Nell

  35. Hi Nell Could you tell me if Bougies will dig up surrounding paving with their roots. Cheers Sheree

  36. Hi Sheree – Bougainvilleas are vigorous growers but you don’t have to worry about the roots. Both of mine are planted next to a structure as well as the sidewalk & driveway. There are so many here in So Cal planted in paved areas with no problems. Cheers to you, Nell

  37. Hi, I live in Houston Texas and have a beautiful variegated blueberry ice bougainvillea in a medium plastic hanging basket. I would like to plant it in the ground. My question is : should I take it out of the basket first or plant it as is? Thanks!

  38. I’m in Phoenix, Az. I decided to move my ancient Boug, instead of buying a new spindly one, when we built our porch. Nothing to loose, really. So, I had my yard guy put it in the hole I had dug. Of course, I wasn’t there when he did it, so it was crooked and looked ridiculous, when he got done. I dug it up and moved it, 8 weeks later. Fingers crossed. The darn thing has a heart of gold. She’s got little tiny pink buds all over. I think she’s gonna be okay. She may be as old as me! Over 50. She’s a keeper.

  39. You never know with plants, do you?! Nell

  40. Hi Susan – Bougainvilleas are very tough plants but sensitive when it comes to their roots being disturbed. It’s a crap shoot when it comes to transplanting them so I’d leave it in the pot & plant it that way. Make a few slits in the pot if you can. Hope that helps! Nell

  41. Hi! I’ve discovered to my horror that my potted bouganvillea rooted out of the one drainage hole into the ground! The plant is on a trellis and is 5′ tall and just as wide. I’m beside myself and don’t know what to do. I’m afraid to cut it off but I’m willing to try anything! Thanks, Debbie

  42. Hi Debbie – the best thing might be to leave it where it is (if you can) & continue to let if grow into the ground. If you need to move it, then try cutting it free. Because you aren’t disturbing the whole root ball, my guess is that it will be okay. I’ve never done that before but if it’s the best option, go for it. Just make sure you’re pruners are really sharp! Nell

  43. I live in south Australia and have a wild bougainvillea. We have just moved into the house and I’m not sure what to do. As far as I can tell there are 2 one meter sucker trees (growing in a really awkward spot), 3 smaller trees which have been cut back at some time and 3 original trees which are full of spines and are rampant. Any advice on how to tame this mess. I would like 3 beautiful plants that can be trained as a screen. Alternatively, should I rip the whole lot out? Help!

  44. Hi Cassie – That’s a tough one because you could spend quite some time trying to get “the mess” to be the beautiful screen you want it to be & never get it quite there. I’ve often found it hard to bring overgrown plants to where I want them to be. I’ve pruned & trained both of mine but it takes work so it can be done. I ended up taking the 3rd one out. Here in Southern California they are common, inexpensive & grow like crazy as I imagine they do & are In south Australia. The easiest route would be to take them out (or have someone do it!) & plant 3 new ones. Also, you could get the color(s) that you want. Hope that helps! Nell

  45. Hi Nell You have a great site. Tks My question is if I leave the plant in the 7 gallon plant container made of a plastic like material and will never disintegrate in the ground.

  46. Hi John – Thanks! I always plant bougainvilleas in their plastic grow pots. Simply cut off the upper rim if it’s sticking way up above the soil line & cut multiple slits in the sides & also the bottom. The plastic doesn’t disintegrate but the roots can grow out that way. I learned this when I worked at a nursery & did it many times always with success when I was a professional gardener. Nell

  47. Hi Nell. Fantastic site. So I just purchased two Barbara Karsts – one in a 5 gallon and one in a 2 gallon container. Had planned on putting them in 2 different “in ground” locations, but unfortunately we hit concrete a few inches down in one spot so my gardener put the two side by side. They look beautiful, but my concern is that they are only a few feet apart and I have read that there should be 6-9 feet of spacing. Will they be ok being so close together or should I move one of them into a pot? They are planted against a fence with no other plants, trees or foliage by them. Thank you.

  48. Hi Chrissy – Barbara Karst is a vigorous grower & would prefer to have the 6-9′ of spacing. That being said, as long as the roots have room to grow (which it sounds like they do), they’ll be fine. The other good thing is that there’s no other plants around for them to smother. You’re probably going to have to do more pruning to keep them from overtaking each other! Nell

  49. Hi from South Florida — I “dropped ” a scrawny about to die boug in an out of the way spot and forgot about it. Now many years the top is in beautiful flower at the top of a 60′ oak and the vine at the base is of impressive diameter. I have another I’m considering relocating near another oak. My question – is this a bad idea? Will it be likely to harm the oak?

  50. HI NELL<Wonderful page, what month, or best time for grafting bougainvillea, regardless, for the region and the climate? thinks

  51. Hi – Thank you so much! I would think that spring would be best. Bougainvillea is so hardy & so vigorous that any time would most likely be fine except any extremely cold &/or hot month(s). Nell

  52. Hi David – I wouldn’t have thought that a vigorous bougainvillea at the base of an oak (which I’m assuming is a Live Oak?) would be a good companion but it sounds like both are doing fine. Personally, I wouldn’t consider locating another 1 near another oak. Nell

  53. nell,

    live in houston texas, and have some bougainvillea (pink surprise, example shown here: http://pichost.me/1283723/). they are each in very large pots, I’d say pushing 50+ gallons. the plants have been in place for about 3 years and do very well. showing lots of color in spring and fall, and intermittently throughout summer.

    anyway, i discovered that a main root was growing out of the drain hole of each pot. one pot was actually gathering water because the root plugged the 1-inch hole.

    i have opened those holes up to about 6-inch diameter, and reset the pots on stones with some lightly packed dirt under the pot / drain hole. tried my best not to disturb the root coming out of each pot, but they each sustained some “scarring” as i shifted the pots around to complete my project.

    i would much prefer the roots to grown down into the soil, rather than laterally, which is how they are growing now. they went lateral, i suspect because there was a broad, flat stepping stone under each pot, but shimmed up just a bit to allow water to run into the soil.

    my question: can i / should I trim the main root coming out of each pot to encourage the roots to go down into the soil? i am highly doubtful the plants are root bound in the pots, given how large the pots are and it’s only been 3 years or so. so was hoping i could trim these roots, without a ton of harm or shock to the plant. then when the roots decide to emerge out of the pot again, they will more or less go down into the soil.

    appreciate your advice! (sorry for long post)

  54. Hi Nell,
    I love your page. Very informative. Do bougainvillea do well in the Paso Robles area (about a half hour north of San Luis Obispo)? We dip into the upper 20s on the colder winter days with some light dusting of frost on those evenings. I don’t see much of it around here. We want to grow a dense, hardy, colorful hedge about 100′ long, 2′ wide and 6-10′ high. Basically a living fence to replace an ugly, dilapidated wooden fence that is falling down. I realize some posts & wire guides and a good deal of training and pruning will necessary for that. Can you tell me what varieties “hedge” up the best? I’ve seen this done in Hawaii where I grew up but always with a single color or variety. We want to mix up a great deal of colors and varieties but want a consistent growth rate so we don’t have gaps. Also, I’d prefer to start with plantings already a good 2-3′ high as I want to establish the hedge as quickly as possible. Any tips on variety, care and spacing is greatly appreciated.
    – Dave (not the same David with the Oak tree!)

  55. Hi Dave – Thank you! I know exactly where Paso Robles is because I lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years. You should be able to grow Bougainvillea but you might be right on the line of being too cold. Bougies are hardy to around 25 degrees F & are suited to USDA zones 10 & 11. You can hedge many of the bougainvilleas but it’ll take a bit of pruning to keep them at 6-10′. I don’t want to go through the list because I don’t know which ones, if any, are available in your area. And, some are more cold tolerant than others. The best thing to do is go to a reputable,independent, local nursery & see what they have to offer & what they have to say. Hope that helps! Nell

  56. Hi Joshua – Those are big pots & bougainvilleas don’t mind being a bit potbound so there should be no worries about that. They don’t like to have their roots disturbed when planted that’s why it’s best to leave them in the grow pots. I’ve never trimmed their roots before but I do know that bonsai masters do it to the roots of their bougainvillea specimens. Pruning a bit of the main root should be no problem because you won’t be disturbing too much if any of the root ball. Be sure & do it before August. Hope that helps! Nell

  57. Hi nell potted a bambino Bougainville some 10 weeks back and nothing has happened can’t see any new growth , others I planted in soil against a wall , 6 weeks back all bambino have taken off with much growth it is winter in Perth , Australia now temp being very mild 12- 19 most days , any thoughts on this , cheers , paul.

  58. Hi Paul – Plants are funny sometimes & you never know. The root system could have been less developed than the others. Bougies can be slow to take off so give that 1 some time. Also, bougainvilleas don’t like to be disturbed when planted (it’s recommended to leave them in their pots) so maybe that’s it. Also, it’s still cool where you are & they like sun & heat. Nell

  59. Nell, I’ve had a 5′ bougainvillea in a large planter for 4 yrs on the west side w some shade. The first winter it got hit w a freeze, followed by half the flowers it had originally. Next year, it had stalks and few flowers, and now green stalks only. I cut back the stalks once a year. Nothing good seems to be happening. What’s your recommendation??

  60. Mary – If there’s green growth only, it could be too little or too much water. Also, bougies need sun & heat to flower so that could be a cause too. If the pot is too small, it could be potbound. It’s hard to say without knowing all the conditions. I never pruned mine back too much & periodically tipped the ends for maximum flowering. Mine in Santa Barbara they never froze so they showed color 9 months out of the year. Nell

  61. Are there companion plants for San Diego Reds that you’d recommend?

  62. Hi Cheryl – There are quite a few depending on how you’re using & training the Bougie SDR. Here are some recommendations to start with: lantanas, ornamental grasses, plumbago, lavenders, salvias, dwarf oleanders, lophomyrtus, rosemary & the smaller to mid-sized pittosporums. Hope that helps, Nell

  63. It does help. Thanks so much!!

  64. Hi Nell, can you tell me what the difference is between the San Diego Red and the Barbara Karst?

    Blooming patterns is what I’m most interested in.

  65. We’re thinking about putting some bougs (white or light pink trailing) for our slope where the ivy is dying. we are in Orange
    County, Ca. We need it as a ground cover. What do you suggest
    we use and what variety? any help would be appreciated – this
    would be our first experience with them. Thanks!

  66. Hi Nancy – The dwarf/trailing Bougainvilleas make great ground covers. The colors are just a matter of what you can find – the bright pink & magenta colors seem to be more readily available as low growers than the colors you want . The new “Sunvillea” series is worth checking out – colors are cream, pale pink & deep rose. Oh la la & raspberry ice are old standbys. Nell

  67. Hi Cheryl – Both are very vigorous growers & bloom a lot in full sun. I’ve found the SDR stays a bit more red & the BK is a bit more on the magenta/red side depending on where they’re growing. Nell

  68. Nell,
    We are in Southern California. We planted a red bougie on the slope behind our barn. It is growing well but is now blooming white. Why the color change?

  69. Thanks Nell for responding so quickly. I will check into the varieties
    you mentioned . I probably will need additional ground cover to
    fill in. Thinking possibly of Asian jasmine vine or who knows.
    We just want to fill in our slope as quickly as possible- it looks
    pretty bad, and the neighbors across the street have to look at it.
    We once had nice ivy there – oh well!

    Hope your day is going well!

    Nancy

  70. Debbie – I don’t know because I’ve never known that color change to happen. The shades can vary slightly from year to year depending on the temps/sun but not the color. The hybrids go through a lot of breeding so perhaps that has something to do with it. I’m not sure if the soil (nutrition / pH) would cause that. Nell

  71. Nelly
    We have a five bougies. Half approximately of one plant the leaves curled up like under stress. The leaves even though curled/stressed still have life.Difficult to pull off. Even some blossom but deteriorating . The other half of the plant not many blossoms but leaves look healthy. The plant is in the ground not potted, and approximately 4-5 diameter. It receives 2 gallons of water three times a week from drip system. To much water? Fertilized plant every month.
    What to do? Prune? Cut back on water? ?????
    Thank you
    Peter Hamper

  72. Hi Pete – Curling leaves on bougainvilleas are usually do to insect infestations or something with the watering. I never supplementally watered my very established bougies in Santa Barbara & they did fine. Also, I never fertilized them. That 1 plant is obviously a bit stressed so don’t prune it now. Nell

  73. For over 20 years in Pacifica, south of San Francisco, I had no idea what this “hedge plant” was growing up against our wall. I shaped it and noticed a few red flowers from time to time. Then it hit me that this was a bougainvillea, duh. On sage advice of neighbors, I cut the hedge back to a single stalk and ever since it has been stunning, bursting forth year around in bloom. But, at the base where I cut back all the other stalks but one, those cut stalks continue to sprout from a common base that includes the “winner” stalk. It’s an annoyance as it requires maintenance nearly every month. Is there a way to prevent growth of these “suckers” around the base?

  74. Hi there – I also live in SB and just got two boug. plants to grow up the side of my house. I ordered one purple and one orange and wanted to grow them together. When the plants arrived one was purple but the other seems to be mostly red with a bit of pink. I don’t suppose it will turn orange, will it?
    Thanks,
    Renee

  75. Hello, I’m in the Portland OR metro area (zone 7b-8a) and most garden centers here sell bougs as summer annuals. I bought a “Barbara Karst” today for a sunny patio area that has a south and west exposure. Plan is to transfer it into a larger plastic container. Should I keep it in the original 1-gallon pot and cut off the bottom of that pot then set it into the larger container? I have one of those old-fashioned iron T-pole style clothes-line and planned to train the vine up one of the poles.
    Thanks for any ideas.

    P.S. I used to live in Berkeley in the 1980s. Magic Gardens & Berk. Hort were my fav nurseries back then.

  76. Hi, I live in Deya, Mallorca, Spain in a house that is about 300 years old. Part of the front wall of the house is covered with this magnificent bougainvillea. There is a stone 7cement covere patio and there is a 3 foot empty spot right next to the side of the house through which the major trunk grows. Lately, many of the bougainvilleas leaves have turned yellow and brittle and are starting to fall off and week by week there are fewer purple flowers. We water the plant regularly every 2 or 3 days. Some
    experts have advised cutting back on the watering / the flowers continue to dry out, turn yellow and fall off. I should mention that we have lived in this house for 15 years and this is the first year
    that we have had this problem. Can you help, please-_-– any ideas….. thanks …. Patrick Kelly

  77. Hi Renee – No, it most likely won’t turn orange. There’s a variety called “rosenka” which has both orange & pale pink flowers but it’s definitely not reddish pink. I like to buy bougies which are named varieties & are in flower. Besides rosenka, orange king, CA gold & delta dawn are ones that run the orange to gold range. Nell

  78. Hi Jeff – I know right where Pacifica is because I just got back from there 3 weeks ago! I was a professional gardener in the Bay Area for 20 years & was doing work in a former client’s garden. Those suckers that you see on your bougainvillea are water shoots. Some varieties & cultivars produce more of them then others. You probably have the variety “San Diego Red” which is popular in those parts. There’s really nothing you can do about the shoots, except to prune them out. My B. glabra produced quite a few of them (some very tall & fat) & I removed them. So no, there’s no way to prevent them. Nell

  79. Hi Aly – I loved working at Berkeley Hort & learned so much there. I also bought way too many plants! Yes, it’s best to plant it right in the grow pot because bougies don’t like to have their roots disturbed, which is something I learned the 2nd day of working at BH. You can cut the bottom off the pot & I’d put a few long slits on the sides too. Make sure the larger pot has drain holes as they need good drainage. Also, you can plant your BK slightly at an angle going towards the T-pole which will help you in the training. Nell

  80. Hi Patrick – It sounds like a lovely house & I can understand your concern. I don’t know what your weather patterns have been in Mallorca (lots of rain, very dry, etc) so I’m not exactly sure what to tell you. But, here’s what I can: My 2 bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara, CA never got any supplemental water at all & Southern California is in the midst of a big drought – both of the plants are doing just fine. Once well established, they can withstand dry periods & actually flower better under these conditions. Watering yours every 2-3 days is too much. If you have to water them, do it deeply every 2-4 weeks depending on the weather. Hope that helps, Nell

  81. Hi
    We live in Simi Valley, and the area I’m targeting for my Boug is a north facing, w/ hot afternoon sun, against the house planter. The heat generation off the house leaves it a hotbox, and the afternoon sun is maybe 5-6 hours. I thought it was a shade area, but evidently the afternoon sun is baking everything for shade or partial shade I’ve tried.

    Would a Bougainvillea do ok on a trellis (not exceeding) 4 ft up the brick chimney? There is some brick issues on the bottom, I thought I could masked. I am so tired of replacing plants, and I have always had Boug-ies. Thanks for your advice in advance.

    btw, great info on leaving the roots in the pot, cutting slits for root wiggle room. I had no idea.

  82. Nell and everybody – I love Bougainvillea, but every day I clean the leaves out of our pool. Our neighbors Boug hangs over the side fence, and blows into our “addict” (chemical dependency problem) lol At least they are floaters.

  83. Oh my goodness Laura, I love bougainvilleas but I’d never put 1 next to a pool. I loved the 1 growing up & over my garage but the fallen flowers were quite the sweeping & raking project every week! Yes, they are so light & do float so that makes it easier. Nell

  84. Hi Laura – As I said in the post, bougainvilleas are tough as can be but big babies when it comes to their roots. Bougies love hot sun. I moved to Tucson 2 months ago & the sun is very intense & they do great here. Yes, it’ll do fine on a trellis but will need training, guiding & supporting as they don’t attach. Be sure to give it deep waterings to get it established. Hope that helps! Nell

  85. I have 6 plants in their grow pots with the bottoms removed, in 3 wooden tubs with soil covering the pots. The trunks are quite large, and I fear they are root bound. Do I need to worry?

  86. Hi Beverly – Bougainvillea can grow tight in a pot for a few years. After that, it’s best to go up on pot size. Of course, the lower growing bougies don’t need transplanting as often. The larger the plant is getting, the more root space it needs. Nell

  87. Hi Nell,

    I was wondering what you think about planting my Bougies against galvanized steel sheeting. Will it get too hot and burn my plants?

  88. It’s tied to wires that are a couple of inches away from the steel.

  89. Can bou grow in pottin mix soil ?i transplant new soil n stop bloom.

  90. Hi Lan – A soil mix that doesn’t contain too much peat & has excellent drainage is best. Also, they love a nice, rich organic compost. Nell

  91. Hi Cheryl – It depends on where you are. I used to live in Santa Barbara (on the coast of CA) & that would have been fine. I now live in Tucson where the sun is stronger & much hotter so the steel sheeting would most likely burn it. Nell

  92. I live in Alabama. My bogs are beautiful this year. They are planted in the ground. How can I keep them through the winter.
    Thanking you in advance for your help.
    Debbie Wilson

  93. Hi Debbie – I’m not sure how cold you get, but bougies can take more than 2-3 nights below freezing. They’ll also drop all their foliage. In temps below 40, they’re semi-deciduous. You can try protecting the plants & ground down below with canvas tarps if the evenings get too cold. Nell

  94. Neil,
    Thanks for all your info and replying to my posts. You’re terrific!My Bougies seem to be having their leaves being nibbled on, and it seems to not be getting worse. I must have not noticed this, when I bought them at HD last week. Can I spray them with a dish soap and water mist to kill whatever this is, or is Neem Oil better? I prefer a more natural approach. I wiped off a greyish white film on the leaves (not sticky) and it hasn’t returned. There was a warning from HD about a residue from their care.

    By the way, Santa Barbara to Tucson must be a culture shock. Hope you are enjoying the change.

  95. I bought a plant thinking it was varigated ivy . Its on a trellis , But the vine has thorns about 3/4 inches long [ like bouganvillea] Does bouganvillea com in varigated leaves {green and white]?

  96. Hi Edie – Yes, there are about 15 varieties of variegated bougainvilleas that I know of. Some have green/white leaves & some green/yellowish leaves. Sounds like you have a bougainvillea. Nell

  97. This is my first year with this plant absolutely love it. But here is my question I live in Otawa, Canada and would like to bring it indoors until next spring can I cut it back before or should I wait until next spring. It has bloomed twice already and I also have another one different colour that is just starting to bloom again when is the best time to cut it back to give it shape!

  98. I have bought some seeds white, yellow and blue Bouganvillea what is the best way to plant these …. I live in Ottawa Ontario Canada I love the two plants that I currently have and can u make cuttings for another plant or is seed the best way?

  99. Neil, I enjoy reading your site. I’ve just moved to Palm Springs California. We have a duplex and very little landscape area to plant. I am wanting to plant some bouganvillea in our front bed (faces East). It’s the middle of September and the days are finally only reaching 100 degrees and nights are in the lower 70″s.

    Is this a good time to plant. Beds are lots of sand and landscape gravel. Are there varieties that don’t grow as fast as others. We like a variety of color. I’ve also heard there are some that don’t lose their colorful leaves as fast as others.

    Can you help?

  100. Hi Bill – I recently moved to Tucson so I know what you mean about the temps. You can plant now but I think it’d be best to wait until Oct or Nov – you won’t need to water it as much to get it going. Also, don’t take it out of the grow pot when planting. There are many varieties of bougainvilleas which grow to different heights – ground covers all the way up to 30′ tall. I’m not sure about loosing the colored bracts as fast, but there’s definitely some that flower more than others. Check what’s available in your area. Hope that helps! Nell

  101. Hi Susan – Propagating bougainvilleas from cuttings is the easiest & fastest way to do it. And, spring is the best time for that. The seeds you can propagate at any time of year, just don’t let them get too cool. Nell

  102. Hi Susan – Because you live in a cold climate, I’d wait on cutting your bougainvilleas back until spring. It’ll probably go into adjustment mode when brought inside & cutting it back will up the ante on that. Give it as much light as you can. Hope that helps! Nell

  103. Hi Nell from India…I loved your blog about bougs. Thanks.
    Hey I got a Boug cutting (with light orange flowers) for my pot one year back. Now I has started developing branches but the branches run in all the directions spreading away from each other. Can you please help me in managing them. I have kept the pot near a grill which is 4 feet in height on the top floor.

  104. Hi Mamta – Greetings to you in India & thank you. Bougainvillea takes pruning very well so don’t be afraid to do it. If you want to take the branches in, you can always do it gradually. Just know that pruning will encourage new growth which can be good & bad (depending on how you look at it!) – more to prune but you’ll get more flowering. Bougies flower on new growth. All the best, Nell

  105. Nell<

    What if the pots are plastic. Still plant them with the pot? Just curious since the pot will never degrade. Is this ok?

  106. Also is there any special way to incorporate a trellis into a climbing Bougainvillea.

  107. Sherika – Yes, that’s how it’s commonly done. Just make sure you put good-sized slits in the pot so the roots can grow out. Nell

  108. Sherika – The best time to incorporate the trellis is at planting time. Because bougainvillea roots are sensitive (which is surprising because the plant is so tough) just make sure you don’t jam the trellis footings into the root ball. Nell

  109. Hi
    Awesome site. Thank you. I love Bougainvilles

    Do bougainvilles thorns exude an irritant?
    My bougainville is over 50 years old and still going strong,
    When I prune (I always forget to wear gloves) I usually cut myself on a thorn and it hurts for days.

  110. Could you possibly tell me what the variety is in your picture that has almost yellow leaves with dark reddish bracts that you have pictured. Thanks

  111. Hi Leslie – That is a ground cover – Bougainvillea “Golden Jackpot”. Nell

  112. Hi Barbara – The sap is slightly toxic but I don’t believe the thorns are. However, they do cause a type of dermatitis because when poked by one, it can deposit a little plant matter in the skin which can lead to swelling, redness & irritation. It never has bother me except for the couple of times I’ve been stabbed in the joint. Nell

  113. My newly planted bougies have been hit by loopers. Any resistant varieties that you know of?

  114. My dog dug up my bougainvilleas roots on the one side, and literally chewed part of it off. I am devastated because I know they’re really finnicky about their roots. Is this plant going to die now? Is there anything I can do to help it or repair the damage and or encourage it to keep growing? Please help.

  115. Hi Beth – My bougies get by them every year too. There are many varieties of bougainvilleas on the market but none of them are resistant (that I’m aware of anyway). Nell

  116. Hi Emma – I’m not 100% sure about this because I’ve never had it happen. Bougies are very sensitive in regards to their roots, but if yours is well established & well rooted, it should be fine. Fill the hole back in & then cover with a 2-3″ layer of nice, rich compost. Water your bougainvillea deeply as needed to encourage new root growth. Nell

  117. Dear Nell – I also live in Tucson out by Old Tucson. I have been trying for years to plant bougainvillea outside of the chain link fence for ‘beautification’. Are the planting instructions the same for here? I was thinking voles or such were sucking the roots dry. I wonder if it would help to make a ‘cage’ of metal mesh for the roots. Do you think the roots could grow through that? I have successfully killed about 6 plantings of six plants each from 2007 to 2012 (when I had a stroke) – none have survived so far. Barbara Karst was my last try. Any suggestions?
    THX! Lynn

  118. Hi Nell. I can’t believe I have stumbled across so much knowledge about these plants! I have a beautiful ones which is in a pot, outside in a very sunny position and doing very well. I live in Barcelona so the climate is very sunny and warm/hot of many months of the year. My question is- when the cold weather and frosts come in Dec-Feb, should I bring the plant indoors? Or would it prefer to be outside but slightly sheltered? Thanks!

  119. Hi Lynn – Greetings neighbor! I have 4 bougainvilleas growing at my new home here in Tucson. I pruned my “Barbara Karst” around Labor Day (waited for the intense heat to pass!) & it’s already showing a lot more color so I’m happy. My bougies do fine so no voles here. I can tell you that the roots should be able to grow through the cages just fine. Just make sure to leave the bougies in their grow pots (make big slits in the pots so the roots can grow out) when planting them – they are big babies when it comes to having their roots disturbed. Add compost when planting & water deeply to establish. “San Diego Red” is a very strong variety which is reportedly the most cold tolerant. Hope that helps! Nell

  120. Hi Sarah – Thank you – I’ve just moved into a new home & now I have 4 bougainvilleas! If the temps dip below freezing, then yes, you should bring it indoors for those months. Covering it for a few nights of cold is fine but for 3 months, it’s probably enough. The roots can freeze. Hope that helps! Nell

  121. Hi Nell,
    Thank you for sharing all your Boug intell…….I have made a lot of mistakes in the past and do not want to continue that pattern so I started looking for info and found you:) I am moving into a home in Southern CA and I have no idea how to handle an extremely mature , overgrown, slumpted over, beautiful blooming bougainvillea. It is so overgrown that it has fallen over a walkway path to the point I have to crawl under it to get to the front yard. HELP! What are your best suggestions for how this can be handled?

  122. Hi Lori – Bougainvilleas do grow like crazy! Be careful when pruning because they have thorns. Work from the outside of the plant inward & remove branches all the way back to the main branches. If you don’t, the plant will fill in like crazy. They handle pruning really well & I always did the big pruning of my bougies in late Jan./early Feb. Nell

  123. Hi Nell – I want to plant my bougainvillea in a pot in my covered patio area. It has a fibreglass roof so plenty of light and gets very hot but NO direct sunlight. Do you think it will flower in these conditions? Thanks – Philippa

  124. Philippa – 1 of my bogies is in bright shade (getting about an hour of sun a day) & flowers just a little bit at the ends. So, you might get some flowering. For optimum bloom & a big show of flowers, they need full sun. Nell

  125. I have two variegated bougs in pots. Just got them this past spring and haven’t had them over a winter yet. I live in zone 8 so we do get some freezing weather although it varies from year to year. What is best–bring them in to a garage with lights or leave them outside and cover them if a freeze is expected? Thanks for you help.

  126. Hi – I have bougainvilleas growing in zone 9A & they’re fine. They can take a night or 2 around 32F but not any prolonged cold spells. 1 or 2 nights of freeze you can cover them. Otherwise, bring them into the garage when a cold spell is forecast. By the way, cold wind isn’t good so it helps if they’re protected from that. Nell

  127. Hi Nell… I live in British Columbia, on the coast, and bought a beautiful bougie in the Spring… planted it in the PERFECT spot, and it was spectacular !! It lost it leaves and flowers at the beginning of November, and we cut it back, and planted in a beautiful huge pot. Brought it inside, and was expecting it to go dormant. I looked at it today, and gave it a little water….much to my surprise, it has new growth on it !! Is it going to keep growing inside ?? It does get lots of light and sun, and I am afraid it is going to take over our dining room ! Should I cut it back more now, or just let it keep growing. Will keep it in the pot forever, and move it back outside when the weather warms up in early spring… Thank you for any help you can give. Take care… Patricia

  128. I am crazy about orange-way before it became trendy. My orange bougainvillea seems very happy EXCEPT the flowers have turned magenta (which I hate!) Is there anything I can do to get it back to orange? I don’t know the variety. I am in zone 9 and have been using bougainvillea fertilizer.
    Thank you…great site.

  129. Hi Patricia – Congratulations on your beautiful bougie! It may not go dormant or even semi-dormant in your house because you most likely have the heat on. They drop their leaves in reaction to cold temps. Early winter isn’t the best time to prune this plant but if you must, then give it a light pruning. You can give it a bigger pruning in late winter/spring. Hope tyhat helps! Nell

  130. Hi Terry – Thank you for visiting our site. By the way, I love orange too. Bougainvilleas changing color aren’t a reaction to soil pH or environment so there’s nothing I know of to change the color back. It’s in the genes so the breeding is the cause. Also, age can be a slight factor. Nell

  131. Hello . I am on the Algarve (southern Portugal) I planted two Bougs back in summer 2016 to grow along a metal fence I had made for the purpose , the boug on left gets sun all day the one on right goes into shade mid afternoon , the one on the right raced along the fence the one on the left just stayed same size , both had plenty of flowers and still have flowers on them Jan 2017. Is the one on the right seeking the sunshine hence the faster growth ,? I was expecting them to grow at same rate and eventually meet in the middle , having read the threads above I think I may be expecting too much too soon , I look forward to seeing how much growth I start to get in spring

  132. Hi Alan – I don’t know if the 2 bougainvilleas are the same species/variety or not, but some grow a bit faster than others. Yes, I think you’re expecting too much too soon. In my experiences with bougainvillea, they’re slow to go at 1st & then really start to take off after 3-5 years. At least they’re flowering, mine are too! Nell

  133. We live in South Florida and bought a Bougainvillea tree about a month ago. It is 95 gallon tree that we planted in its pot & cut holes for drainage. It gets 6 hours of full sun a day. The sprinkler system waters once a day & sometimes I put it on twice. Within 30 days I’ve lost all of the flowers & am now losing some leaves and don’t know what to do. Please help?

  134. Hi Sonia – I think you mean 15 gallon & not 95 gallon because that would be huge! There could be 2 reasons which I see off the bat: the sprinkler is coming on too often. It would prefer a deeper soaking less often. Or, depending on you species/variety of bougainvillea, it could be going deciduous or semi-deciduous as a reaction to the cooler days & evenings. 1 of mine has completely defoliated, the other has not. Bougies do best in the sun & heat & can look at bit “funky” when the temps drop. Hope that helps, Nell

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