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The Hard Pruning Of An Overgrown Bougainvillea

the hard pruning of an overgrown bougainvillea

Here I go again, yet another adventure in bougainvillea pruning coming down the pike. I had 2 large bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara and now have 4 smaller ones in my new garden in Tucson. What I believe is Bougainvillea “Rainbow Gold” grows right near my front door and I’m not sure when it was last pruned. It’s a rangy vine greatly in need of a hard pruning and training. Time to spring into action so this overgrown bougainvillea doesn’t eat me alive every time I leave the house!

Here’s the bottom line with bougainvilleas: they bloom on growth so more pruning and pinching = more flowering.

winter-pruning-training-bougainvillea

This gives you an idea of what my bougainvillea (on the left in front of the chimney) looked like when I moved into the house. There was very little flowering action taking place & it was growing above the roof & into the walkway.

The hard pruning that I do in late January or into February is the big one that sets the shape this plant will be for the rest of the year.  Bougainvilleas need it as they’re vigorous growers. I do the pruning when the evenings start to warm a bit – you don’t want to do it if there’s any danger of below freezing temperatures (especially for a period of more than 3 nights) on the horizon.

You’ll see how I pruned & trained it:

What I wanted to accomplish:

-To keep the bougainvillea below the roof line & out of the eaves & walkway.

-Prune any branches away from the window. This is an east exposure & I want as much light as possible to enter the living room.

-Have a healthier plant. The foliage has always looked a bit pale & shall we say, “blah”. Hopefully between this pruning & composting it’ll come back strong.

-And most importantly, bring on lots of flowering. Why in the world have a bougainvillea if you can’t get any color!

winter-pruning-training-bougainvillea

Even though this bougainvillea was in the process of going deciduous at the time this pic was taken, the foliage had never looked all that great.

The pruning & training bougainvillea process:

– 1st off, I start by standing back to really look at the bougainvillea. I figure out what I shape I want it to be & what I need to do. Every time I move the ladder I also step back to make sure all’s going well. It’s hard to get a perspective when your nose is in the plant!

-I make sure all my pruners are clean & sharp so I can get the best cuts possible. I used my trusty & beloved Felco #2’s (they’ve been my go to hand pruner for over 25 years now!) & also Corona Long Reach Loppers.

-Working my way into the bougainvillea, I remove a lot of the smaller, scrawnier branches. I prune away whole branches, taking them all the way back to a main branch or the trunk. This will allow the new growth to come back stronger & healthier.

winter-pruning-training-bougainvillea

A close up of the center of the plant – I pruned out most of those smaller branches as well as the ones that crossed over.

-The same goes for a few of the larger branches which cross over or stick out. Away they go.

-I pruned all the remaining branches to take them in & stimulate that new growth. I want to bring on that flowering to keep the hummingbirds & butterflies happy too!

Bougainvilleas aren’t clinging vines (unlike pink jasmine, honeysuckle, morning glory, etc) so they need training, support & attachment. I undid all the previously attached branches & retied them. There are 2 branches framing the window which I still need to attach but I’m missing the hardware. That’ll be done within the next couple of weeks.

winter-pruning-training-bougainvillea

Here’s the finished project which I know, looks like a bunch of sticks. It may seem like I removed a lot, but believe, bougainvilleas grow back like crazy. I spread a 4″ layer of compost around the base of this plant to nourish the soil.

If you’re new to the world of bougainvillea pruning I have a word of warning: they have thorns, some species and varieties fiercer than others. Wear gloves and maybe even long sleeves. Pruning a bougainvillea is a project best not done in a bikini!

I want this inherited and overgrown bougainvillea of mine to be a riot of color come spring. By the way, I’ll be sure to do a post and video in a few months so you can see how it came back.  I’ll do 3 or 4 lighter prunings throughout the warm season, ending in late November.  Tip pruning, which I do when the fancy strike me, is key to that dense show of color. Here in the desert, I want a floral explosion!

Happy gardening & thanks for stopping by,

winter-pruning-training-bougainvillea

This was my Bougainvillea glabra in Santa Barbara, a real flowering machine for 9 months out of the year. It grew up & across my garage and got a major “WOW” from anyone who saw it!


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