Answering Your Questions About Bougainvillea

We’re continuing on with this monthly series listing the top questions we get asked about popular plants. Here we’re answering the most commonly asked questions about bougainvillea.

It’s no wonder that bougainvillea is in the top 5 topics we cover at Joy Us Garden. It blooms like crazy for months and you can’t beat it for an explosion of color.

I’ve grown bougainvillea plants in 2 very different climates (Santa Barbara, CA & Tucson, AZ) and am happy to share my experiences and what I’ve learned with you. 

Alright, let’s get on to the most frequently asked questions we get about caring for bougainvillea. I’ll be answering the questions here and you’ll see Brielle in the video at the very end. It’s a Joy Us garden collab!

Our Q & A series is a monthly installment where we answer your most common questions on caring for specific plants. Our previous posts cover Christmas Cactus, Poinsettia, Pothos, String Of Pearls, LavenderStar Jasmine, Fertilizing & Feeding Roses, Aloe Vera, Bougainvillea, Snake Plants.

Check out our Bougainvillea Category for all our posts and videos on this plant loved by many.

1.) How do you make Bougainvillea flower? Does Bougainvillea flower all year? How long do Bougainvillea flowers last?

We’ll start with the most asked questions about bougainvillea, and that is the topic of flowering. This is what makes this plant so favored.

If bougainvillea is happy, it’ll flower. It needs full sun (approximately 6 hours or more a day) and warm temperatures to bring on its big bloom. It’s good to know that Bougainvillea blooms on new growth so pruning and/or tip pruning will help.

I’ve grown bougainvillea in both Santa Barbara, CA (USDA zone 10a) and Tucson, AZ (USDA zone 9b). Mine flowered a bit longer and a bit earlier in Santa Barbara because the winter temps aren’t as low. In tropical climates, bougainvillea will flower off and on all year.

To be technical, the colored leaves are actually bracts and the flowers are the small white centers. The bracts are commonly referred to as flowers and that’s what we’ll call them here. The flowers last about a month or 2, depending on the temps. In Tucson, the summer heat shortens the bloom time a bit. A large, established bougainvillea puts out a lot of flowers over a period of time so the bloom period can be longer.

This one thing is for certain: when bougainvillea sheds its blooms, it’s a big mess. But, it’s a colorful mess I don’t mind!

Related: How To Encourage Bougainvillea to Bloom, Pruning Bougainvillea Mid-Season to Encourage Bloom

2.) Should I cover a Bougainvillea during a freeze? Does Bougainvillea grow back after a freeze?

If you live in a climate with repeated hard freezes, then bougainvillea isn’t the plant to choose. If in a climate with the occasional light freezing night (like here in Tucson), then you can cover your bougainvillea. That being said, a low-growing bougainvillea is much easier to cover and protect than a 15′ bougainvillea vine.

My bougainvilleas in Tucson had freeze damage 3 different years. The freezes weren’t consecutive, so the plants recovered in late winter/early spring. Also, my plants protected by the tall walls of the house didn’t damage as much as the one growing by a 4′ wall. You can read the posts below to see how they looked and what I did.

Bougainvillea will grow back after a light freeze, as mine did those few years here in Tucson. The damage was just to the outer foliage and some branch tips. The roots were fine.

I lived in San Francisco for 20 years and worked at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery. There were 4 or 5 consecutive freeze nights around the late 1990s with frost, frozen birdbaths, and that sort of thing. The cold temperatures damaged both the plant and the roots so there was much lamenting about dead bougainvilleas!

Related: Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips, How & When I Prune Bougainvillea After a Freeze

3.) Can Bougainvillea be grown indoors?

I have never grown bougainvillea indoors and don’t plan to. It needs a lot of sunlight to do well and bloom. If you have a conservatory or home greenhouse, then give it a try.

Bringing bougainvillea indoors for the winter can be tricky because you have to force it into dormancy or give it high light and sun for at least 5 hours a day.

close up of pink bougainvillea bracts and flowers

4.) When should I prune my Bougainvillea? Do you have to train Bougainvillea?

I always gave my bougainvilleas their big prune in late winter or early spring. In Santa Barbara, it was the end of February to mid-March and in Tucson from late March to mid-April. This was the prune that set the shape/form my bougies would grow into or keep them in that shape/form.

I lightly pruned them after each bloom right through early fall.

Bougainvillea isn’t a clinging vine so you do need to train it. In Santa Barbara, I trained one of my bougainvilleas into a tree form and the other grow up and over the garage. Here you can see how I pruned and trained the larger one.

Warning: If you’ve never pruned, trained, or planted bougainvillea, watch out for the thorns.

Related: Bougainvillea Pruning Guide

5.) Is Bougainvillea a shrub or vine? Is Bougainvillea fast-growing? Does Bougainvillea come back every year?

There are many species and varieties of bougainvillea. Some grow 2′ tall whereas others grow to 30′ tall. So, depending on the species/variety, you can find it in ground cover, shrub, vine, and even tree form.

Bougainvillea is fast-growing if it’s happy. You may not see much growth happening on a newly planted bougie, but after a year or 2, it should take off.

Bougainvillea is a perennial plant. When growing in the proper zones (9 if protected through 11), and bearing no hard freezes, it comes back every year.

6.) Will Bougainvillea grow in pots?

Yes, bougainvillea is suited to growing in pots. In the photo below, a B. Barbara Karst grows in a tall planter.

If you want to grow it in a smaller pot, then choose a lower growing variety. Bougainvillea is tricky to transplant (more on that in question 9) so it’s best to get the proper pot the first go-round.

Related: Growing Bougainvillea in Pots, Planting Bougainvillea in Pots

pink bougainvillea in blue pot in front of store front

7.) Does Bougainvillea lose its leaves in the winter? Why do Bougainvillea leaves turn yellow?

Bougainvillea is technically evergreen. In both Santa Barbara and Tucson, it would be considered semi-evergreen or semi-deciduous depending on how you look at it. In Tucson where the winter evening temps are colder, the leaf dropping is more extensive.

Yellow leaves on bougainvillea can mean a few things and I’ll give you the most common reasons. It can be seasonal in reaction to the cooler weather. The leaves on mine in both Santa Barbara and Tucson turned yellow before partially defoliating. It can also be due to too much water, too little water, or not enough sun.

Related: Why Is My Bougainvillea Dropping Lots of Yellow Leaves, What’s Eating my Bougainvillea Leaves

8.) How much sun does Bougainvillea need? Can Bougainvillea be grown in the shade?

Bougainvillea does best with 5-6 hours (or more) of sun a day. If it’s not getting the sunlight it needs and likes, the blooming will be less or won’t happen at all.

You can grow bougainvillea in shade, but why? This plant is known and loved for its massive displays of blooms and they won’t happen if not getting sun. I think there are way more attractive shrubs/vines more suited for shady spots.

9.) How do you plant Bougainvillea in the ground? When is the best month to plant Bougainvillea?

I’ve done a post dedicated to that with all the details which you’ll find below. The one important thing to know about planting bougainvillea (whether in pots or in the ground) is to leave it in the grow pot when planting. Bougainvillea is a tough plant, but it’s a baby when it comes to the roots.

I’ve planted bougainvillea in spring and summer. Early fall is fine as long as there’s enough time for it to settle in before the cooler weather, especially those cool/cold evenings.

Related: How to Plant Bougainvillea To Grow Successfully, Planting Bougainvillea in Pots

10.) How often should I water bougainvillea?

This is another of the most asked questions about bougainvillea. The answer I have will be disappointing because I can’t tell you an exact schedule. It depends on your climate zone, the temperatures, the exposure, the age of the bougainvillea, the soil it’s growing in, whether it’s growing in a pot vs the ground, and the time of year.

I will say that my established bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara growing 7 blocks from the beach required watering far less often than my established ones in Tucson.

Too much water = lots of green growth and water shoots.

orange bougainvillea

Bonus question: 

Is Bougainvillea easy to care for?

If conditions are to its liking, your bougainvillea will grow like crazy. Whether it’s easy care or not is a matter of opinion.

I’d say yes except for the pruning/clean-up. Bougainvillea needs pruning to look good, training to get it to grow the way you want, and cleaning up after the blooming periods. I don’t mind doing it because I love pruning and training plants. Plus, the masses of blooms are worth it to me.

Related: Bougainvillea Care

Short answers to these questions:

I hope the answers to these questions about bougainvillea have helped you out. Enjoy all those gorgeous, vibrant bougainvillea blooms!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

Check out our other Q & A installments: Snake PlantsAloe Vera, Fertilizing & Feeding Roses

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