We love bougainvillea growing in the garden, but did you know it does well in pots too? If you’re looking for a colorful long-lasting container plant, then stop your search right here. This is all about bougainvillea care in pots including growing tips and things to consider to keep yours healthy and flowering away.
Bougainvillea Care in Pots
Bougainvillea, whether growing in a pot or in the garden, needs at least 6 hours of full sun a day. This ensures an abundance of flowering and keeps the plant looking good.
When it doesn’t get enough sun, the flowering will be lackluster and the plant will look thin and leggy. So, bougainvilleas do tolerate part sun but won’t look as good as when growing in full sun. If your bougie isn’t flowering, it could very well be due to lack of sun.
Bougainvillea also loves the heat, and even here in the Sonoran Desert where I live, it flowers throughout the extremely hot summers.
Bougainvillea is hardy from USDA zones 9b – 11. It doesn’t like temperatures below 28-30 degrees F and definitely not for a prolonged period of time. 1 or 2 random nights around or just below freezing will be okay but a period of 3 or 4 consecutive could be trouble.
Not sure what zone you’re in? Find out your USDA hardiness zone here by inputting your zip code at the top.
Older, established bougainvilleas can withstand a freeze much better than newly planted ones.
Many varieties will lose part or all of their leaves in climates with winters on the cooler end of the spectrum. Some of the foliage from the previous season can remain on the plant and eventually falls off as the new growth appears in spring.
If you live where in a climate where bougainvillea is borderline zone hardy, then planting it against a warm wall or in a corner against the house will help. Remember, this is one plant that loves sun and heat!
This is 1 area where bougainvillea size does matter. It’s much easier to protect a low growing bougainvillea in a pot with a covering than one that’s 15′ tall.
I’m in borderline zone 9b. I covered my “Blueberry Ice” growing in a pot 6 or 7 nights this past winter with a sheet whereas my other bougainvilleas are too big to cover.
Here are some posts I’ve done on winter care of bougainvilleas.
Bougainvillea growing in pots does best with regular watering. Here in Tucson, I water mine thoroughly once a week in the hot months. If we’re having an excessive heat spell with a week’s worth of temps above 105F, I might water it twice a week if it’s looking stressed.
In the winter, it’s more like every 2 – 3 weeks or so. My bougainvillea in a pot is still newly planted so in future winters, I’ll probably water it every 3 weeks.
On the coast of California where I used to live (Santa Barbara), it was more like every 2 weeks or so in summer. The mornings were often foggy and cool which meant less watering. Maybe every 4-5 weeks in the winter depending on the rain situation.
Age plays a factor. When establishing (the 1st few years), be sure to give your bougainvillea regular water. Just be sure to keep your eye on one which is newly planted. In a nutshell, you want to water an establishing bougainvillea when the top 2-3 inches of soil have dried out.
Bougainvillea is more drought-tolerant once it’s established. It prefers good, deep waterings rather than frequent shallow ones.
One thing to know about watering and growing bougainvillea in pots is that drain holes are necessary. This is 1 factor that ensures excellent drainage.
Bougainvillea’s subject to a few types of root rots so don’t over-water. This is where soil comes into play also – it should be well-drained and aerated to help prevent rot.
If the pot is smaller, you’ll have to water more often. If the plant is older, you’ll have to water less often. If the temps are higher, you’ll have to water more often. In the winter, you’ll water less often. If your plant is newly planted, water more often. Those are a jus a few variables to consider!
With my Blueberry Ice talking bougainvillea care in pots:
I’ve never fertilized any bougainvilleas, either when planting or as part of care and maintenance.
In April, I fed my “Blueberry Ice” with a 1″ layer of worm compost and a 2′ layer of compost over that. Not only does this top dressing combo nourish the plant, but it helps to hold a bit of moisture in too.
This flower food would be yet another option if you feel yours needs fertilizing to up the ante on the bloom. Whatever you use, just be sure to follow the directions on the box. An application once or twice a year will be just fine.
These are the pests I’m familiar with which can bother bougainvillea.
Orange aphids can be an issue on the tender new growth of bougainvilleas in early spring. I just spray them off with a gentle blast of the garden hose and that does the trick.
The bougainvillea looper caterpillar has been an issue with my bougies in both here in Arizona and when I lived in California. They’re green, brown or greenish-yellow and very tiny – maybe 1″ long.
These loopers feed at night and chomp mainly on the leaves. I just leave them be and eventually they go away. Because my bougainvilleas shed most of their leaves in the at towards the end of winter, it’s not that big a deal for me.
In mid-summer 2 years ago leafcutter bees were enjoying 1 of my bougainvilleas, but they eventually moved on also. They’re fast-moving and are valuable pollinators for many plants. For this reason, I also leave them be. We need our pollinators!
This most likely won’t be an issue for you but it is for me so I’ll mention it here. I bought my Bougainvillea Blueberry Ice up in Phoenix at the end of August and left it on my covered side porch. I planned on planting it in the tall blue pot at the of September once the weather cooled a bit.
I looked out the sliding glass doors 1 morning and my full, beautifully shaped bougainvillea had been pruned by packrats. They’re common here in the Sonoran Desert and I didn’t appreciate them hacking away at my bougie, especially because they did such a bad job of “pruning”. Bougainvilleas grow quickly once the weather warms and the plant is coming back beautifully and will have a decent shape by mid-summer.
Planting / Repotting / Soil
I’ve done a dedicated post and video on planting bougainvillea in pots which include the soil mix I use, the steps I took and one important thing to know.
I’ll touch briefly on repotting and tell you that it’s a crapshoot. Bougainvilleas don’t like to have their roots disturbed. I’ve never repotted one and can’t recommend it.
If you try repotting yours, just be as careful as possible to not injure those sensitive roots. If you initially left it in the grow pot, then it might be a more successful process. You might be better off just buying a new plant.
Pruning is essential to bougainvillea care in pots just as it is to those growing in the garden. The extent of the pruning you have to do depends on the size of the bougainvillea you have.
I’ve done a round-up post on pruning bougainvillea which you’ll find helpful. I give mine their big pruning in late winter – this sets the tone for how I want them to grow and look throughout the season. I’ll do 2 or 3 lighter prunes after each bloom cycle.
I do this for a more concentrated show of color: pinching the tender tips of the branches which are about to bloom. This makes the show of color denser and not all at the ends.
It’s good to know that bougainvillea blooms on new growth. That’s why you want to prune and pinch yours to bring on the flowering.
A word of warning: all bougainvilleas that I’ve come across have thorns so use caution when pruning. If you’re not careful, you can come out from a round of pruning looking like you’ve been in the lion cage!
I’ll do a post and video on pruning bougainvillea in a pot this fall or next spring. I had planned on doing them this spring, but when it came around to pruning my Bougainvillea Blueberry Ice, there wasn’t much to do (thanks packrats!).
In a nutshell, a couple of weeks ago I pruned out some dead branches along a few other branches. I did a bit tip pruning to encourage flowering and the plant to fill in. Now that the weather has turned hot, it’s growing like crazy and getting bushier.
This depends on the size of your plant. My Blueberry Ice stays small so training and support won’t be necessary, just a bit of pruning.
If you have one of the larger growing varieties, you’ll need a metal trellis or a wire support system for training it to grow up and/or along a wall or fence, over an arbor or across a structure.
Ah, saving the best for last! As I pointed out in “exposure”, bougainvilleas need at least 6 hours of sun to put on a good show of flowers. More sun = more blooms.
These flowering machines will bloom year-round in warm climates. Where the winters are cool (like here in Tucson), they’ll bloom for around 8 months. In Santa Barbara, it was more like 9 months.
The small white centers are the flowers and the bracts (the colored leaves) are actually what give us those big spectacles of color. Bougainvilleas put out a big show of color, drop their colored bracts, set buds, and then flower again. The color comes in waves, usually 2 – 4 times a year.
I’ve found that some varieties bloom more than others. My Barbara Karst seems to be the most consistent and steady bloomer of the 4 varieties I have. Blueberry Ice is new to me so I’ll let you know about its blooming prowess when I do the pruning post.
The colors you can buy bougainvilleas in are: white to yellow to gold to pink to magenta to reddish-purple. Some have 2-toned colors and variegated foliage too. There’s something for everyone; except you lovers of blue or purple.
The color of bougainvillea can change a bit after you plant it. This has to do with breeding. Also, bougainvilleas will change color as the seasons change.
When the temps are cooler, the color is more intense. My bougainvilleas all have deeper colored flowers in late fall, winter, and spring but the color will become less intense when it gets really hot. This is specific to the variety but my “Rainbow Gold” has newer flowers which are orange and then they fade to pink.
Lower growing bougainvillea well suited to growing in pots:
These are the varieties that I’m familiar with which stay under 5′ tall. Some will spread wider than they grow tall. Their smaller size makes bougainvillea care in pots easier.
- Blueberry Ice (this is the one I have; 3′ x 6′)
- Raspberry Ice (3′ x 6′)
- Golden Jackpot (2′ x 5+’)
- Baby Mia (5′ x 5′)
- Rosenka (4′ x 6′)
- La Jolla (5′ x 5′)
- Helen Johnson (3′ x 3′)
2 things to consider when growing bougainvillea in pots
This is more of a buying tip: take into consideration the size the plant gets (the tag should tell you, ask a salesperson or look it up online), and the size of the pot in going into. Bougainvilleas come in many sizes. Some reach 1-1/2′ tall and others get 25′ tall.
Those bigger bougainvilleas will need bigger pots to grow into and do well. Plus, you want a proportionately sized combo for aesthetical reasons.
That’s a wrap up on bougainvillea care in pots. So, the answer to the question I often get: “does bougainvillea grow well in pots?” is, yes! If you want a little less maintenance I’d choose one of the low growing varieties listed above. This way less watering will be required, combined with less pruning and training means more time to lay in the hammock and enjoy your garden.
More bougainvillea care just for you!