This flowering machine is most commonly grown outdoors, and you may be wondering what to do in the cooler months. Here you’ll find bougainvillea winter care tips and helpful answers to frequently asked questions (which you’ll find at the end).
Beautiful bougainvillea is one of those plants that is unforgettable. You don’t want to miss this one when it’s in full bloom—the gorgeous flowers are out of this world!
Bougainvillea care is a very popular topic amongst our readers here at Joy Us Garden. In this post, we’re focused on helping you prepare for bougainvillea care in the winter months and how to maintain your plant when cooler temperatures set in. This is a roundup of articles I’ve written on this subject all in 1 place for your reference.
Note: This post was published on 1/22/2020 & was updated on 1/17/2022 to give more information.
Bougainvillea In Winter
Bougainvillea blooming slows down or discontinues when the weather turns cool because it needs to rest before the show starts again.
If you want your bougainvillea to thrive in the warmer growing season, there are a few things to know about Bougainvillea Winter Care.
Even though I’ve been gardening for decades, I still learn new things! It never dipped too much below 35 degrees Fahrenheit when I lived in Santa Barbara (mild winters indeed) but now I’ve moved to Tucson which is a whole new horticultural ball game.
Whether it’s a hard or light freeze, it’s best to wait a bit and access what plan of action you’re going to take. The best time to start pruning is after the last danger of freeze has passed and the temps are warming.
One December, we had a 29-degree night here in the Sonoran Desert. So, I shared some new tips and tricks on how and when I prune Bougainvillea After A Light Freeze.
I live in Tucson Arizona, which is USDA hardiness zone 9b. A few winters past rolled out some cold temperatures (for us anyway!).
A few nights dipped into the mid to upper 20s and most of the bougainvilleas were hit with a hard freeze. Here is my story on how I managed Bougainvillea Care After A Hard Freeze.
4. An Update On Bougainvillea Hard Freeze 6 Weeks Later
I wanted to keep everyone updated on the freeze damage done to my bougainvillea. This is part 2. Bougainvillea with hard freeze damage (as long as the roots aren’t affected) is manageable.
Have you ever wondered if and how bougainvillea would come back after a freeze? I found out firsthand the answer to this question firsthand a few years ago.
Yes, new colorful bracts (bougainvillea blooms) eventually appeared as the weather warmed. Here’s an update on how my Bougainvillea is doing 9 months after a few overnight freezes from that previous winter.
I want to show you what light freeze damage looks like on bougainvilleas and tell you what my plan of action is. If you’re looking for additional help, you can read about what I did to save my Bougainvillea After an Overnight Freeze
Bougainvillea Winter Care FAQs / Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips
Note: I’ve grown bougainvilleas in 2 different climates – Santa Barbara, CA (USDA zones 10a & 10B) & Tucson, AZ (USDA zones 9a & 9b).
Bougainvillea can survive occasional below-freezing night temperatures as long as they aren’t consecutive. A few winters ago here in Tucson, we had 4 or 5 nights below 32F but they weren’t in a row.
My bougies growing against the house were in a protected area and received light cold damage. My Barbara Karst growing in an open spot next to the garage and driveway received more damage.
One of the nights dipped to 26F and that Bougainvillea Barbara Karst received quite a bit of damage. Here’s the key to its survival: The ground didn’t freeze so the roots weren’t damaged. If the roots freeze, then the plant will die. As you can see in a couple of the posts above, I did have to prune out quite a few branches which had gotten hit.
Different sources indicate differing lowest temps a bougainvillea can take. I’m not sure of an exact number so I share my experiences instead. If you have a reputable garden center with a knowledgeable staff in your area, they’ll be able to give you advice as far as winter temps go.
New plants are more susceptible to freeze damage than larger established ones but are easier to cover.
Yes and no. Bougainvillea plants can be considered semi-deciduous in winter in the 2 climates where I’ve grown them.
In mid-January, the foliage is looking a bit “worn” and tired on my bougies. Some of the heart-shaped leaves have fallen off but a lot still remains on the branches.
Come the end of winter or early spring, the new growth starts to emerge and the foliage from the previous season falls off. By late spring, the new leaves are out in full force.
An interesting note: 3 winters ago 90% of the foliage on my Barbara Karst froze. It eventually died but still remained on the branches until I did the pruning. I was hoping it would fall off, but oh no!
See the answer to the 1st question. Yes, as long as there aren’t consecutive nights below 30F.
Mine survived a light freeze 4 winters ago and a couple of freezes 3 winters ago.
Some of the outer branches had to be cut out but the framework of the plant remained.
Large bougainvilleas are hard to cover. The best thing you can do is protect the roots. Apply at least a 3″ layer of mulch (hay, leaves, compost, etc) around the base of the plant covering the area where the roots grow.
Once the weather warms, just be sure to spread the mulch away from the trunk of the plant.
Smaller bougainvilleas growing in the ground or in containers can easily be covered with sheets or freeze cloth.
If your bougainvillea has overwintered indoors, wait until the evenings have consistently warmed above 40 or 45F and the danger of a freeze has passed.
Even though it looks dead, it may not be. The outer growth may have been hit but the inner growth might be just fine. The same applies to the tip growth.
Do a scratch test on a branch and look for green under the bark. The tips of the branches on mine were dead but the rest was alive. I pruned them off after the temps warmed consistently.
It depends on your climate. In Santa Barbara (with milder winter evening temps) it was mid to late winter. I pruned my bougainvilleas at the end of January into February.
Here in Tucson (with colder evening temps) I wait until mid to end of March to do any extensive pruning.
Have patience – you don’t want to prune your bougainvillea and then have another freeze hit!
Yes, you want to plant bougainvillea in a sunny spot. It does best and you’ll get the most bloom with at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
If it’s not getting the direct sunlight it likes and needs, the blooming will be marginal if any at all. After all, who wants a bougainvillea without bougainvillea flowers?!
The plant won’t be as robust if it doesn’t get enough light. Besides bright light, bougainvillea loves heat.
Bougainvillea is a perennial. In climates with cold winters, it could be considered to be an annual if you don’t bring it indoors for the cold months.
Yes, if the environmental conditions are to their liking and with proper care, they sure are. They’ll be slow growing for a year or 2 after planting, but then they really take off, especially in the summer months.
My bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara grew faster than my ones in Tucson do. It’s much hotter here in the summer and colder at night in the winter. That being said, I still have to do regular pruning (prune my bougies 2-3 times a year) to keep them from getting too tall and too wide.
It depends on what climate you’re growing it in, but in the temperate regions (CA & AZ) where I’ve lived, it goes semi-dormant and semi-evergreen. There’s not much if any growth and no new flowering.
In late winter and early spring, it comes back to life and new leaves push the old remaining leaves off and flowers start to appear.
In tropical climates, I would imagine that it stays evergreen all year round.
Not much if any care needs to be done. I leave my bougainvillea alone at this time of year and don’t do any pruning until the last freeze has passed and the evening temps are above 40F.
I keep them on the dry side and water them occasionally, every month or 2 if there’s no rain. An established bougainvillea may not need any supplemental water in the winter.
For instance, I didn’t water my bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara in winter not only because of their age but because of the climate. I lived 7 blocks from the beach so there was fog and periods of cloudy weather. Here in Tucson, there’s very little winter rain and much more sun so I watered my bougies every month or 2.
One thing to note about bougainvillea, no matter the temperature, is that it prefers deep watering to frequent, shallow watering. Too much water can lead to an excess of green growth and perhaps eventually root rot.
A newly planted bougainvillea will need supplemental water year-round for 1 or 2 years. How often depends on the size of the plant, the composition of your native soil, and the weather.
Winter care for potted bougainvillea plants is basically the same for those growing in the ground. The only difference is that you’ll probably have to water bougainvillea container plants more often.
To ensure growing success, just make sure the soil mix allows for good drainage and the pot has drainage holes.
You’ll want to give your potted bougainvillea a light trim a month or 2 before the cooler winter temps set in. I always gave my bougies their biggest pruning in late winter or early spring. That’s the one that would set the tone for the shape I wanted them to take on for the growing season.
If your bougainvillea has overwintered indoors, wait until the colder months have passed and the evenings have warmed above 40 or 45F.
A few winters ago my bougainvilleas really got hit. This past winter was been milder than last winter and my bougainvilleas still have some flowers and most of their foliage was still on.
I hope these bougainvillea winter care tips have helped you out. You just never know what’s going to happen temperature wise but it’s good to be prepared!
P.S. You can find all sorts of bougainvillea care tips here. Bougainvillea is one of those plants that is unforgettable. You don’t want to miss it when in full bloom—the gorgeous flowers are out of this world!
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Nell, the founder of Joy Us garden, was born into a gardening family and grew up in Connecticut’s countryside. After living in Boston, New York, San Francisco, & Santa Barbara, she now calls the Arizona desert home. She studied horticulture & garden design, working in the field all her life. Nell is a gardener, designer, blogger, Youtube creator, & author. She’s been gardening for a very long time & wants to share what she’s learned with you.