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Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea is one of those plants that’s either loved or scorned upon.  Here in Santa Barbara it is seen all over town and there’s no denying that it provides an impressive explosion of color.  It is one of our “weeds” – right up there in quantity of sightings with Foxtail Agave, Torch Aloe and Bird of Paradise.  Bougainvillea is a very vigorous grower and is most commonly thought of as a large scale vine but there are other forms it is grown in and sold as.

I’ll start by showing my 2 bougainvilleas which more than satisfy my need for creative pruning.  This is Bougainvillea glabra which runs up my garage and across to the shed.  My driveway is long and it provides interest as I walk to my office, aka the shed or Joy Us garden world headquarters.   I’ll give it a heavy pruning in a week or 2 so that it does not overtake all around it.  Subsequently, it will get a light pruning every 6-7 weeks.


Next up is Bougainvillea “Barbara Karst” which I’ve done my best Edward Scissorhands on and think of it as an umbrella reaching out over my bromeliad garden.  This side of the house gets morning sun so I open it up to let light in below and let entry into the side door.  After a couple of seasons of disciplining, it is now 1 single trunk and a few main arching branches.  I prune it every 8 weeks or so and it stays well behaved.

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Other than pruning (which I liken to a round in the lion cage due to their sharp spines), bougainvilleas require very little care.  I do not water them during the dry season, which goes for 9 months by the way, because I want a lot of flowers and less excessive foliage growth.  As for fertilizing, I simply top dress with a couple of inches of worm compost in spring.  This video, The Joy Us Bougainvilleas Creatively Pruned In Late May,  shows them to you in all their glory.

As I said, bougainvillea is found in the landscape  in various forms.  Here are some of the ways I’ve seen it.

Over a Pergola

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

As a Little Accent of Color on a Wall

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Tumbling Over a Wall

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

As a Shrub “Blob”

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Framing Architectural Details

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

As a Screen

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea “Bonsai”

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

As a Groundcover

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

As a Hedge

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

The many colors of bougainvillea – here are a few that I’ve seen around town.

“Mary Palmer’s Enchantment”


“Raspberry Ice”


“Orange King”


“Torch Glow”


“James Walker”



Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

“San Diego Red”


A lovely pale pink blush – I’m not sure what this one is (Coconut Ice? Ada’s Joy?)

Bougainvillea, So Much More Than Just A Vine

Here are a few more things I’ve learned about bougainvillea.

  • It needs support.  As you can see, a metal trellis is attached sideways to the top of the garage.  That’s me on the ladder, pruning saw in hand, by the way.

  • Pruning a sizeable one can draw blood – many of them have spines – long ones at that.
  • Lots of flowers = lots of leaf drop = big mess (but a pretty one!).

  • It’s best to leave your newly purchased Bougainvillea right in the pot come planting time.   They don’t like to have their roots disturbed.  If you need to move one (an iffy proposition), then check out the video I did for eHow: How to Transplant A Bougainvillea .
  • Less water= more flowers.

For a floral fiesta, you can’t beat bougainvillea.  New varieties are coming on the market every year but I think I’ll pass.  Two bougainvilleas on one property are enough for me!



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  3. Great photos!
    But can you help me identify a variety that is a true red, with no pink or purple in it? I want to grow a vine inside my Oregon greenhouse, preferably one that can be pruned to stay under 15 feet on an arch trellis. We saw red Bougainvilleas in Italy and they looked much like the ones in your photos that are spilling over a wall.
    Any variety names in a tomato or deeper red would be helpful. Thank you!!!

  4. Hi Rosemary – The tone of color depends a lot on the climate & the soil. Here in coastal Southern California “San Diego Red” tends to be a true deep red with darker foliage. Inland, it might tinge with a bit of pink. I’d start by checking out Bougainvillea “SDR”. Hope that helps, Nell

  5. Hello,
    I recently noticed purple Bougainvillas in a Berkeley neighborhood and I had to plant one in my home in Hercules, ca. I purchased a two red Bougainvillea Barbara Karst and need your advice. Can I grow a Barbara Karst like a small or big tree in a open area similar to the picture you posted and trimmed it like an umbrella? Or do I have to plant the Barbara Karst along a fence or wall? Thank you for the amazing website & any any advice.

  6. Thank you Miguel! I live in SF for 19 years & worked at a nursery in Berkeley by the way. You can grow them as trees & there’s a nursery in Florida that offers them. It takes some training because they’re a vigorous grower. You’ll need stakes or some kind of a brace to hold it up while it’s establishing & maybe for the long haul if the area is windy. The Barbara Karst at my old house was older & established enough so that it could have stood on it’s own. Happy gardening! Nell

  7. I have loads of seed pods hanging from my plant. Can they be used in cooking, either as a pod or the seeds only? I cannot find any comments on the subject of eating either. Thank you for answering.

  8. Hi Gwynn – The seeds, found inside the pods, are tiny. I’ve never heard of either the seeds or the pods being used in cooking. I have seen the flowers used in salads & to color drinks. Nell

  9. Hi Nell!
    First of all, I love you and your youtube channel.. I’m quite obsessed to be honest =)

    About the Bougainvillea, if you put them against a wall is it damaging to the structure like ivy is? In my memory of them I vaguely remember that they seem to be lighter than Ivy, but I don’t know

    Thanks for helping me with most if not all of my planting needs already!

  10. Hi Lindsay – Thank you so much! I just filmed another bougainvillea video yesterday so stay tuned for that. My bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara & at my new home here in Tucson all grow (grew) against the house & garage. No damage that I can see. They aren’t clinging vines like ivy so have no worries! Nell

  11. Hi Nell,

    I’m building a house in Orange County, CA and I would like to do a lot of white bougainvillea. I am looking for varieties that can be small and potted or used as ground cover and ones that can grow large and fast to cover perimeter fences. Do you know of an online resource that deals exclusively with the white varieties or has extensive information on them?

    Thank you for any help you can give.

  12. Hi Gabriel – Yes I do. Check They’re in So Cal & have different sizes of white bougainvillea. Nell

  13. Do you have any information on Silver lace vine I had one in NY but can’t fine in Naples FL. Do they like heat

  14. Hi John –

    A Silver Lace Vine can take heat but will need more water at that time. I’ve seen it growing in Phoenix. It’s deciduous or semi-deciduous & extremely fast growing. Some consider it to be invasive. Nell

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