Things You Need to Know About Bougainvillea Plant Care

Bougainvillea is one of those plants that you just have to see to believe. With its gorgeous flowers and bold shape, you sure can’t miss one in full bloom. Bougainvillea plant care isn’t difficult but there are a few things you should know.

It’s no wonder that bougainvillea care is a popular topic we cover a lot at Joy Us Garden! I’ve grown it in 2 very different climates (Santa Barbara, CA & Tucson, AZ) and am happy to share my experiences and what I’ve learned with you. I’ve received many questions about growing this flowering machine, so here is my care guide wrapped up in one. I also answer a few questions at the end so be sure to check out the answers.

How to Care For & Grow Bougainvillea

If you live in a climate with warmer winters and want an (almost) year-round floral fiesta, then bougainvillea is the plant for you. Depending on the variety, it can be grown on a trellis or over an arbor, against a building or fence, in containers, as a hedge or ground cover, in tree form, and as a bonsai. Here I’m straight up sharing care and growing tips for bougainvillea, a plant I have a lot of experience with.

a large red/pink bougainvillea in full bloom grows up & over an archway

How to Plant Bougainvillea in Pots

Bougainvillea is quite a popular topic on this blog. I’ve done multiple posts and videos on all aspects of growing it. Or so I thought! I know many of you are curious about bougainvilleas in containers and I’ve seen many of them growing this way over the years. This is all about planting bougainvillea in pots including the soil mix to use, steps to take and a key thing to know.

a variegated bougainvillea grows in a tall blue pot next to red lantana

Bougainvillea Care in Pots

Here, you can learn more about bougainvillea care in pots. There are key things you need to know if you’re going to grow bougainvillea in a small space.

How to Plant Bougainvillea

Planting bougainvillea isn’t too much different than planting any other shrub or vine except for one key factor. If you don’t do this one thing, it’s a crapshoot as to whether your bougainvillea will do well or even survive.

close up of bougainvilleas flowers in pink & orange

What is Eating my Bougainvillea Leaves?

Are you seeing damage on your bougainvillea leaves? Like something’s been chomping and munching away? I’m not talking little nibbles here and there but some serious feasting. I’ll show you what it might be so you can identify the pest and take action.

close up of a bougainvillea leaf with a big chomp taken out of it

Bougainvillea Winter Care

For an extravaganza of color 8+ months out of year, I think it’s hard to compete with bougainvillea. It stops blooming 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 seasons, there are a few things to know about bougainvillea winter care.

a bougainvillea red-rose Barbara Karst in full bloom

Why is My Bougainvillea Dropping Yellow Leaves?

Let’s be honest here, bougainvillea is not a plant I grew up with. I thought it was some kind of exotic plant until I moved to Santa Barbara 10 years ago where it’s found growing in some form or color on every block. It’s ubiquitous I tell you, yet in my opinion, it’s a beautiful “weed”. I had no experience growing bougainvillea until a bought a house with 3 of them on the property.  The 1st winter they all of a sudden started losing leaves so I had to ask the question: why are my bougainvilleas dropping lots of yellow leaves?

close up of bougainvillea branches with some buds & a few yellow leaves

Bougainvillea Secrets

When you’ve cared for bougainvillea as much as I have, you’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Here are more care tips – this post was written when I lived in Santa Barbara.

close up of a bougainvillea with magenta flowers & yellow & green variegated leaves

Answers to a few commonly asked questions on bougainvillea plant care:

How much sun does a bougainvillea need?

Bougainvillea needs at least 6 hours of sun a day to put on its big show of flowers. This plant loves heat too. Both are essential to bougainvillea plant care.

I have 5 bougainvilleas growing at my home here in Tucson. 3 get less sun & bloom less than the ones which get 6-7 hours of sun a day. So, if yours gets morning sun only, it won’t grow as fast or bloom as much.

How often should you water bougainvillea?

It depends on the age of the plant & what climate you’re growing it in.

Bougainvillea which is newly planted needs watering more frequently. It prefers a deep watering every 7-14 days rather than more frequent shallow waterings. I would water a newly planted bougainvillea more often here in the desert than I would one which was newly planted along the coast of California where I used to live.

I never supplementally watered my 2 bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara because they were very well established. Both were over 20 years old. If you water a bougainvillea too much, it’ll put out excess foliage growth & won’t flower as much, if at all.

Here in Tucson 4 of my bougainvilleas are on drip. It runs twice a week for 2 hours in the warmer months. It’s currently off (mid-Dec) & the only water they’ll receive is what falls from the sky until I turn the drip back on in the spring. I have a bougainvillea in a container which gets watered every 7-21 days depending on the season & the weather.

Why isn’t my bougainvillea flowering?

Lack of flowering is commonly due to the plant not receiving enough sun and heat. Bougies love it and need both to bloom. Too much water, too much fertilizer & over-pruning can also prevent a bougainvillea from flowering properly.

What month does bougainvillea bloom? Does it bloom all year round?

In the 2 different climate zones where I’ve grown it, no. It’s also good to know that bougainvillea goes through flowering cycles. When my Bougainvillea Barbara Karst has put out its big bloom, another won’t start for 3-5 weeks.

It’s mid-December as I’m writing this & all of my 5 bougainvilleas are still in bloom (2 are flowering more than others). Our evenings here in Tucson are dipping into the 40’s & high 30’s. Once those temps are consistently cold, then the blooming stops.

Last winter we had a few night time freezes which froze not only the flowers but the foliage & branch tips too. The 1st freeze happened at the end of December. My bougainvilleas didn’t start to show color until the very end of April which was later than the previous 2 years.

In Santa Barbara, my bougainvilleas bloomed longer because it’s a more climate with warmer winter evenings. They would flower off & on from the end of February/beginning of March through the end of December.

What fertilizer is good for bougainvillea?

There are fertilizers specifically formulated for bougainvillea. I’ve never used any of them because my bougainvilleas have always flowered consistently & been healthy.

Here in Tucson, I do apply a 3-4″ layer of compost around the base of my bougainvilleas in late winter. This is a more extreme climate & the soil isn’t as rich here. Cacti love it but the bougainvillea appreciates the extra boost. Plus, the compost helps to hold in some of the soil moisture once the temps creep above 90F.

Should I trim my bougainvillea?

Oh yes, you’ll need to because this plant grows fast once the temps warm. How often & how you do it depends on the type of bougainvillea, your climate, the form you want it to be.

I’ve done quite a few posts on pruning & trimming bougainvillea. In 2 or 3 months I’ll be putting out a comprehensive guide to pruning bougainvillea so keep your eye out for that.

How fast does bougainvillea grow?

Bougainvillea, once established and if growing in the sun and heat it loves, is a fast grower. My bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara grew a bit faster because the winter evening temps were milder & the summer temps and sunshine not as intense.

a hummingbird drinks off a flower of a pink bougainvillea in full bloom

Stay tuned for more on bougainvillea plant care. I’ll be sharing more tips on pruning bougainvillea and bougainvillea winter care coming up in the next couple of months!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

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  1. In the Dallas area should a bougainvillea in a pot be brought in for the winter?

  2. Hi Kathryn – I’m not sure what climate zone Dallas is in. I can tell you that I lived in zone 10a & my bougainvilleas were fine. I now live in zone 9a where the past 2 winters brought freeze damage to my bougainvilleas. They did come back though in spring. Nell

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