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Bougainvillea Tips and Facts

Find out tips and facts about Bougainvillea

Here’s a bit of interesting trivia about this alluring woody vine/shrub.  It was named for the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his voyage of circumnavigation when the exploration team docked in South America in 1768.  Since then, these splendid (but thorny!) flowering plants have become ornamental favorites (with more than 300 varieties now available) in frost-free climates around the globe.  I have even seen the for sale at a nursery in Fairfield, Connecticut – definitely a conservatory plant there!  They are not only used as vines but also as ground covers, in containers, on pergolas, on fences and walls and as hedges (which puzzles me because they will loose their color if pruned too severely).

Like the Poinsettia, the bracts (a leaf-like part of the plant) and not the flower (which is an inconspicuous white or yellow little bloom at the center of the more showy bract) are actually what give them their gorgeous hue.  You can choose between red, purple, yellow, orange, pink or white blossoms.  Most varieties have single bracts, but a few have doubles.  There are also several varieties with variegated foliage.  One of our favorites, the “Torch Glow” is like no other – the bracts are all at the end of the stems, and when they bloom, they glow like tiki torches.

The Bougainvilleas that adorn the Joy-Us Headquarters are in full flower at the moment. Here are some of my tips (things I’ve learned along the way as a nursery person and as a professional gardener) for caring for them:

When you bring one home from the nursery, don’t take it out of its grow pot before planting.  Bougainvilleas do not like having their roots disturbed (but who does?).  Instead, make large cuts in the sides and bottom of the plastic pot so the roots can escape and grow out.

Plant in a sunny, sunny spot (you do want that explosion of color after all!).

They like loamy, sandy, dry soil so plant in a spot that has good drainage.

Do not over-water them:  not only might this cause them to rot, but it will promote green growth over blossoming.

Remember,  they are not clinging vines, so they need support and attachment.  One of ours is growing across the broad doorway of one of our buildings thanks to a well placed metal trellis.  You can use hooks, ties – you name it.  Just keep helping them along or they’ll surprise you and run wild!

The blossoms may be delicate (the bracts, not the flower, are actually the source of the color) but the thorns are fierce, so exercise care (wear gloves) when you are pruning.  I look like I’ve just stepped out of the lion’s cage after an Edward Scissorhands session with ours – best not done in a bikini!

Many manuals will tell you to fertilize them but I don’t and ours grow like beanstalks and burst with many, many blossoms.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this plant but that’s what keeps me interested.  When the bracts are spent, they drop off en masse and tend to blow into our offices (hey, at least they aren’t cobwebs) and so we’re constantly sweeping up magenta piles of paper-thin leaves.  They can also overtake an area unless you stay on top of the pruning.

Hummingbirds and butterflies love them.  And so do we!



Check out our previous post on Bougainvillea glabra here.

Click here for more Bougainvilleas pictures I took while wondering around Santa Barbara.

As Ground Cover

A ground covered with an awesome Bougainvillea plant in the garden.

As  A  Hedge

Decorative Bougainvillea hedge plant that produces flowers.

 Along  A Wall

A vibrant red Bougainvillea can also grow on the wall with or without support.

Over A Pergola

Bougainvillea over a Pergola.

Along A Chain Link Fence

Pink Apricot Bougainvilleas an another vibrant color of Bougainvillea.

A video about how I prune the Joy-Us Bougainvilleas


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  8. I have 10 bougainvilleas around an oak tree on the river for 5 years. They are healthy with lots of leaves and good trunk and branches but do not bloom flowers. I tried not watering them and phosphate fertilizers and still not succeeded in making them bloom.

  9. Hi Francis – Bougainvilleas need a lot of sun & heat for them to bloom. The oak tree may be providing too much shade. Nell

  10. We have two that we bought last year and this year they are not doing good at all. We wondered if the steel rod thatthey are winding around should have been removed before we planted them in the ground.

  11. That shouldn’t be an issue Sandra. You could have removed the stake or left it. If you took them out of the grow pots when planting, that could be the issue. They don’t like to have their roots disturbed. Nell

  12. I live in Canada and bought a bourgainvilea after seeing a beautiful, huge one in a pot at my nursery. I’ve managed to keep it alive for 2 years now, bringing it in in the winter & leaving it out in the summer. I must say I have thought it’s dead more than once, including right now. I moved it from a sunny window where I thought it was drying out to a corner next to a patio door and it dropped all it’s leaves & flowers and is a twig again. I have never pruned it, which I think is part of the problem since I see only new growth blooms? I’m also worried I may have overwatered it. I’m thinking the best course of action now is to move it back to the sunny window, wait until it dries down and then do some pruning? It’s such a beautiful plant but so fussy in a pot.

  13. Hi Jen – Many bougainvillea varieties go deciduous or semi-deciduous in the winter. You may have overwatered it because all indoor plants rest in the winter & like to be kept on the dry side. I’d give it as much light as possible, keep it on the dry side & leave it be in regards to pruning right now. You can do some tip pruning on it come spring. Nell

  14. oh my…I bought a beautiful full bougainvillea took it home and within two weeks all the beautiful flowers dropped off….I have it in a sunny place with a trellis….but the wind can blow from day to day…would that be the problem

  15. We bought and planted 2 PURPLE Bougainvilleas back in January, (I took a picture that day and they were purple), then eventually they lost all their flowers as we had a cold winter here in Arizona. It’s Spring now and all new flowers bloomed…they are BEAUTIFUL, but the strangest thing the flowers aren’t purple anymore, they are more fuschia color…what’s that all about??

  16. Lynne – It’s probably just settling. Bougies put out big blooms & then all the flowers drop. The wind can accelerate that. Also, if you took it our of the pot to plant it, that could be a reason. Nell

  17. Hi Cyndi – It could be a reaction to the temperature as mine tend to change color a bit with a lot of sunshine & heat. Or, it could be in the breeding & where it was grown. Nell

  18. I have two potted Barbara Karst Bougainvilleas. Can they be pIanted and pruned to grow more like trees?

  19. Hi Connie – When I lived in Santa Barbara, I trained my Barbara Karst into a tree form with 1 trunk. It wasn’t tight & compact, but the branches were very freeform. So yes, it can be done but they’re also sold in tree form (not as commonly found though). Nell

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