How to Care for Bougainvillea in Winter

If you want your bougainvillea to thrive in the warmer seasons, there are a few things to know about caring for bougainvillea in winter.

For an extravaganza of color 8 months out of the year, I think it’s hard to compete with bougainvillea. It stops blooming when the weather turns cool because just like roses, it needs a rest before the show starts again.

And no, the lead photo wasn’t taken in the winter. Bougainvilleas usually turn into sticks or “semi-sticks” at this time and that wouldn’t make for a very enticing pic at all. You’ll see my not-so-attractive Bougainvillea Barbara Karst towards the end of the video further on down in this post. It got hit by a freeze two nights when the temps. were in the high 20’s. It bounced back just fine but was lookin’ like a sad specimen for a couple of months!

a beautiful red-rose Bougainvillea  Barbara Karst pruned in large shrub form in full bloom
This is my Bougainvillea Barbara Karst one April. It got hit by a couple of freeze nights & looked nothing at all like for a couple of months. But, it bounced back in full regalia!

I basically do nothing in early winter and start to pay a little more attention to them in mid to late winter after the colder months have passed and it’s time to prune. There are only a few main points to cover regarding winter maintenance. Here’s what I’ve done and what I do.

Bougainvillea Care In Winter

I’ve grown bougainvilleas in both Santa Barbara (the southern Central Coast of California) and in Tucson (Arizona’s Sonoran Desert) so I have care experience to share with you in 2 totally different climates.

Tucson: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 9A/9B

Santa Barbara: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 10A/10B

Find your hardiness zone here.

We love bougainvillea! Here are more care guides you’ll find helpful: Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips, How To Care For And Grow Bougainvillea, How To Plant Bougainvillea, Bougainvillea Care In Pots, Why Is My Bougainvillea Dropping Lots Of Yellow Leaves, Answering Your Questions About Bougainvillea 


In Tucson, I water my established bougainvilleas once a week, via drip irrigation for 1 1/2 hours, in periods of no rain in the warmer months. When the summer monsoon rain rolls around, the drip heads are off until the rain subsides.

We tend to have dry winters with daytime temps around 60-75. I run the drip once a month for an hour or until the days and evenings heat back up.

In Santa Barbara, I didn’t supplementally water them at all. My bougainvilleas were very well established. The climate is much more temperate in this coastal area of California than here in the high valley desert. The daytime highs are much lower in summer and I lived 7 blocks from the beach so my bougies received moisture via the maritime layer as well as the winter rains.

If your bougainvilleas are young (new plants in the 1-4 years old range) you’ll want to water them in long, dry spells. Depending on the temps, water them deeply every 3-4 weeks in winter.

Bougainvilleas need good drainage and to have the excess water flow right through. Too much water build-up can lead to root rot or too much green growth which results in not as much flowering come spring.

a yellow-gold bougainvillea gold rush in full bloom next to a red bougainvillea against a beautiful blue sky
Here’s all that flowering that you want. This is Bougainvillea Gold Rush by the way.

Fertilizing / Feeding

No matter what zone you live in, you don’t want to fertilize your bougainvilleas in winter. I have actually never fertilized a bougainvillea in all the years I’ve been growing and caring for them.

I’ve composted a few of them in late fall but not on a regular basis at all. They’re quite scrappy once established. I figure if they’re looking fine and blooming like crazy, why bother?

If you feel yours needs some nourishment, late spring is the time to start that.


This is where most of the action comes in. The Pruning That I Do In Winter is the big one and sets the structure for how the plant will grow and look later on in the season. I’ve pruned all of my bougainvilleas in different ways depending on the form and shape I want them to take.

Bougainvilleas put out a lot of new growth after pruning. Did you know that they bloom on new growth? That’s why I do a couple of lighter prunes throughout the growing season to encourage all that explosion of color that we love.

When you prune bougainvillea in late winter/early spring depends on your climate zone.

Bougainvilleas are borderline hardy plants here in Tucson because the evening temps in winter can dip down low, but you see them all over town nonetheless. I wait until the very end of February into mid-March to start any pruning.

One winter we had one light freeze so just the ends of the branches on one side got hit. Another winter we had two nights that were in the high 20’s so my bougainvilleas were just skeletons with dead leaves hanging on them.

Even though they looked dead, they weren’t. I scratched on the surface of a few branches and there’s green beneath. I watched the forecasted temperatures and did the pruning in mid-March once the evenings were consistently above 40F.

Once the weather warms and the growing season is in full swing, the bougainvilleas really take off!

In Santa Barbara, I did the winter pruning from the end of January into early February. Even though the daytime temps are similar in the two locations, the evenings don’t dip as low as they do in Tucson. My bougainvilleas never got any freeze damage in the ten years I lived in SB.

If your bougainvillea has any freeze damage, the best time to start pruning is after the evenings are consistently above 40F.

If you’re new to pruning this beautiful ornamental plant, watch out for the sharp thorns!

New to pruning bougainvillea? We have a lot of posts & videos on Pruning Bougainvillea that will help you out.

a beautiful rose-red bougainvillea in full bloom grows in a light blue ceramic container
A smaller bougainvillea in a container like this one would be much easier to protect from a night or 2 of freezing temps.


I’ve never protected my bougainvilleas here because they’re large. I do protect my fleshy succulents and a few other plants with old sheets and pillowcases. If my bougies were younger or smaller plants, I’d give it a try.

If you want to protect yours, be sure to use cloth rather than plastic. You could also mound up a 4″ layer of compost around the base to protect the young surface roots. Just be sure to spread it out once the weather warms.

With a smaller bougainvillea that’s easy to cover, you can try some type of plant cover as well as root protection.

Growing Bougainvillea in a pot? Here’s what you need to know: Bougainvillea Care In Pots, Planting Bougainvillea In Pots

Bougainvillea In Winter Video Guide

Bougainvillea Dropping Leaves

It’s normal at this time of year. The leaves will drop off green or yellowish-green to make way for the fresh, spring growth to appear. Also, bougainvilleas are semi-deciduous in cooler climates so it’s just part of their cycle.

The very large Bougainvillea glabra which grew up over my garage in Santa Barbara would start a major leaf dump every February. I did lots of raking and sweeping when that happened!

close up of the leaves & flowers of a red-rose bougainvillea that has been hit by freeze
This is how my Bougainvillea Barbara Karst looked right after the freeze. It almost looks dehydrated. Later, it turns into a mass of dead bougainvillea blooms & leaves which are still hanging on the branches. They’ll eventually drop off.

Key Points About Bougainvillea In Winter

1. Water according to your climate. In the winter, cut back on the frequency. And, you may not need to water at all depending on how established yours are. It’s better to keep on the soil on the dry side rather than keep it constantly moist.

2. Don’t fertilize at this time. Wait until spring or summer if you feel you need to. Plants are resting at this time of year. You can compost at the end of winter because that works in slowly and will do its magic in spring.

3. It’s a good idea to start to prune when the evenings have warmed above 40F. Pruning forces out new growth and you don’t want that to get hit by another freeze.

My bougainvilleas look like sticks covered in dead leaves for a couple of months. Although I didn’t like the way they looked and it was very tempting To Prune Them, I waited.

Do a scratch test. Scrape the surface of the few branches and see if there’s green beneath. Prune any dead branches off.

4. Leaf droppage is normal in winter. It’s part of the cycle where the old foliage sheds to make way for the new spring growth.

5. This is a tropical plant that does best in temperate regions. It likes heat in the summer months and mild winters. Don’t try to push its limits just because you love all those masses of bougainvillea flowers. In terms of growing it in northern regions, I wouldn’t try unless you have a greenhouse or conservatory to overwinter it in.

Need more info? Here are Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips & Answers to Your FAQs just waiting for you.

a beautiful magenta-purple bougainvillea glabra in full bloom grows up & over a gold colored garage
This is my Bougainvillea glabra that grew up & over my garage in Santa Barbara. It certainly was an attention-getter & a big adventure in pruning!

Bougainvillea In Winter FAQs

Does bougainvillea stay green in winter?

It depends on the climate. In a warm climate with year-round rain, it has a better chance of staying evergreen.

Do bougainvillea lose their leaves in winter?

Yes, they can lose some or all of their leaves. My bougainvilleas in Santa Barbara stayed a bit greener in the winter than my bougies here in Tucson which lose more leaves. They eventually shed most of the old leaves when the new leaves come out.

Does bougainvillea come back after a freeze?

It depends. Bougainvillea can tolerate low temperatures (around 30F) but not consecutive nights of a hard freeze. My bougainvilleas here in Tucson always come back.

Can a dead bougainvillea be revived?

If it’s dead, then it’s dead and the answer is no. If it looks dead (the foliage) but the stems are still green underneath when you scratch them, then yes, it can be revived with proper pruning and care.

How do you protect your bougainvillea in winter?

If you have to protect your bougainvillea for many nights every winter, I’d go with another plant. To protect it from the occasional cold nights is easier.

If your bougainvillea is large, then it’ll be hard. In that case, the best thing you can do is protect the roots with a thick (4-5″) layer of mulch. If you use compost, you can spread it out once spring has come.

With a smaller bougainvillea that’s easy to cover, you can try some type of plant cover as well as root protection.

How do you cut bougainvillea back after freezing?

It depends on how the degree of freeze or freezes. You trim back those bougainvillea branches that have been hit.

I’ve done multiple posts on this subject which give you more info and outline what I did. How and When I Prune My Bougainvillea After a Freeze, How Bougainvillea Comes Back After a Freeze, Bougainvillea After A Hard Freeze, and Light Freeze Damage On Bougainvilleas.

How do I get more flowers on my bougainvillea?

This is just a general question. I wanted to include it because many people have asked me this over the years.

A healthy plant that’s growing in the right conditions, has proper care, and regular pruning (it blooms on new wood) will give you that colorful show.

Bougainvillea needs warmth and full sun with at least 5 hours of sunlight a day to bring on all of those colorful bracts with the tiny white flowers in the center.

Note: This post was originally posted on 1/19/2019. It was updated on 10/1/2022 with more information.

As you can see, I don’t do much at all with my bougainvilleas in the winter months.  Once the weather warms in early spring and my bougainvillea plants start to take off, that’s a different story.

I’ve gotten numerous questions regarding Bougainvillea Winter Care and wanted to do a post sharing what I’ve learned over the years. To all my fellow fans of beautiful bougainvillea, I hope this has helped you out!

Happy gardening,


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  1. I have just aquired a house in Abruzzo, Italy, that is 200 miles south of Rome. It is a holiday home, so will not be there very much in winter. Is it worth me trying to grow a Bouganvillia? I love this plant.

  2. Hi Paola – Once bougainvilleas are established, they are very tough. If you can deep water younger plants on a regular basis (or by rain) & there are no prolonged freezes, a bougainvillea will be fine. Nell

  3. Hi have purchased a plant from local garden centre but are concerned as where to put it in the winter, as at the moment l have it in my conservatory in full sun as here in the U K it will not survive outdoors.

    Many thanks

  4. Hi Pat – You can keep it in the conservatory if it gets enough light. And, back way off on the watering in the winter months. Nell

  5. Can you put this potted plant under a fluorescent light in the winter months? My house has very little sunlight.

  6. Hi Billie – I’m not sure as I’ve never overwintered a bougie indoors. They like a lot of light so it would have to be a strong one. Nell

  7. I am from Minnesota and this will be my first time to grow a bougainvillea. So we have an extreme winter weather temperature in my state. Should I be able to keep it indoors during winter time and what would be the best temperature to keep them out during the harsh weather. Thank you

  8. Riza – I’ve always lived in temperate climates & grow my bougies outdoors. Any temp above 35F will be fine making sure it gets warmer as spring approaches. Also, high light. Nell

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