If you live in a temperate climate 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. I’m sharing care and growing tips for bougainvillea, a plant I have a lot of experience with.
Note: This post was previously published on 5/7/2017. It was updated on 8/13/2020.
Bougainvillea can grow anywhere from 1′ to 8′ to 30′, depending on the species or variety. There are actually quite a few dwarf bougainvilleas on the market now if you don’t want one the maintenance that goes along with one that grows to 25′. In the warmth and full sun that it loves, bougainvillea is fast-growing after it gets established.
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For more tips on bougainvillea care, read these guides: Bougainvillea Plant Care: A Round-Up Of Care Guides, Bougainvillea Pruning Tips, Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips, Tips For Planting Bougainvillea Successfully, and Answering Your Questions About Bougainvillea.
How to Care for Bougainvillea
I’ve grown bougainvillea in 2 different climate zones. I lived in Santa Barbara, CA (USDA zone 10b) for 10 years. I’ve now lived in Tucson, AZ (USDA zone 9a) for 4 years.
Bougainvillea needs at least 6 hours of full sun a day to flower profusely and look its best. This plant also loves the heat. Not enough sun = not enough color.
If you live where in a climate where bougainvillea is borderline zone hardy (see zones below), then planting it against a warm wall or in a corner against the house will help. Remember, this is one plant that loves sun and heat!
This plant is hardy from USDA zones 9b – 11. It doesn’t like to go below 30 degrees F and definitely not for a prolonged period of time. 1 or 2 random nights around freezing will be okay. You can find your USDA hardiness zone here by inputting your zip code.
Older, established bougainvilleas can withstand a freeze much better than newly planted ones. Many varieties will lose part or all of their leaves in climates with winters on the cooler end of the spectrum. Some of the foliage from the previous season can remain on the plant and eventually falls off as the new growth appears in spring.
When it comes to watering, Bougainvillea is pretty drought tolerant once established. It prefers a good, deep watering every 3-4 weeks rather than frequent shallow waterings.
When establishing (in the 1st couple of years), be sure to give your bougainvillea regular water. It’s subject to a few types of root rots so don’t over-water. The soil should be well-drained which will help prevent rot.
I’ve done a post and video on How To Plant Bougainvillea where I go into the topic of soil more in-depth there. Another result of too much water – more green growth and fewer flowers. No thank you – flowers please!
This is what bougainvillea trained to grow as a hedge looks like.
I’ve never fertilized bougainvilleas, either when planting or as part of maintenance. I always feed them with compost – a good dose upon planting and a 3″ topping every late winter/early spring every year or 2.
I used to work at a nursery in Berkeley where a grower recommended fertilizing them with a palm and hibiscus food.
This flower food would be another option if you feel yours needs fertilizing to up the ante on the bloom. Be sure to follow the directions on the box – an application once or twice a year will be just fine.
In my Santa Barbara garden, aphids could be an issue on the new growth of my bougainvilleas in early spring. I just sprayed them off with a gentle blast of the garden hose.
The bougainvillea looper caterpillar has been an issue with my bougies in Arizona and California. They’re green, brown, or greenish-yellow and very tiny – maybe 1″ long. They feed at night and chew mainly on the leaves. I just let them be and they eventually go away. Because my bougies drop a lot of their leaves in the winter, it’s not an issue for me.
A couple of weeks ago leafcutter bees were enjoying 1 of my bougainvilleas, which you’ll see in the video, but now they seem to have moved on. They move fast and are valuable pollinators for many plants. For that reason, I let them be also.
You might find this post on What’s Eating My Bougainvillea Leaves to be helpful.
Planting / Transplanting
I’ve done a dedicated post and video on Planting Bougainvillea which includes an important thing to know.
I’ll touch briefly on transplanting and tell you that it’s a crapshoot. Bougainvilleas don’t like to have their roots disturbed. I’ve never transplanted one and don’t recommend it.
You’d be better off just buying a new plant. If you try transplanting yours, just be as careful as possible to not injure those sensitive roots.
Double the bougainvillea color show!
The taller growing bougainvilleas need strong support and require training and to be tied. They aren’t attaching or twining vines. Make sure the ties you use are strong and that you tie them well – some of their branches get to be good-sized.
I trained My Bougainvillea Glabra to grow up and over my garage. Once it got higher than the door, I secured to a large metal trellis (bolted to the center of the garage) and it grew all the way across.
They can be trained on a trellis, over an arbor, on a fence or across a structure. The lower growing varieties are suited to be hedges, ground covers, and free-form shapes (I’ve seen 1 pruned into a swan shape and another into a giant basket).
I trained my “Barbara Karst” in Santa Barbara into an “umbrella tree”. Bougainvilleas are also a suitable bonsai plant and I’ve seen some beautiful specimens.
Bougainvillea does fine in containers but I’d recommend using 1 of the lowing growing varieties for this. The taller ones need a very large pot to accommodate the large root systems. A good organic potting soil with a good dose of compost mixed in would make this plant happy.
Interested in care? You can also read about How To Care For Bougainvillea In A Pot.
I’ve done a few posts on Pruning Bougainvilleas which you can find here on our website. I give mine their big pruning in late winter – this sets the tone for how I want them to grow and look throughout the season. I’ll do 2 or 3 lighter ones after each bloom cycle.
If you pinch the tender ends which are about to bloom, the show of color will be denser, & not all at the ends. You can see this in the photo below.
Bougainvillea blooms on new growth. You want to prune and pinch yours to bring on the flowering.
A word of warning: all bougainvilleas that I’ve come across have thorns so use caution when pruning. If you’re not careful, you can come out from a round of pruning looking like you’ve been in the lion cage!
I’m saving the best for last! These flowering machines will bloom year-round in warm climates. In a climate where the winters are cool, they’ll bloom for 9-10 months.
The tiny white centers are actually the flowers and the bracts (the colored leaves) are what give us those big shows of color. Bougainvilleas put out a big explosion of color, drop their bracts and then flower again.
The colors you can find bougainvilleas in are: white to yellow to gold to pink to magenta to reddish-purple. Some have 2-toned colors and variegated foliage too. Something for all; except you lovers of blue.
The color of bougainvillea can change after you plant it. This has to do with breeding. My bougainvilleas, all well established, will change color a bit as the season progress.
When the temps are cooler, the color is to be more intense. It’s early spring right now and the temps reach a high of around 80 here in Tucson. My bougainvilleas all have deeper colored flowers but will become less intense when it gets really hot. My “Rainbow Gold” has newer flowers which are orange and then they fade to pink.
If your Bougainvillea is growing in part sun, the color could be a bit off. The bottom line: the warmer the spot is where you have your bougainvillea and the more sun it’s in, the more bloom and color you’ll get.
Bougainvilleas take a little maintenance, mainly in the forms of pruning and the sweeping, but in my book are well worth it for their big shows of color. Carmen Miranda would approve! Are you a fan of bougainvilleas too?
Happy gardening & thanks for stopping by,
Enjoy Some Additional Gardening Guides!
- Things You Need To Know About Bougainvillea Plant Care
- Bougainvillea Pruning Tips: What You Need to Know
- Bougainvillea Winter Care Tips: Plus Answers To Your Questions
- How To Plant Bougainvillea To Grow Successfully
- What Is Eating My Bougainvillea Leaves?
- How To Care For & Grow Star Jasmine
- How To Grow Pink Jasmine Vine
- Organic Flower Gardening: Good Things To Know