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Bougainvillea: Care & Growing Tips for this Flowering Machine

Bougainvilleas are flowering machines. You can't beat them for an explosion of color. Here you'll find care & growing tips for bougainvillea.

close up of rose pink bougainvillea in full bloom. the text reads care & growing tips for bougainvillea: a flowering machine

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’ve done many posts and videos on this plant.  Here I’m straight up sharing care and growing tips for bougainvillea, a plant I have a lot of experience with.

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.

This video with care & growing tips for bougainvillea is long – I have a lot to tell you!

Care & growing tips for your Bougainvillea:

Exposure:

Bougainvillea needs at least 6 hours of full sun a day to flower profusely and look its best. This plant loves the heat too. No enough sun = not enough color. If you live where it’s borderline zones hardy (see zones below), planting a bougainvillea against a warm wall will help.

Hardiness:

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. 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. Remember, this is one plant that loves sun and heat!

Water:

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, be sure to give yours 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 plan on doing a post and video on how to plant bougainvillea so I’ll go into the topic of soil more in depth there.  Another result of too much water – more green growth and less flowers. No thank you, flowers please.

A long hedge of pink bougainvillea in full bloom growing along a sidewalk

This is what bougainvillea trained to grow as a hedge looks like.

Fertilizer:

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.

Pests:

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.

Transplanting:

I’m touching briefly on this subject here but I’ll 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 one. If you try it, just be as careful as possible.

A large pink bougainvillea in full bloom grows up & over a doorway  

Double the bougainvillea color show!

Training/Support:

The taller growing bougainvilleas need strong support and need to be trained and 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. 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”.  They’re also a suitable bonsai plant.

In Containers:

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.

Pruning:

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 and not all at the ends. 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!

A large deep pink bougainvillea glabra in full bloom grows up & across a gold garage  

My Bougainvillea glabra in Santa Barbara which I trained across the garage. 

A tall, pale pink bougainvillea grows against a white house  

As you can see, I’ve pruned my Bougainvillea “Rainbow Gold” here in Tucson much differently. 

Flowering:

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 (these are actually 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 the breeding.  My bougainvilleas, all well established, will change color a bit as the season’s progress. When the temps are cooler, the color seems to be more intense. 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.

close up of white bougainvillea mary palmer's enchantment in full bloom  This is Bougainvillea “Mary Palmer’s Enchantment”.  When the entire plant is covered in blooms, it looks like snow!

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,

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38 comments:

  1. Pingback: How To Plant Bougainvillea To Grow Successfully: The Most Important Thing To Know |

  2. Nell please make a video of gardenia shrub or trees. I have one indoors and I have no idea how to care for it, thanks

  3. Hello… I’ve got 2 bougainvillea’s that are 4 years old. I bought them in hanging baskets and the first year they were PROLIFIC all summer and into the fall. LOTS of blooms, thick, flowing nearly to the ground…. perfect!!! (note, I live in NE texas zone 8) The first winter, I did not bring them in and the cold weather got them pretty good. Year 2 the plants came back with leaves but VERY few flowers. I transplanted them into larger baskets (24 inch) before year 3 and same thing… foliage but virtually no flowers. The main stems are thick (1/2 inch) and very woody and “stringy and stiff”. This winter, they are in a greenhouse staying warm but they have both lost most leaves…. HERE’S MY QUESTION… If I prune them back this winter…. will that help them come back in the spring with new growth that will be “softer” and “flow” over the basket? I’d hate to lose them since they are mature now and are well established in the larger baskets…

  4. Hi Byrne – If bougainvilleas get hit hard by a cold spell, they’re slow to come back. Bougainvilleas don’t like to have their roots disturbed. If they have to be transplanted (not a good ideA), it’s best to do it grow pot & all. //www.joyusgarden.com/how-to-plant-bougainvillea-to-grow-successfully-the-most-important-thing-to-know/ Most bougainvilleas are deciduous or semi-deciduous at this time of year. I’d wait another month or so for the pruning. Some bougies grow more vigorously than others so it depends on your variety. The pruning will help encourage that new growth. Nell

  5. Nell, what a find to come across your utube videos and what really makes me happy is to find someone that has a passion and love for my absolute favorite flowering plant! I am so excited to learn as much as I possibly can about them. I live in Desert Hot Springs, CA 92241 and they are every where you look. I just love looking at them! They just give me so much joy when ever I see them! I don’t have any in my yard because my husband insisted not to have them, he always thought they were to messy. But I am like you and would think the clean up would be well worth it! I intend to have them in my yard since I am now by myself. I want to learm as much as I can before I buy some and my exciting new adventure begins. I’m not familiar with YouTube so I have no idea what the process is to join. Meaning the cost and just all of what I need to know about joining your site. Thank you Nell for all that you have done and for sharing your beautiful bougainvillea. I love them! Looking forward to hearing from you!

  6. Hi Gloria – Bougainvilleas are extremely popular so I think a lot of people agree with you & me. I call them a mess but a beautiful one. There are smaller bougainvilleas so you can look into starting with those. They do better in containers than the taller growing ones do. Youtube is free so watch any of the videos you’d like to. You just need to create an account 1st. I post videos on lots of other plants so be sure to check those out too. Thanks for stopping by! Nell

  7. I have transplanted bougainvilla successfully and not used the grow pot. Some large, some small. In fact one was dead, I thought. Inches high. I had nothing to lose. Dug a hole and stuck it in. It’s wonderful now. I live in Florida so perhaps this is just the perfect climate. We get a lot of rain in the summer, doesn’t seem to bother them. The sandy soil is their friend. Been cutting some back radically lately, I had some branches grow into a tree up to around 25 feet. I want the main plant to be focused in front of a fence ( nieghbor has 7 dogs, just don’t want to look at the mess).

  8. NELL FOSTER, What is the name of that flower/plant that you are holding?
    I really want to get some. I live in southern CA.
    thanks

  9. I had a Bougainvillea bush planted about a month ago. When it was planted it had lovely flowers blooming on it . About a week later, after a very windy time, the flowrts were blown off and it has not bloomed since then. I live in central FL. Temps not below 40, just windy. Wray can I do to get my tree to bloom?

  10. Hi Beth – That’s good to know; thanks for sharing. Your climate is much different from ours. And yes, a beautiful bougainvillea is much better to look at than the neighbor’s mess! Nell

  11. Hi Farrin – I don’t know what plant you’re talking about as I’m not holding any in the pics in this post. Wish I could help! Nell

  12. Hi Nell,
    I love bougainvillea but I live in zone 6 (NY) and I know they are not winter hardy here. I bought one in a small pot today and will keep it in for a few more weeks before planting it outdoors. Any advice for us shorter season folks who still love this plant?

  13. Hi Cynthia – Bougainvillea needs as much high light indoors as you can give it. Back off on the watering in the dry months & keep the plant on the dry side. If you plan on planting it outdoors, here’s something you should read 1st: //www.joyusgarden.com/how-to-plant-bougainvillea-to-grow-successfully-the-most-important-thing-to-know/ Nell

  14. Hi Nell, I belong to a club that sends freebees once in a while. I got a small bougainvillea today in the mail. I live in Northern Michigan and I’m not sure I should even plant it. What do you suggest? Thanks so much.

  15. Hi Gail –
    It depends on how much work you want to put into it! Bougainvilleas love sun & warm weather & to be kept on the drier side. You’ll definitely have to grow it in a container & bring it in in the colder months. If you don’t have high light somewhere in your house & warm summer months (75-80F plus) the bougainvillea most likely won’t do well. Nell

  16. Article is very informative. I live in Oxnard, CA
    Neighbors put up a 7′ concrete wall between our properties. on their side of the property. On my Esact side I was thinking of planting about three redwood planter with bougainvillea and place up against the wall to break up the monotony of the concrete However, their property is a 2 story and I question if it would get 6 hors of sun daily. Cooments?

  17. Hi Lee –
    Bougainvilleas need all day sun to look their best & flower. And, in the winter, there will be even less sun. If there isn’t enough sun, go with another plant choice. Nell

  18. Hi, will they stand indoor temperature with AC ?

  19. Hi Nell,

    am planning on buying a bougainvillea for the balcony, but am not sure if it can pass the summer in (Kuwait), consider the following:
    – June to August temperatures reach 122 day and 106 night.
    – balcony is in the 2 floor.
    – I have 6 hours of sunlight.
    – its going to be planted in a large pot.
    great site really appreciate it.

    Mohammed

  20. Hi Mohammed – Thank you; glad you found us. 122 for 3 months is hot. That being said, I live in Arizona & the summer temps in Phoenix are consistently 100 – 110 or so. Bougainvillea grows there. I live in Tucson where it’s slightly cooler. My bougainvilleas don’t bloom well in the heat. It should grow fine, but because it’s going to be planted in a big pot, use good soil. You’ll have to water it more often. Here’s a tip for planting it: //www.joyusgarden.com/how-to-plant-bougainvillea-to-grow-successfully-the-most-important-thing-to-know/ Nell

  21. Hi I love bougainvilleas and would like to plant several in my yard. I have no flower beds due to poor soil, my whole yard is hard pan. I live in Sacramento ca. I have recently put in concrete sidewalks with the intention of having large planters for greenery. Would bougainvilleasay do well in a pot and how large does it need to be?

  22. Hi Nivi – They love the warm summer & fall temps. I have no experience with growing bougainvilleas indoors with air conditioning. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be what they’d like or do well in. Nell

  23. Hi Jeanette – Yes, bougainvilleas do fine in containers. Over the years, the taller growing varieties will get pot bound. It’s hard to say how big the pot should be because I don’t know what varieties or species you’re planting. The bougainvilleas which get 3′ tall of course will do fine in a pot that’s much smaller than those which grow to be 25′ tall. If you buy both the bougies at a reputable garden center, they’ll be able to help you. Nell

  24. Hello,

    I snipped off some of the boungainvillea plant from my neighbor and put it in water. Hoping it will get roots and then I can plant it? Or should I just go and buy one? But I really like the color of the one that my neighbor has 🙂

  25. Can they handle being near brackish saltwater spray occasionally?

  26. In georgia, so have mine in a pot because have to bring it in during winter. Came back nicely this spring but now is wilting every afternoon.
    It has been about 88 degrees. But I thought they like heat. Any reasons for the wilting?

  27. I bought my bougainvillea in a hanging pot. It is on the patio where it gets sun. Lately the flowers are dropping looking faded. We have had a lot of rain as well as over 90 degree heat. What. Needs to be done to get it to bloom again?

  28. I live in zone 5, Kansas City. I bought a sad little Bougainvillea this spring. With the intense heat my north facing deck gets the plant is beautiful , blooming and growing. I’ve never had such luck with these plants and am heart broken thinking it will die when our weather changes and I bring it inside. Any ideas of how I can keep in alive in a Kansas winter?

  29. Hi Sapna – I’ve never propagated bougainvilleas because I’m way too impatient for that! I know someone who has & he did it successfully in medium rather than water. I believe he covered the cuttings with a glass cloche. If you buy one, here’s a post I did on that: //www.joyusgarden.com/how-to-plant-bougainvillea-to-grow-successfully-the-most-important-thing-to-know/ Nell

  30. Enjoying three beautiful coloured bougainvilleas, but would love to know when we should consider pruning them and if it’s OK to do this with a hedge cutter, rather than shears?

  31. I live in central minesota and habe 2 beautiful potted plants how successfully do they winter inside?

  32. It should be fine Carin; occasional spray won’t hurt them. If too much absorbs into the roots, it will. I lived in Santa Barbara, CA for 10 years & bougies grew along the ocean just fine. Nell

  33. Hi Heidi – I live in Tucson AZ where the temp is currently 102F & my bougies are looking fine. The wilting is probably due to too much or too little water. Nell

  34. Hi – Bougainvilleas can be tricky to grow indoors. They need high light, south or west exposure, with lots of sun. Keep the soil on the drier side & don’t fertilize. Nell

  35. hi Sandra – Bougainvilleas go through a period of rest after blooming before setting flowers again. My Barbara Karst is in that phase right now (mostly green) but I can see there are a lot of blooms setting. You can give it a light trim if you want because bougies bloom on new growth. Nell

  36. Hi, One shoot with enormous leaves, at least twice the size of the other leaves, has sprouted from my bougainvillea. What is this? Should I cut it off? Will it bloom? Thanks!

  37. Hi Louise – They can be pruned with hedge cutters because that’s what many commercial gardeners use. If they’re growing as a hedge, that would be fine & a way to keep them even. I always use pruners because I prefer the more natural & open look. It’s your choice! Nell

  38. They ca be tricky indoors Jerry. I only know 1 person who’s successfully over wintered 1 indoors but she has a sunroom. They need high light & lots of sun. Also, if you do try it, back off on the freqeuncy of the watering in the colder, darker months. Nell

  39. Hi Diana – Those are water shoots & should be taken off. You can read more about them here: //www.joyusgarden.com/check-bougainvilleas-october-tips-coming-way/ Nell

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