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How I Prune & Trim My Bougainvillea For Maximum Bloom

Check out my Bougainvillea glabra - it's huge & a riot of color. Here's how I prune & trim my bougainvillea for maximum & frequent bloom. This one is a show stopper!

close up of deep magenta pink bougainvillea in full bloom

My Bougainvillea glabra is a flowering machine.  It puts out a big show of magenta/purplish color off and on for 9 or 10 months out of the year.  It grows up and over my garage which sits at the end of a long, narrow driveway.  It gets a major “WOW” from anyone who sees it.  Here’s how I prune and trim my bougainvillea for maximum bloom.

The pruning that I do in January is the big one that sets the shape that my bougainvillea will be for the rest of the year.  I usually prune it all in 1 fell swoop, which takes about 5 hours.  But this year I didn’t start the pruning until the end of February, and because I was doing it in dribbles, I just finished it up this past weekend.  By the time I finished the pruning, it was already flowering away like crazy!

Here’s how I prune my bougainvillea for maximum bloom:

The video is full of info but here’s a break down of what I do:

* First of all, I make sure my pruners are clean & sharp.  For this job, I’ll use my Felco #2‘s, Fiskars Floral Snips & my Corona Long Reach Loppers.  Oh, I use a 6′ step ladder too.

* Thin out the plant by removing whole branches right back to the main trunk.  When it’s semi-deciduous in January, it may seem like you’re removing a lot, but believe me, it grows back like crazy.  I prune a lot away from the outside of the plant so I can get to the inside.

* Remove half of the undergrowth which has gotten shaded & “wimpy”.

*Remove the water shoots.  These do nothing for the plant at all.

* Shape it to how I want it to look.  It goes up 1 side of the garage & then all the way across.  I took an old metal trellis which was on the back of the house & had it attached to the middle of the garage just above the overhead door.  Bougainvillea does not attach itself (unlike jasmine, trumpet vine, morning glory, etc) so I had to train & attach it.

* Most of the branches that remain I take back by a half or tip prune , depending on their length.  This is what brings the denseness of color to my bougie.  You see, bougainvilleas bloom on new growth so the more you tip them, the more color you’ll get.  Tip pruning, in case you don’t know, is the removal of the soft new growth by 1-6″.  You can even do this with your fingernails if it’s easier.

deep magenta pink bougainvillea in full bloom grows up & over a garage

This bougie runs up & over my garage.

I’ll do 4 more lighter prunings throughout the warm season, ending in early December.  My bougainvillea is a riot of color and yours can be too.  Just remember, tip pruning (you’ll see the technique in the video) is one of the keys to this dense show of flowers.  It’s my own floral fiesta!

Here’s another post I did on bougainvilleas, video included of course: The Secrets Of Bougainvillea, Sharing Everything I Know.

close up of a deep magenta pink bougainvillea that has been tip pruned

Tip pruning is another term for pinching by the way. 
close up of a massive deep magenta pink bougainvillea in full bloom
Another pic just cause it’s so purdy!

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46 comments:

  1. Love this video, congrats!
    This Bougainvillea species is native from Brazil and very large shrub here too.Love it!
    Best wishes!
    Miriam

  2. Thank you Miriam, I appreciate your comment! Ah, beautiful Brazil … it’s very fitting that a beautiful plant would be native to such a beautiful country. glad you enjoyed the video. Best, Nell

  3. Hello there I come across your page. And I have been looking for this bougainvillea plant. I really love this ….
    I want to get one. Quick question do you have some for sale.
    Thank you.
    Bee
    713 366 6207

  4. Hi Bee – We don’t sell bougainvilleas but depending on where you live, your local garden center might have them. You can also find them for sale online from various sources but the plants will be small. Hope that helps! Nell

  5. Hi Nell! It’s June in Claremont, Ca (91711) and my container bougainvillea has flowers but very little green and or new growth. Do I need to fertilize with nitrogen to promote growth?

  6. Hi June – Greetings from Santa Barbara! Since bougainvillea blooms on new growth, you do have new growth. If they’re newly planted, they may just be getting going. I’ve never fertilized my bougies at all & haven’t supplementally watered mine in at least 2 years. Both are doing great but then again they’re in the ground. I’d lay off on the high nitrogen fertilizer because they like it balanced or higher in the last 2 numbers (P & K). I’d try a good dose of organic compost &/or worm castings before I’d use fertilizer & see if that does it. Hope that helps! Nell

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  9. Oh wow that really helps me a lot. My B is new. We live in Chiangmai, Thailand and purchased a potted B which is grafted so it has the pink blossoms like yours but also orange, yellow and purple.

    The blossoms are done and it looks so ratty. I thought it was going to die but after seeing your gorgeous tree and how it looks when it’s not in bloom I think ours will be just fine.

    I just pruned it back a bit (it’s not huge so there’s not as much to prune) but I did what I could.

  10. Hi Aleesha – If it’s any consolation, a couple of my bougies are looking a bit ratty now too. It’s in reaction to the cooler winter temps. & lower light levels. Also, after they put out a big bloom, I’ve found that quite a bit of the foliage drops too. I think it’s a reaction to using so much energy to bloom. I’d leave it be & see what it does after a year or 2. It can take a bit of time for them to establish, but once they do, they take off like crazy. Nell

  11. We are Az Snowbirds here in Yuma 5 months out of the yr. I have bougies growing along a 6 ft brick wall. They about 7 ft tall and I did not prune them in Nov like I usually do since they did not bloom much until Mar each yr. I left them tall and wanted to know can I prune them back before leaving in April but they will not have water again until Nov. Is that too much of a shock for them?

  12. Hi Jack – I never supplementally watered that big bougainvillea when I lived in Santa Barbara & we had quite a few years with very little rain. I pruned it year round but SB is nowhere near as hot as Yuma. If your bougainvilleas are well established (been planted over 5 years) then they should be fine. Don’t do a heavy pruning & be sure to give them a few good, deep waterings before you leave. Nell

  13. Hi! We’re in Los Angeles, and my landlord’s gardener just cut our bougainvillea bush back about 2 feet in all directions, so it’s just an 8′ diameter ball of bare branches and twigs. How long do you think it will be before it starts producing new growth and leaves? Thanks!

  14. Hi Pixie – Oh dear, the gardener should have thinned it out too. Bougainvillea grows fastest when the temps warm & the sun gets strong. You should see new growth appearing very soon, depending on the temps. Plus, you’ve had a nice amount of rain in SoCal this year. Nell

  15. Thanks a lot for this! So inspiring to see this beautiful Bougainvillea in bloom.

    Question: thinning out the plant by removing whole branches, does that mean that new shoots will come off of the main branch later on? I usually think out branches but leave a node or two on that branch so new growth can sprout from there.

  16. Hi Abdulla – You’re very welcome! I start by thinning out the woody branches. When the new, soft growth appears I sometimes tip prune a bit of that to control the growth. And yes, you want that new growth to sprout because that’s where the flowering comes from. The bougainvilleas at my new home are all starting to flower so I’ll be doing a post & video on them in the next month or 2. Nell

  17. Hi Nell, your bougainvillea is GORGEOUS! I purchased a couple of bougainvillea flowers from a local nursery. They are attached to a trellis and planted in 6 inch pots. I really want them to thrive. I live in Ohio and we can have some cold winters. I would like to go ahead and put them in pots. What size pot should I choose? I plan to bring them in the garage or inside during the winter. I hope they survive because they are beautiful and hard to find in my area.

  18. Oh thank you Allison! I’ve since sold that house & moved to a different state so I hope the new owner is keeping up with it. Bougainvilleas don’t like to be transplanted (read a recent post: https://www.joyusgarden.com/how-to-plant-bougainvillea-to-grow-successfully-the-most-important-thing-to-know/). 6″ plants are small so to plant it in a 28″ pot would look out of scale. You could go with a 12″- 16″ pot & then just sink that pot in a new pot if you ever have to go larger. Nell

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  20. I inherited bougainvillea at my husbands house. I didn’t know what it was and kept cutting it back to it’s trunk (approximately 10 inches in diameter). We recently installed a fence with lattice and I’d like to grow it out and train it through the lattice. But I am not sure what to do to encourage it now that I have been cutting it back so much!
    Should I water it?
    Leave it alone?

    Thanks,
    Kindra

  21. Hi – Bougainvilleas, once they’re that established, rarely need supplemental irrigation. They prefer infrequent, deep waterings rather than shallow, frequent ones. Let it get going (you’ll see it put out a lot of growth once the weather starts to warm) & then start to train it. Nell

  22. Hi, my buganvillea are 5 months old planted on the ground. When do I fertilize or prune them. Thank you Sandra

  23. Hi Sandra – I never fertilize any of my bougainvilleas. I compost them in late winter/early spring. As to pruning, I do it 3 times a year with the heaviest 1 in mid-winter. Nell

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  25. Is it best to prune inthe morning or early evening or does it matter.?I live in Mexico, Cabo San Lucas

  26. Hi Debby – I’ve pruned many Bougainvilleas at all times of the day & it doesn’t seem to matter. I avoid pruning in hot temps & strong sunshine because it’s easier on me, & most likely the plant too! Nell

  27. Hi, I recently bought a grafted bouganvilla tree with two colors. I planted it in the ground but am not sure of the best way to care for it. Do I keep winding the new growth around the trained shape? How do you prune it? Won’t the inside of the domed shape eventually get woody and old and need to be pruned? I am new to this plant.

    Thank you ,

    Ann

  28. Hi Ann – Bougainvilleas have a vigorous growth habit so you’ll need to keep on the pruning. Any plant in a standard form should be periodically thinned out on the inside. If you want it on the wilder side, you can be a little more gentle on the pruning. Just remember: bougies bloom on new growth, so you don’t want to keep it scalped. Nell

  29. Thanks so much for this, Nell! Really helpful and easy to find on the web.

    Spouse and I moved to Phoenix in October, and our house is ringed with ~2-yr-old scarlet bougies (the same color the state of AZ uses for highway plantings). I’ve disciplined them only a little so far, so I especially appreciate your tips about new growth and seasonality. We’ve had a warm, dry fall and winter so far, and they’re still pretty though a little restrained. I’m going to try letting them dry out this coming summer with the rare, deep watering you recommend.

    I only wish we didn’t have to bag up the clippings and put them in our (huge) trash container — no green/composting pickup service in our area yet.

    Thank you for making the world — and my yard — a more beautiful place!

  30. Susan,
    I now live in Tucson (Hi neighbor!) & have 4 bougainvilleas at my new home. I’ve done pruning & training on mine a few times.The scarlet one you have is probably Barbara Karst – it’s commonly sold here in AZ because it’s very floriferous. Thanks for visiting our site! Nell

  31. Hi!
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Love your videos too.
    I’m from Toronto, Canada. I purchased an 8 yr old potted Bougainvillea in the summer and it was doing well until winter. I keep it indoors. I guess it lost lots of foliage due to lack of sun and cooler weather. There are parts of thicker/older branches that have pretty much lost its leaves. About 13-16″ of the branch is empty and the tip of it started growing back. Is there a way or will the leaves ever grow back in that area?

    Another question, my B wasn’t blooming forever so I fertilised it and within a few weeks it started blooming. New growth was only about an inch or two then the branches would stop growing longer but the flowers would continue to bloom. Why wont the branch continue to grow? I’m afraid I’ll burn off the tips of the areas that ARE still growing if I fertilise it again to push for more flowers.

    Would appreciate your advice!!!

    Thank you!

    Nancy

  32. Hi Nancy – 3 of my 4 bougies growing outdoors here in Tucson are loosing their leaves due to the cooler weather. It’s normal. Also, they can loose their leaves when growing in pots & moved to a new location. You should see new growth emerging when the weather warms & the sun intensifies. If you’re growing it indoors year round, you certainly won’t see a lot of new growth. Bougainvilleas love sun & heat. Nell

  33. Bless you for taking the time to instruct us!! Mine is new to me, indoor plan passed down just 5 mos. ago.
    I’m following your guidelines. Thanks Kathy

  34. Of course Kathy, my pleasure! They can be a little trickier to grow indoors so just give it as much light as possible. Here’s our bougainvillea category with more: https://www.joyusgarden.com/categories/#bougainvillea Nell

  35. Thank you! I have almost NO gardening experience and have one bougainvillea that has survived my neglect but want to add some trellis to the house and work on pruning and shaping and training it. My dog dug up the companion one due to the bone meal I had added to the dirt it was in…hmmm…I look forward to more posts:-)

  36. You’re very welcome Janis! I shaped & worked with my bougainvillea in Santa Barbara until they got to be beautiful. Now I’m working on my bougies here in Tucson. Yes, dogs & cats love bone & blood meal! Nell

  37. Hi Nell,

    Great article! I could use your help with a query:

    I recently bought a few bougainvillea plants in pots. They are grown plants that were already blooming. One of them is shedding flowers like crazy – I haven’t really watered this one since I got it three days ago- mainly cause I can’t reach the soil because the plant is so big and covers the soil completely. It’s about 27 degrees and usually windy where I am at and the plant is on my balcony. Is shedding of flowers normal or am I doing something wrong? The plant has access to sunlight but I wonder if it’s in more shade now than it was used to. Thanks a lot for your help!

  38. Thank you Shruti. I’m not sure if you mean Celsius or Fahrenheit but I’m assuming C because bougies are sensitive to the cold. It could be shedding because it’s too cold (if it’s F), adjusting to its new home, the wind, or too dry or too wet. They need a good amount of sunlight each day to put on a good bloom. Nell

  39. Your really know your stuff!! Your Bougainvillea’s are gorgeous! I bought a house in August (6 months ago) in Central Florida (9b)with Bougainvillea’s being used a hedge. It looks like half of the plants has a disease, or a fungus.It also has some flowers, but not alot. I’m new to gardening, where do I start??? Thanks!

  40. Hi MaryAnne – I’ve been around bougainvilleas a lot! You could have leaf spot or a fungus from the leaves staying damp due to the humidity & the fact it’s growing densely as a hedge. Best thing to do is thin it out & let the air in so it can circulate. The lack of flowers could be due to the fact the bougies have been constantly trimmed into a hedge, not allowing them to flower. Also, many varieties don’t flower much in the cooler months. Nell

  41. Hello! My bougainvillea sits in the ground of a small sunroom. It was beautiful before I bought my home. Now it just takes over. I’ve considered taking it out. Can you suggest how to contain it, for maximum bloom?
    Also, my mother has asked me to start a trimming for her. Should I just keep it in water? I’ve never had much luck with plants, so I am clueless. I’d appreciate any advice you have to offer.

  42. Hi Rosa – Any pruning you do on a bougainvillea will stimulate new growth. They flower on new growth so that’s what we want. They grow back quite densely so thin it out a bit 1st & then take it back. Giving it a blunt cut will cause it to become a blob. You can continue to trim it throughout the summer to keep it in check. Take a softwood cutting about 3-6″ from the tip, dip it in rooting hormone & place in a light mix like propagation mix. Spray the cuttings to keep slightly moist but never too wet. Nell

  43. I live in central Austin, Texas. Just moved from San Diego. My Bougies in SD thrived (planted in the ground). Here Austin they’re not doing well (planted in a pot). Could be because i placed the plant under a patio? IT gets some direct sunlight (1-2 hours), and the rest is filtered light. There’s some new leaves growing, but all the bright flowers it had when I bought it a month ago is gone.

  44. Hi Alyson – I’m assuming you bought new bougainvilleas when you moved to Austin. Yes, bougainvillea need full sun, or at least 5 hours of it, to do well. The flower drop could be due to lower light levels, transplant shock or it’s just going through its normal bloom cycle. And, be sure to protect it from freezing temps. Nell

  45. Hi Nell,
    I’ve recently invested in a large bougainvillea shaped as an ornamental size tree, The company that planted it said to water deeply until established. How do I know when to slow down the watering? I’m afraid it’s getting over watered. Also I’m in Central Florida and the rainy season has started.
    Your advice is much appreciated.
    Jane

  46. Just bought my first Bougainvillea and its gorgeous! I’m in the heart of Deep East Texas and I remember my grandmother and great grandmother growing them into monster plants!!! The butterflies, bees and hummingbirds were everywhere.

  47. Hi Jane – More infrequent deep waterings are better than frequent shallow waterings when it comes to bougainvilleas. Depending on the rain/temperature situation, I would back off on the deep waterings after 6-12 months. I gardened for years in California & now in Arizona so the rain situation where you are is different. Let the rains take care of the watering now. It takes 2-4 years for a bougainvillea to establish. Nell

  48. Oh yes Sabrina; the hummingbirds & butterflies sure love the bougainvilleas. Plants bring back memories & that’s a wonderful thing too! Nell

  49. Nell thank you so much for your video and constant input on all things Bougainvilleas.
    I have an absolutely beautiful bougainvillea over my garage. I bought the home from a couple that successfully grew her.
    I am however planning on painting the home a slightly different color. I absolutinly do not want to remove or relocate her, but wanted to get your input on how to paint my home around her. Do I perform a very aggressive “Pruning”; how long will it take for her to grow back?

    Many thanks
    David Irizarry

  50. Hi David – I assume the bougainvillea is about 20?? You can aggressively prune it but will take some time to grow back to how it was. Training will take a while but not knowing how big it is, how old it is or where you are, it’s hard to give an exact figure. Nell

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