With its vibrant blooms draping fences and climbing walls, bougainvillea brings incredible color to warm climates. Adding these iconic vines can transform outdoor spaces into floral masterpieces. Bougainvillea care is straightforward when you understand their requirements. Follow this in-depth guide to successfully grow vibrant bougainvillea and cultivate an eye-catching display.
An Introduction to Bougainvillea
Native to South America, bougainvillea are thorny vines filled with papery bracts that come in a rainbow of colors. Technically the colorful parts are not the flowers, but modified leaves or bracts that surround small, white tubular flowers. These bracts can be magenta, purple, red, orange, yellow, white, and variations. Different varieties mix multiple colors for unique effects.
With their lush vines and brilliant colors, bougainvilleas have become garden staples across warm regions. They lend a tropical flair while tolerating heat and drought once established. Bougainvillea can be grown in gardens as vines, bushes, tree-forms, in containers, and indoors in colder climates. Provide full sun and well-drained soil for the most prolific flowering.
Choosing a Planting Site
Proper placement is key to success with bougainvillea. Consider the following factors when choosing a location:
Bougainvillea thrive in full sun – the more sun, the more blooms. Select a site with a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day. Areas with morning sun tend to produce better flowering. Too much shade will mean sparse blooms.
Allow plenty of room for growth depending on the variety. Vigorous vines need 10-15 feet between plants. More compact bush types need 4-6 feet between plants. Position containers 2-3 feet apart.
Consider available supports like trellises, arbors, and fences when choosing locations. The structures provide anchors for vines to climb up vertically.
Well-drained soil is essential to prevent root rot. Improve drainage in heavy clay soils by mixing in compost. Container planting allows control over soil quality.
Good airflow discourages fungal diseases and pests. Avoid planting in tight spots surrounded by buildings or structures on all sides.
Selecting the optimal planting site sets your bougainvillea up for success from the start and makes maintenance easier long-term.
How to Plant Bougainvillea
Spring planting once the threat of frost has passed gives bougainvillea’s roots time to establish before winter arrives. Container-grown plants can be planted in summer in very warm zones. Follow these steps for planting success:
Dig a Hole
Dig a hole twice the width and about as deep as the nursery container. The loosened soil improves drainage and makes it easy for roots to expand.
Mix some compost or organic material into the soil removed from planting holes to improve fertility and moisture retention.
Remove from Container
Turn pot upside down, massaging lightly to loosen. Or untangle roots if root bound. Check for circling roots and straighten or trim if needed.
Place in Hole
Set the plant in the hole at the same level it grew in the pot. Ensure the root crown sits right at ground level, not planted too deep.
Refill the hole with amended soil, firming the soil around the root ball to eliminate air pockets. Create a watering well edge around plants.
Water slowly and deeply immediately after planting and daily for a week until established. Add mulch to help retain moisture.
Follow proper planting techniques and your bougainvillea will take off quickly when growing season arrives.
Caring for Bougainvillea Vines
While quite drought tolerant when mature, bougainvillea benefit from attentive care when first planted:
Establish regular deep watering to encourage root growth the first year. Always allow soil to dry between waterings. Avoid constant soggy soil.
Feed with a balanced fertilizer when growth starts in spring and again mid-summer. Excess nitrogen results in foliage instead of blooms.
Prune lightly immediately after flowering finishes to shape vines and promote new growth. For overgrown plants, rejuvenate by hard pruning in winter.
Train vines along supports, tying main canes loosely in place. Bush types require little training once initially shaped. Remove dead or damaged stems at any time.
Monitor for aphids, mealybugs, scales and caterpillars. Use horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps to prevent major pest damage on young plants. Pick off caterpillars by hand to limit infestations.
With attention to sun, water, fertilizer, pruning and pest prevention, your bougainvillea will flourish season after season.
How to Maximize Bougainvillea Blooms
Bougainvillea will bloom naturally but follow these tips for heavier, more vibrant flowering:
Plant in the sunniest location possible and avoid too much shade. Morning sun is ideal for encouraging prolifically blooming vines.
Use a balanced fertilizer and avoid excessive nitrogen which creates more leaves at the expense of flowers.
Infrequent Deep Watering
Established plants tolerate drought conditions. Allow soils to partially dry between waterings to stress roots mildly and initiate budding. Don’t overdo it.
Limit radical pruning which removes flowering wood until plants are mature. Then prune hard annually to stimulate new growth.
Loosen Root-Bound Plants
If pot-bound, loosen roots before replanting and prune growth by 1/3 to invigorate plants.
Use trellises, walls, arbors, etc. to support vines rather than letting them sprawl on the ground. Good airflow and light penetration promote blooms.
Follow these tips and your bougainvillea will reward you with an abundance of brilliant bracts year after year.
Bougainvillea Varieties to Grow
With so many varieties offering unique colors and growth habits, choosing bougainvillea can be challenging. Here are some top picks:
- Vivid red bracts on very vigorous growing vines.
- Prolific bloomer ideal for bold color impact.
- Handles cooler zones down to USDA Zone 7.
- Sunset shades of orange and gold bracts.
- Ideal for growing up walls and structures.
- Adds bright warmth to landscapes.
- Two-tone orange and yellow variegated bracts.
- Compact shrub-like habit perfect for containers.
- Prolific repeat bloomer.
- Brightest orange bracts on thornless vines.
- The most cold hardy orange variety.
- Great for training up supports.
- Long lasting bright purple bracts all season.
- Bushy habit makes a nice flowering hedge.
- Thrives in hot and humid summer climates.
Mix and match different bract colors to create your own vibrant landscape canvas.
Bougainvillea Care Tips
Follow these essential care guidelines for healthy, thriving bougainvillea:
- Select a variety suitable for your climate and landscape needs.
- Give vines and bushes sufficient space to grow and climb without being crowded.
- Water thoroughly only when the top few inches of soil become dry. Avoid constant soggy soil.
- Trim back errant shoots to train growth and maintain desired shape.
- Use trellises, fences or walls to support vigorous varieties as they climb skyward.
- Watch for common pests like aphids, mealybugs, and caterpillars and treat early.
- Bring container plants indoors or under shelter in case of frost or freezing weather.
- Rejuvenate overgrown plants by hard pruning in winter or early spring before growth resumes.
With proper care focused on its basic needs, bougainvillea generously rewards your efforts with ostentatious color in the garden.
In cooler climates, bougainvillea must be overwintered indoors or treated as annuals. To successfully overwinter container plants:
- Bring pots inside well ahead of frost, ideally when overnight temps drop near 60°F.
- Place in the sunniest indoor location possible or provide full spectrum grow lights.
- Prune plants back hard in fall, leaving just 2-3 nodes per cane to stimulate new growth.
- Water sparingly over winter, allowing soil to dry between waterings but not completely desiccate.
- Stop fertilizing and limit repotting during dormancy. Simply keep plants alive on minimum care.
- Monitor for pests like whiteflies that thrive indoors and treat promptly.
- Set plants back outside after final spring frost once night temperatures remain above 55°F.
With some simple preparation, you can keep containerized bougainvillea alive through winter ready to resume flowering the following season.
Showstopping Bougainvillea Will Transform Your Garden
Few plants can match the majestic floral displays bougainvillea produce in warm climates. Their vibrant colors and abundant blooms bring gardens to life. Match varieties to your specific conditions for success. Give bougainvillea what they need – full sun, well-drained soil, space to grow, and an occasional deep watering – and they will flourish with minimal care required. Soon these beloved vines will be draping fences and climbing trellises in your yard, attracting attention from both people and pollinators. Dazzling bougainvillea blooms are sure to make your landscape shine!