Bougainvillea – How to Grow and Care for This Tropical Flower
Bougainvilleas climbing plants come in a vast variety of colors, including purple, pink, orange, and red. Bougainvillea has flowers that resemble colored tissue paper, hence the nickname Paper Flower. There are over 250 varieties of this plant, with some known to be very large climbers while others are dwarfs that only grow to a meter in height. Bougainvilleas thrive in hot climates, hence their popularity in the tropics and the subtropics as well as in hot European countries like Spain.
Bougainvillea Quick Overview
|Origin||Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Florida, and southern Europe.|
|Scientific Name||Bougainvillea spectabilis|
|Hardiness zone||9b to 11|
|Fertilizer||half-strength liquid fertilizer is required weekly from spring to early fall.|
|Max growth||up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) if not pruned regularly.|
|Poisonous for||the sap of the plant is mildly toxic to humans and animals.|
|Light||at least 6 hours of full, direct sun is required daily for the plant to bloom.|
|Watering||use room temperature water and water thoroughly.|
|Temperature||should never be exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.|
|Soil||the plant prefers a light, porous mix.|
|Humidity||low rainfall and direct sunlight. In the winter, grow inside using a humidity tray.|
|Propagation||3 to 4 inch tip trims during the growing season.|
|Pests||slugs, snails, bacterial and fungal leaf spot, phids, and scale insects.|
|Recommended Plant Species/Variations||dwarf varieties, such as ‘Helen Johnson’.|
Other Common Bougainvillea Varieties
The thornless varieties of bougainvillea, such as Miss Alice, are known for their white clusters of flowers and moderate growing habit. Miss Alice can grow up to 2 feet in height and is mainly used to cover the ground. The leaves are long and dark green.
Yellow Glory is a fast growing vine that is ideal for the outdoors. Its huge clusters of yellow flowers are perfect for any landscape. And because its branches are thick and long, it’s well suited for climbing the garden wall or a trellis. This bougainvillea variety can grow 30 feet in height and up to 10 feet wide so it needs plenty of room to spread itself out.
The semi-dwarf variety originates from Europe and is characterized by its deep purple color. The leaves are rounded and light green. Just as the name suggests, this variety only reaches up to 4 feet in height and the same in width.
Bougainvillea Grow and Care Instructions
Bougainvilleas are tough and drought-resistant plants but at their early stages of growth, they can get damaged by frost or their leaves may fall off. If the plant isn’t subjected to more frosts, it will regrow. The optimum temperature for these flowers are 70-85 degrees fahrenheit during the day, and 60-70 degrees fahrenheit at night. Bougainvilleas are drought-tolerant and grow well in warm climates.
During the flowering and growth phase, a bougainvillea requires regular watering whenever it’s dried out on the surface. Don’t be surprised if it dries out every day during warm summer days. On those occasions, water the roots directly using lime-free water. If the plant is in a pot, after 5 minutes of continuous watering, pour out the excess water. Reduce the amount of water you give to your bougain from early fall to prevent root rot.
For optimal results, place the plant in full sun. Bougainvilleas need at least 5 hours of full sunlight for good blooming. The more direct sun they get the better. If they get less than 5 hours of light exposure a day, they may not bloom at all. If your bougainvilleas are in partial shade, they will not grow or bloom as well as they would in full sunlight. The plants will more than likely not flower indoors so if possible, keep them outdoors and provide them with maximum sun exposure.
Soil and drainage
Any good quality soil with adequate drainage will suffice. It’s important not to immerse the roots in puddles of water and ensure the drainage holes aren’t clogged. The most active growth season is during summer and early fall so with good quality soil and generous watering, the bougainvillea flowers will thrive.
Bougainvilleas are low-maintenance plants when it comes to their nutrient needs. You can fertilize them when they’re in bloom from mid spring to early fall on a weekly basis using good quality liquid fertilizer. Stop the fertilizing supply from October to March. Note: never put the fertilizer directly on dried soil. It’s best to water the plant first before adding liquid fertilizer. It should contain a balanced amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to promote healthy growth. Use slow-release fertilizers as too much nitrogen can result in excessive vegetation growth instead of flowers.
Bougains love high humidity, especially when they’re about to bloom. Always aim for around 50% humidity level for best results. Maintain the humidity level by spraying the plant’s leaves with cool mists of water. In winter, use a humidifier or a humidity tray if keeping the plant indoor.
Repotting must be done in spring after the pot size has reached its maximum capacity for the plant. When repotting, cut off an inch or two of the outer root ball. Make sure the root ball is wet before repotting it as the roots won’t hold out very well if dry. The pot you choose must be larger than the previous one. Bougains generally bloom best when they’re in an adequately-sized pot.
To keep the plant within the desired bounds, prune it as many times as you like. This can be done by pinching the tips of the young plant to encourage faster growth. After it has flowered, you can prune the branches severely all the way to the edge of the pot or basket and remove the weak or thin branches. Note: the more pruned the plant, the more beautiful it will look as a decorative feature.
Every trim of bougainvillea provides you with lots of additional plants. With a little patience and regular cuttings, you will be able to grow further bougainvilleas during the entire propagation phase. Propagation a young plant works just as effectively as the mother plant as long as the shoot tips are non-blossoming with a length of 10-15cm. Simply cut underneath the idle bud and immerse it into rooting powder. Make sure the lower half of the leaves is removed. Important note: propagation should be done before the plant starts blooming.
Where and When to Plant
The location of the plant needs to be where warm and intense sun can reach it in order for the plant to lavishly blossom. In a pot, the balcony will be an ideal place, and in the garden, make sure you plant it under the direct sun. The bougainvillea needs to be out in the fresh air and the planting can be done any time from end of spring to beginning of fall so it can fully flourish. Remember that the warmer the location you choose, the more intense the flowers will be.
Bougainvilleas should be planted on heights or hillsides, not on low grounds as they can get waterlogged. They will grow best when they have enough space to spread out so consider planting them in an area that provides them with full sun exposure for at least 5 hours a day. Without adequate sunlight, a bougainvillea will not flower, but if you live in an extremely hot climate, it would be helpful to provide the plant with some shade in the afternoon.
How to Plant
When planting the vine, make sure it’s on a warm and sunny day. Just as you would plant a shrub, simply dig a hole that’s at least twice as wide as the root ball of the plant. Turn over the soil on the bottom of the hole and make sure there is adequate drainage. A bougainvillea doesn’t like getting water logged as its roots will rot.
Use a rich and high-quality soil that’s well drained, with a ratio of 1/3 organic compost to native soil of 2/3. Keep an extra layer of compost on top for optimal results.
If you are planting in a pot, use potting soil with a compost ratio of 1/4. Most potting soils already contain compost in them. Again, leave an extra layer of the compost on top. Remember that you will need to water your potted bougainvillea more often than if it were in the ground. It’s often the dwarf varieties that are better suited for growing in pots.
The shrubs of bougainvilleas have fibrous and delicate root systems so take care when planting. Don’t loosen the roots and make sure the hole in the soil is wide enough to accommodate the roots and allow maximum growth space.
For detailed instructions on how to grow and care for your bougainvillea, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlaB_bvBLP8.
Common Problems and Pests
Bougainvilleas are generally pest and disease resistant, but they can be troubled by snails, slugs, spider mites, and aphids. Pests, such as mites and caterpillars tend to get attracted to the plant in cool, wet weather. To keep them healthy and protected from pests, keep the area around the plant as dry as possible with maximum air flow.
Why won’t my bougainvillea bloom? It may be because the plant is not getting adequate sunlight. Bougainvilleas usually bloom after the dry season. If yours still hasn’t bloomed after winter, allow the plant to go completely dry before watering it. Do this for a few weeks before feeding it with fertilizer. Water the plant daily but not too much. It should start blooming again within a month.
Are bougainvilleas evergreen? Yes. Bougainvillea is classed as evergreen because it keeps its leaves all-year-round in mild climates.
Do bougainvilleas bloom throughout the year? It depends on where they are located and the climate. These plants will typically start blooming from mid spring to late fall, with the heaviest bloom-time being in April and November. In the subtropics, on the other hand, Bougainvilleas flower all-year-round.
How quickly do bougainvilleas grow? These plants are among the fastest growing tropical plants that can grow up to 36 inches every year.
When is the best time to transplant my bougainvillea? While you can transplant a bougainvillea in winter as long as it is protected from frost, the most recommended time is in spring.
Are bougainvilleas poisonous to dogs and humans? If your dog eats bougainvillea, seek veterinary advice as the plant can be mildly toxic to animals. That said, most pets won’t have a problem around this plant as long as the thorns don’t prick them. The sap of Bougainvillea can cause diarrhea in humans if ingested in large amounts. If the plant’s sharp thorns come into contact with the skin, they can cause an allergic reaction or a skin rash.
Why is my bougainvillea turning yellow? Too little water or too much can cause a bougainvillea to turn yellow. Frost can also be the cause so it’s best to move your potted bougainvillea indoors during winter. When watering, water the plant thoroughly and wait until its soil is dry before watering it again. Yellowing can also be a sign of excessive watering, too little sunlight, or insect damage. Another common cause could be nutrient deficiencies that turn the leaves yellow.
No matter which bougainvillea variation you choose to grow in a pot, hanging basket, or in your garden, by following our tips and instructions on how to grow and care for this plant, you can be sure of enjoying its beautiful flowers every year. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below, and don’t forget to share this article with other plant growing enthusiasts!