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How to Grow: Bougainvillea
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Blooms on and off almost year round
Mature Height x Spread
Depending on the species can be 3 feet to 30 feet tall and wide.
Bougainvillea are vine-like shrubs that produce an abundance of colorful blooms almost year round in USDA zones 9 to 11. They are a “go-to” landscape plant in many California, Arizona, Texas and Florida yards. Although the many bougainvillea can grow to 30 feet tall and wide, newer dwarf versions keep the shrub a more manageable 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. The papery flowers come in colors such as red, white, yellow, orange, purple, bi-color and pink. The leaves are green or variegated. When grown in full sun in a warm climate, bougainvillea will bloom profusely, making quite a show.
Not only are they nice landscape plants, they can be pruned and trained to climb a trellis or pergola, trimmed into an informal hedge and grown in containers. Their versatility, ease of growing and ability to keep flowering makes them a favorite.
When, Where and How to Plant
Plant bougainvillea in spring or early summer so the plant can get established before the cold weather of fall and winter. Plant in a full sun, protected location. Bougainvillea don’t grow well when temperatures go below 60F or above 100F. If you’re growing them in a very hot climate, plant where they’ll get some afternoon shade from the hot sun. Plant on well-drained soil. Avoid wet soils that can cause root rot.
Plant nursery bought shrubs in a hole dug three times the diameter of the root ball. Remove the plant from the pot and wash off the potting soil revealing the root system. Prune off any circling or errant roots and plant, adding water and the native soil to the hole. Bougainvillea likes a slightly acidic pH soil, so add sulfur if needed to keep the pH between 5 and 6. Keep well watered until established.
Bougainvillea doesn’t need a lot of water or fertilizer to grow well. Once established only water when the soil is dry to 3 inches deep. Bougainvillea is very drought tolerant. Fertilize lightly starting in spring and every few months through the growing season. Too much fertilizer or rich soil will stimulate the shrub to grow lots of shoots and few flowers.
If planting bougainvillea near a trellis or pergola, train the branches up the posts and attach them to the posts with Velcro plant ties. Bougainvillea will not attach itself to vertical supports like a grape vine, so they will need help climbing.
Dwarf bougainvillea varieties are especially adapted to container growing. Plant in a container one size larger than the root ball. Fill the pot with moistened potting soil and keep well watered the first year.
Bougainvillea grows rampantly and can quickly become unruly. Prune after it finishes blooming for the season to keep the plant in bounds and stimulate more flowering. Bougainvillea bloom on new wood, so prune to stimulate the growth of new branches. Wear gloves. Some gardeners will get a rash on their skin from bougainvillea stems and leaves. Also, some varieties have thorns, making them dangerous to work around.
In containers, water and fertilize plants more frequently than plants in the ground. In colder climates bring potted bougainvillea outdoors in early summer once the weather warms until fall. Overwinter the shrub indoors in a sunny window and reduce watering.
Companion Planting and Design
Bougainvillea is a showy shrub all by itself. Plant it near the house, in the lawn or along a fence or wall and enjoy the endless flower display.
Bougainvillea also can grow well with other plants. Pair the color of the bougainvillea flowers with the perennial plants. For purple bougainvillea select yellow perennials such as coreopsis and rudbeckia. For orange and pink bougainvillea, select blue flowered Veronica and salvia. For yellow varieties, pair with purple alstroemerias. For white bougainvillea, try black mondo grass or dark leaf colored coral bells.
Leave potted bougainvillea by themselves in a container and bring in other containers with colorful flowers to compliment your bougainvillea flowers when grouped together.
There are hundreds of varieties of bougainvillea. Select yours based on plant size and flower color. For thornless varieties try ‘Miss Alice’ (white) and ‘Singapore Pink’. For dwarf varieties try ‘Helen Johnson’ (copper), ‘Fantasy Red’ (variegated) and ‘James Walker’ (orange). For semi-dwarf, try ‘Vera Deep Purple’. And for large shrubs look for ‘Yellow Glory’ and ‘Juanita Hatten’ (red).