How To Grow and Care For Bougainvillea

Question: My Bougainvillea needs some help. At the moment the plants are blooming but we will be going out of town, and my “bougs” seem to love lots of water.

Can I put saucers under them to try and keep them watered? My sprinkler system will water them every other day but I don’t know it that will be enough. I don’t want to lose them and where do they come from? Cindy, Charleston, SC

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Answer: Bougainvillea plants have become a very colorful and popular plant for spring and summer color making a great addition for a colorful patio or deck in the backyard.

So let’s try and give a general overview on its care blooming, light, water, soil, origin and more…

“Bougs” are perhaps the most popular and one of the most widely grown tropical vines.

A native to the coast of Brazil. In the 1760’s the French botanist Philibert Commerson discovered the colorful vining plant and named it after his friend and captain, Louis A. de Bougainville, a noted lawyer, mathematician, and explorer from Canada. Many refer and spell the plant name incorrectly as – bouganvilla.

Bougainvilleas usually have spiny, cascading stems which end with colorful bracts of red, orange, purple and other shades to shield small white, inconspicuous flowers.

The showy plant can be used in a multitude of ways:

Bougainvillea Care & Cultural Requirements

They thrive in almost any soil as long as it is well-drained and fertile. Soils that work for other plants you grow will be fine.

Growers use a soil media like this that drains well but make sure you don’t let the plants dry out between waterings. If you want to be successful… keep containers moist but also they need to be well drained. No sitting plants in standing water!

DO NOT USE SAUCERS under your pots.

A healthy container grown plant will drink a lot of water during the warm times of the year. In cooler periods or when you bring your plants indoors for the winter, the water requirement will be much less.

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SO how much water does a boug need for proper plant care and blooming. As always it depends on:

  • Soil type
  • Root system
  • Size of the plant
  • Air temperature

Don’t water just to water your plants. Inspect your plants regularly, and learn when they are close to wilting. Then give the plant a good, thorough soaking just before it reaches the wilt stage.

Remember during the summer heat plants will use up water quickly, so inspect often.

Light

For the best results put your plants in full sun. If you want good blooming give them at least 5 hours a day of full sunlight as a minimum. More hours of direct sun is better. Less than 5 hours and the plant may not bloom very well. Your plants will thrive in shade or partial shade, but only have nice growth with little or no blooms.

Don’t expect your plants to flower indoors. If possible, keep your plants outdoors and give it the maximum sun exposure. Any flowering you may receive indoors is a bonus.

Temperature

Bougainvilleas are hardy throughout the South but young growth will be damaged by frost. Optimum growing temperatures are warm days (70-85of) and cool nights(60-70of).

A light frost will not kill the plant, but you can soon expect all the leaves and bracts to fall off. In this case, the plant will regrow if not subjected to more frosts for longer duration.

Fertilizer

Mature plants can be heavy feeders. Here are some quick fertilizer tips.

  • High phosphorus with micronutrients, as well as additional iron and magnesium
  • Slow or timed release fertilizer like this one are acceptable. Make sure you follow the fertilizer label
  • Plants grow best with small amounts of nutrients constantly available
  • Do not apply fertilizers to dry soil – Do not overfertilize – in this case less is better than more

Pests

Caterpillars, mites, aphids (we use this to get rid of aphids); Leaf spot if foliage and/or soil stays too wet, especially in cool weather. Contact your local nursery or garden center for treating the pest. Make sure you READ AND FOLLOW the label.

Our Recommended Natural Pest Control Solutions For the Home and Garden

For more info on these recommended products, read our detailed review here.

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Where and How to Use

  • Hanging baskets
  • 1 to 3 gallon pots either sheared (we like these pruners) as bush, staked, or trellised.
  • Trained as a tree – standard
  • Summer annual up North.
  • In the South grown as groundcover, hedge, trellis, standard, or cascading planter plant.

What to Expect When It Arrives at the Garden Center

Bougainvilleas aren’t fond of changes. Any shipping over 2 days and you may experience some leaf drop and possible total defoliation. Don’t worry, give your plants a good drink and they’ll come right back out in about 3 to 4 weeks and usually full of flowers.

Tips On Bougainvillea Care In Pots

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If you’ve ever wondered about adding Bougainvillea for some summer color dress maybe this picture will make you think twice.

Bougainvillea is found in many landscapes not only in south Florida but all across the southeast, California and the Mediterranean. Bougainvillea care is not difficult when planted in the ground but growing in pots and container oes require care with a watchful eye. Don’t let them dry out!

The ‘boug” is usually grown as bushes but standards are beginning to find their way in as a spring flowering addition.

bougainvillea-standards

The popular Bougainvillea plant derives its name from the paper-thin, brilliantly colored bracts, or scale-like leaves, that form perky geometric frames around the small flowers.

A lax-stemmed, woody perennial in the South, the bougainvillea is a showy subject in Northern greenhouses and in containers in gardens, and for indoors in a large sunny window. It is even tolerant of seashore growing conditions. Originally, the dominant color was magenta-purple; but their are many exotic shades of salmon, orange, gold, and red.

Bougainvillea – Good Soil and Drainage

These plants are content with any good soil, as long as drainage is provided for. They flower best when they receive full sun, and in temperatures no less than 60 degrees.

Summer and early fall is the season of active growth, when flower buds are set; generous feeding is helpful during that time. Flowering is reputedly in spring, but my vines – and others I have known – have flowered at intervals during the year.

Transplant or repot with as little root disturbance as possible. If the vine is frostbitten, simply cut it back to living wood.

Pruning Bougainvillea May Be Necessary

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Pruning is necessary to keep the plants within bounds. After flowering, cut back the season’s growth severely, and remove all thin, weak, or ailing branches. The less dense the vine, the more outstandingly decorative.

Propagate by seeds, when available, or by spring stem cuttings rooted in heat and humidity. Among the colorful species varieties offered are:

Bougainvillea glabra – The familiar magenta species. Its variety sanderiana is more generous with flowers. Another variety, harrisi, has gray-green foliage variegated with splashes of white. This little beauty flowered for me, in almost transparent lavender, when it was only four inches tall.

Bougainvillea spectabilis (braziliensis) – Hardiest species, with somewhat furry foliage and red-purple blooms.

Family: Nyctaginaceae
Common Name: Paper Flower

Images: Smile | Window

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