Of the many vining plants out there, bougainvillea is one of the most pleasant and puts on a vibrant flower display of color.
The Bougainvillea plant is so popular that its original 4 to 18 species (the exact number is hotly debated) has been expanded to include an estimated 250 cultivars. Check out this article on Bougainvillea plant care.
While some of these plants can grow to an impressive 40’ feet tall in the wild, most varieties are more manageable and may be as small as 5’ feet tall.
As the plant is damaged easily by even cool weather, it’s often grown as a container plant.
Beyond some basic requirements, such as 5 hours or more of full sun, these plants are extremely easy to care for.
However, proper watering is the one sticking point most people face when growing their first bougainvillea.
Tips On Watering Bougainvillea In Pots
Watering a bougainvillea can get a little complicated if you’re starting.
Thankfully, it gets easier once you know a few basic tricks.
Use the Right Water
Avoid using tap water! This is one point that can never be stressed enough.
Tap water contains various dangerous chemicals that can kill your plant or lead to numerous health problems.
In the event, you must use tap water, run it through a water filter, or (at the least) leave it to sit out overnight to allow harmful chlorine gas to escape.
When possible, try to use distilled water (sometimes called baby water), which can be purchased in stores or harvested from your air conditioner or dehumidifier.
Natural rainwater is usually best, and you can emulate rainwater by adding hydrogen peroxide to the water once per month.
Water the plant using room temperature water, as cold water can harm the plant’s roots.
Young Plants Need More
Bougainvillea has very thin roots, so the proper amount of water will change as the plant gets older.
Young plants which are still establishing a root system need water that remains consistently moist.
Add a little more water when the soil feels dry to the touch.
NOTE: When watering young potted Bougainvilleas add a water-soluble fertilizer to keep them feed and growing.
Water Requirements For Mature Bougainvilleas
An established plant is quite drought-resistant, although it can still get sick if the soil is allowed to dry completely.
The best method for watering a bougainvillea is soak-and-dry. How often your Bougainvillea will need watering will differ depending on the soil types.
Thoroughly soak the plant, allowing all the excess water to run out the drainage holes in the pot.
Use the finger test to check soil moisture levels by sticking your finger directly into the soil.
Once the soil is dry to the touch, approximately 2 to 3” inches deep, it’s time to water again. Never apply liquid fertilizers to a root ball of dry soil.
When transplanting a bougainvillea, regardless of its age, you should avoid using dry soil.
Make sure the new potting soil is damp before removing the plant from its old soil.
The moisture helps the plant’s roots re-establish themselves and reduces the effects of transplant shock.
The Dangers of Standing Water
Root rot is a major concern for bougainvilleas, and the rot can quickly destroy their thin roots.
Simply monitoring the soil moisture isn’t enough, however.
To avoid the risk of root rot, you must also ensure the container isn’t sitting on any form of collection tray.
Pots, especially terra cotta ones, tend to come with a saucer or dish that you can place under the pot to catch any water that seeps out.
You will want to avoid these for bougainvilleas, as the retained water will increase the risk of root rot.
While bougainvillea is drought tolerant, allowing the soil to dry out completely can damage the frail root system.
In the event this happens, you will notice a loss of leaves and bracts.
Treating a dehydrated plant will require somewhat drastic measures.
The general advice for treating this condition is to place the entire container in a tub or bucket of water (again, avoid using straight tap water).
Allow the soil to soak thoroughly, then remove the container and allow the excess to drain out.