Tough and Beautiful, Vibrant and Durable!

Up close to the real Bougainvillea flower

Up close to the real Bougainvillea flower

The vibrant “flowers” are really just colorful, papery bracts that surround the real flower.  Looking closely at a newly opened flower, there are small white disks poking out from the three large papery bracts.  This is the true flower.  As with many other plants that have showy bracts, bougainvillea has a colorful display for an impressively long time.

Encouraging More Blooms…
Bougainvillea without blooms is just another ho-hum green vine.  So, the secret to flowering bliss is to keep encouraging more blooms.  Keep branches cut back to about 18-20 inches.  Keep the plant slightly pot bound.  Only repot it if absolutely necessary and then only increase to the next larger pot size.  Bougainvillea are heavy feeders and love to slurp up weekly elixirs of half strength 20-20-20, flowering plant fertilizer or Miracle-Gro.  With good sunlight and regular feeding Bougainvillea will bloom repeatedly almost year round.  Decrease the frequency of feeding during the winter if the plants are dormant.  Others like to encourage Bougainvillea to bloom by giving them “tough love”.  Keep them somewhat dry and restrict their roots.

Bougainvilleas often have two growing phases (vegetative and blooming).  During the vegetative growth period the plant concentrates on producing new leaves and stems. This could last for several weeks and often does not involve any new blooms.  During the blooming period, no vegetative growth occurs and the plant produces rewarding colorful bracts.  The length of the blooming period can be influenced by the environment, plant health and the day to night ratio.  The best blooming times are when night hours and day hours are almost equal (spring and fall).  Long days and short nights (July) may disrupt blooming.

The Best Growing Conditions
Bougainvilleas thrive in full sun (with a minimum of 5 hours of afternoon sun being the best situation)!  Outdoor locations are the best sites (although bougainvillea can be grown successfully in a bright indoor spot too).  These plants thrive in areas of low rainfall and intense sun and heat.

Don’t place a Bougainvillea container directly on the soil or else risk the plant rooting out the bottom and creating quite a surprise when the plant is moved.  Containers should sit above the soil and have plenty of drainage.

The one draw-back is that they are sissies when it gets cold (hardiness zone 10).  The Bougainvillea tough guy image only applies to the warm weather.  The bottom line is that they must be protected from frost or treat them as an annual.  Bougainvillea will be damaged or die if subjected to below freezing temperatures for more than 4 hours.  Short, light frosts may not kill the plant but the leaves and flowers will all drop.

Bougainvillea Offspring
Bougainvillea propagates easily from cuttings.  Use softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer.  Hardwood cuttings also root well when taken during the fall or winter.  Discard the soft terminal growth when taking cuttings and use the semi-mature growth just below it.  Rooting hormone helps too.


Long Lasting Bougainvillea "Flowers"

Haircut Time
Prune Bougainvilleas at any time of the year.  Blooming does not appear to be triggered by hard pruning.  Lightly pinch the growing tip of young plants to encourage them to become bushier at the sides.  The more they are pinched the better their ultimate form.

Hard prune your plants when they are getting out of control and need to have their growth checked or if they are being moved indoors.


Bright and showy Bougainvillea in a hanging basket from Atwater Market in Montreal QC

Bright and showy Bougainvillea in a hanging basket from Atwater Market in Montreal, Quebec

Some of the Bougainvillea Family

Bougainvilleas can be found with green or variegated (green and cream or green and gold) leaves and with several flower colors. 

Green leaved varieties:

‘Barbara Karst’ – bright red to bluish crimson
 ‘California Gold’- golden yellow
‘Jamaica White’- white veined with green
 ‘Juanita Hatten’ – dark pink
‘Sundown’ – apricot
 ‘Texas Dawn’ – smaller pink
‘Surprise’ clear pink/white bicolor

Variegated leaves:
‘Vickie’ pink and white blooms, green with a yellow center leaves.
 ‘Raspberry Ice’ Magenta blooms with green and white leaves

‘Double Pink’ clear pink, compact plant.
‘Klong Fire’ (syn. Mahara double red) brilliant pink, compact plant

Tough and beautiful- who could ask for anything more from the Bougainvillea.

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