Skip to Content

How to Grow Bougainvilleas – Top Tips!

How to Grow Bougainvilleas – Top Tips!

Bougainvillea is an easy plant to grow that offers big rewards. It flowers for the most part of the year and delivers a spectacular display.

It is hardy and resistant to drought as well as most pests and diseases. It is a low-maintenance plant that gives you many options. 

Before we get into the specifics, let’s take a look at this popular plant. 

The bougainvillea is a fast-growing vine that can be trained to grow on a trellis or other structure or simply grow as a  stand-alone plant. 

They are native to Central America, many parts of South America, Spain, and the Caribbean Islands. 

The bougainvillea is hardy and likes full sun. The most common bougainvillea colors are purple, dark pink, and a deep rich red. 

They also come in white, white with pink edges, orange, yellow, and pale pink. What we normally refer to as flowers are in fact bracts. These are leaves. 

The plant prefers a warm climate but with a bit of effort, you can grow them in moderately colder regions.

In cold areas, they are best grown in pots where they can be taken indoors or undercover when it gets very cold. 

Apart from their hardiness and spectacular color displays, the bougainvillea will attract butterflies and birds, including the hummingbird, to your garden. 

Continue reading below to learn more about growing these beautiful bougainvillea.

 

 

Bougainvillea plant care guide

The bougainvillea is a rugged and hardy plant. This, combined with the impressive flower display it puts on for most of the year makes it extremely popular. Care is easy. The plant likes full sun although it can handle a bit of shade. The soil needs to drain well and the pH slightly acidic. It is drought hardy and does not require a lot of water. It does not like frost so care has to be taken in frost areas. Make sure the temperature stay above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). It will need very little in the way of nutrients and is resilient to most pests and diseases. 

 

Soil requirements

Bougainvillea likes a well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. The ideal pH is 5.5 to 6. Good quality soil that is nutrient-rich will reduce the need to add much in the way of fertilizer. 

 

Light

The best position for a Bougainvillea is somewhere with full sunlight, although it can handle dappled shade provided there is some decent sunlight. 

 

Watering

A newly planted bougainvillea will need quite a bit of water until it is established and settled. Thereafter, less water is needed. 

The bougainvillea will actually prefer a soil that is slightly drier than the average plant in the garden. 

Make sure the soil drains well and that you do not over-water the plant. 

If planted in a pot, you want to give it a bit more water but not too much. Again, make sure the pot you’ll use has good drainage. 

Pots and containers dry out quickly so you should water them every two to three days. Try to water less when the plant is blooming to get more flowers. 

 

Temperature and Humidity

The bougainvillea is best suited to a temperate climate. The temperature should stay above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Although very hardy, it does not like frost.

If you happen to live in an area with regular frost it is probably better to plant your bougainvillea in a pot. This will allow you to bring them in on very cold nights. 

One can also use frost cover or cloth to protect plants outdoors. Often, the plant might be damaged by frost yet still survive. Once the frost is over, cut back the dead growth and it will probably grow back.

Humidity is not a major issue but you do not want excess moisture to accumulate and remain on the plant as this can lead to problems. 

 

Where to plant Bougainvilleas

The bougainvillea does best in full sun. It can handle a bit of shade so long as it gets a good few hours of sun most days. They grow quickly and can get rather large so the position and spacing are important.

 

How to plant a Bougainvillea

Bougainvilleas can be grown in the ground or in a pot or other planting container. The best time to plant or pot a bougainvillea is spring or summer. 

But they are quite hardy and with the right care, you can do it throughout the year. 

 

Planting in the ground

Taking care to find a warm sunny spot, with good soil and decent drainage, you would plant the bougainvillea in much the same way as any other shrub. 

Remove the plant from its current container and loosen any compacted soil that surrounds the rootball. 

Prepare a hole that’s twice as wide as its rootball, with the loose soil at the bottom. The loose soil beneath where you plant will help the soil to drain which is what you need. 

If the soil is not in great condition you can make it a bit deeper and add in some organic compost to enrich it. 

It will need to be well watered for the first few weeks as it settles and starts to establish itself. 

As with all planting, you want the new soil level to be the same as the medium the plant was growing in before. Do not planter deeper or more shallow than how it grew before. 

 

Planting in containers

Ensure the container or pot has good drainage holes. You can even add a small amount of pebbles to the base of the container to help ensure good drainage. 

Use quality potting mix, organic is always the best way to go. Again, you can mix in compost. Work on a ratio of roughly 1 part compost to 4 parts potting soil. 

Water frequently at first and then still water two to three times per week as pots can dry out quickly. You will have to water more in the hot months. 

Here are a few varieties that do well in containers as well as their colors. You can grow any bougainvillea in a pot but the shorter growing ones are easier to manage. 

Here are a few popular choices: 

  • Vera Deep Purple – Purple
  • Singapore Pink – Pink
  • Rosenka -Pink
  • Crimson Jewel – Red 
  • La Jolla -Red
  • Raspberry Ice – Magenta 
  • Oo-La-La – Magneta
  • Miss Alice – White 
  • Bambino Baby Sophia – Orange 

 

Fertilizer

The bougainvillea is a hardy plant that does not need a lot of pampering. It will, however, improve the richness and vibrancy of the blooms as well as ensure healthy growth if they are well fed. Nutrients are essential to all plants. 

The beginning of spring through to the middle of summer is the best time to fertilize. Organic slow-release fertilizer is a good option. 

Remember that the bougainvillea likes low pH (slightly acidic) soil. A Hibiscus or other fertilizer designed specifically for acid-loving plants will always help. 

Fertilize sparingly and avoid giving too many nutrients. This will result in a host of shoots or new growth but fewer flowers. 

They are tough plants and too much love and attention will do more harm than good. 

 

Growth

They can get quite large and grow from 2 to 3 feet up to 30 feet plus, depending on the age, the variety, and where they are planted. The bottom line is that a happy bougainvillea can get big, very big. 

The bougainvillea is a highly versatile plant that is easy to grow in the garden or in a pot and rewards you with a delightful profusion on color in spring right through summer and autumn. 

It is easy to grow, does not need much care, and blooms well. 

The bougainvillea comes in a range of colors and flower sizes so there is something to suit all gardens and garden styles and tastes. They are fast-growing and add instant interest to your garden. 

 

Pruning the bougainvillea

There are various reasons why to trim a bougainvillea. The main one is that, if left untamed, it can grow quite wild. It could encroach on windows or downpipes, even the roof. 

It might become too heavy for the trellis or supporting structure. 

If any branch is damaged it should be cut back. Cut at a joint on the branch and prune at an angle. This will allow water to drain off the cut so as not to allow it to build up and cause rot or other issues. 

Although the bougainvillea is an evergreen plant, you might want to prune them back into shape at the end of the flowering season. They are fast and vigorous growers, when happy, and can get out of shape.

When grown in pots, as climbers, or simply in the garden, it is a good idea to prune them once a year to keep a tidy shape that does not take over the area. 

If they start to look scraggly or untidy you can do this more often. 

Bougainvillea can also be grown into standards or other shapes, These will need to be pruned more regularly to retain their shape. 

Be careful of the thorns when pruning. Managing an overgrown bougainvillea is not a task for the timid. Use gloves and protective clothing. 

The new bracts (flowers) will come from new growth so careful pruning is not only important for the shape of the plant but also to ensure a flourish of new blooms when the months get warmer. 

You can also make a bonsai from the bougainvillea. It is spectacular once you have it right and does not take too long. Specialist knowledge, skills, and patience are required. 

 

How to train a bougainvillea

One of the many benefits of this plant is that it will take any shape or form you want. It is a vine, so it will happily grow along with a pergola, trellis, or other structure. 

It can also function as a stand-alone plant although you will have to keep it in shape. 

Plant ties or stockings will help to support the plant and lead it in the right direction. Correct pruning will keep it in shape and prevent it from getting too large or heavy. 

 

Propagation

There are several ways to do this. We will look at all the options so you can decide what will work best for you.

 

Cuttings in water

One way to propagate the bougainvillea is from a stem-cutting set into the water. You can use either hardwood cuttings in the cooler months or softwood cuttings in the warmer seasons. 

Take care not to cause damage to the roots when planting the cuttings out. 

Some people slowly add soil to the water mixture, over a few days or even weeks. This will prevent any damage or shock to the roots. 

 

Stem cuttings

The best time to take cuttings is mid-spring or towards the end or just after flowering. 

You want to select healthy stems that are semi-hard. They should have good leaf growth and be around 6 inches long. 

Always ensure your tools are sharp, clean, and sterilized. 

Prepare the pots with a mixture of potting soil and perlite, in equal quantities. The container should be roughly 4 inches and have good drainage. Moisten the soil before cutting the stems. 

Take the cuttings in the morning for the best results. Look for stems without blooms or pinch them off if there are. 

Cut just before a set of leaves at an angle of 45-degrees. Be wary of the thorns and use gloves when making your cuts. 

Dip the tip into rooting hormone ensuring it is well coated. Dip into the prepared pots, firm the soil down gently, and cover with a plastic bag. 

Place the pots out of direct midday sun but with plenty of warmth and filtered light. 

The ideal temperature for successful propagation is around  75 degrees Fahrenheit or more. 

It will take a month or two for roots to develop. Only water if the condensation from the bag is absent. 

It is safest to allow the plant to fully establish itself and develop a good root system. This could take up to a year.  

Thereafter, you can plant the bougainvillea out into the ground in a sunny position. Follow the tips on replanting above. 

 

Layering

This is one of the easiest ways to propagate a bougainvillea. 

Select branches close to the ground. Use a knife to remove a small section of bark, simply scrape it off. 

Push the cut side down into the soil and use something to keep it is lace and weigh it down. 

This process is called layering. 

It will take several weeks to months for roots to develop. Be patient. 

Gently lift the layered section after a few weeks to check. Rather wait until the roots are well established. 

You can then cut the rooted section away from the main plant, remove it from the soil, and place it where needed.   

 

Common Problems with Bougainvillea Plants

Although hardy, the bougainvillea can attract pests and there are a few diseases to look out for. Keep an eye on the plant throughout the year and take action if you have any issues. 

Here are a few of the most common problems to watch out for: 

 

Pests

 

Caterpillars

There are several caterpillars that like to feast on the bougainvillea. If left alone, they could soon destroy a beautiful plant. They are often quite tricky to see and are normally active at night or early mornings. 

They range in color from brown to green and the size from around one inch to 3 inches. The color and size make them even more difficult to spot and identify. 

The Disclisioprocta stellata or Bougainvillea Looper is the most common caterpillar that preys on the bougainvillea. 

One way to combat this problem is to hand remove them in the evenings when they are active. Although tricky to find you should be able to spot most of them with a flashlight. 

The best solution is to use Neem or Neem Oil. You can get this easily and it is organic and safe. 

You need to spray in the evening or early in the day. Mix it as per directions on the bottle and spray the plant liberally. 

Keep an eye on the plant as you may need to reapply every week or so until the problem is under control. 

Oils work better in the cooler seasons and are less effective when it is very hot. The oil simply runs off the plant. 

In the hot season, it would be better to use insecticidal soap. Although it needs to be applied after every rain it is a better idea when the temperature is high. 

Another option is to use an insecticide spray. Go for something that contains spinosad. 

This is particularly effective against the looper. One needs to spray the entire plant and reapply as necessary. 

 

Aphids

This is a relatively common issue in some climates. Most gardeners will recognize these small soft insects that appear on many plants. 

A healthy plant will not be too distressed by aphids but if they multiply vigorously you could have a problem. 

The most common aphid found on the bougainvillea is green in color although they also come in black, red, yellow, white, and brown. 

If the plant is infested, the leaves could yellow and curl and you might notice the honeydew that the insect secretes. This generally turns black as mold accumulates on the secretion. 

It is normally spread by other infected plants so you need to keep an eye on the entire garden. 

If aphids occur you can use neem oil or insecticidal soap to treat the plants. Remove badly infested branches and dispose of them. 

 

Leaf Miner

If you notice small tunnels developing in the leaves this could be as a result of leaf miner. These guys produce larva that starts to eat the leaf from the inside as soon as they emerge. The adults do no harm or damage. 

They love the newly sprouted tender leaves. A large infestation will leave your bougainvillea looking damaged and unhappy. Leaves will change shape, lose color and curl up. 

Pheromone traps are the best method to prevent and control this problem. You will need to replace them from time to time. 

Follow the instructions that they come with and position them at roughly shoulder height for best results. 

 

Scale

These tough insects are small and have a strong outer shell. There are a few varieties of scale some being slightly larger. Mealybugs are also classified as scale and can be a menace. 

This insect attacks the inside of the plant that conducts fluid up the stem. If you have a serious infestation you will notice that leaves start to brown or yellow. They may also drop. 

Leave might curl and bracts could be disturbed and irregular. 

This is not a common problem with this plant and can be treated with specific oils and organic solutions. 

 

Thrips

Thrips also suck the contents of the cells of the plant and if left to multiply could cause problems and damage to the plant.  They tend to feed mainly on new growth and will leave evidence of their feeding on the leaves. 

They have many natural predators so are normally not a major threat. Again, oils will help if you do have a major issue. 

 

Spider Mite

The bougainvillea is not immune to the spider mite and under certain conditions, could become infested. They are small but in large numbers are normally quite easy to sport. 

They will appear on the leaf’s underside.

Again, they are sucking insects that draw liquid and nutrients from the plant. They are only a concern in large numbers. 

 

Snails and slugs

The common garden pest, the snail will occasionally prey on the bougainvillea. They thrive in debris and vegetative matter on the ground. 

Correct garden maintenance will reduce the risk. They are quite easy to remove and eliminate manually. 

 

Diseases

 

Root rot

An established bougainvillea does not like to have wet feet. In other words, it needs well-draining soil and not too much water. 

Ensure there is good drainage and prevent the area from being over-watered or becoming soggy. 

Once root rot has set in, it can be quite a challenge to treat. Prevention is indeed the best cure for this problem. 

 

Powdery mildew

This is not a common problem but can occur. One needs to use a fungicide spray to treat this problem. 

There are several options including organic sprays. Remove any branches that are infected and dispose of them. Do not add them to the compost heap. 

 

Rust

This is caused by a fungus and can occur if there is not enough sunlight and is encouraged by high temperatures and humidity. 

It can be treated with a general fungicide. Again, remove damaged parts of the plant and dispose of them. 

 

Leaf Spot – Fungal and Bacterial

Too much moisture on the leaves could result in leaf spot development. Growth will be affected and distorted, lesions on the leaf might be noted, and eventually, the edges of the leaf will become dry and wrinkled. 

The best control is to prevent the accumulation of moisture for extended periods. This is done by pruning away larger leaves or growth surrounding the plant. Cut back any infected branches. You want to ensure the plant gets decent airflow and light. 

For severe infections, one can use a chemical spray. 

Remember that pests and diseases attack weak unhealthy plants. The best solution is always prevention. 

If you keep your plant happy and healthy and practice basic garden maintenance and care, you should have little to no problems with your bougainvillea.

They are tough and resilient. Provided they are happy in their environment you are unlikely to have major problems with pests or disease. 

 

Other problems

 

Frost damage

The bougainvillea does not like frost. Some people grow it as an annual in frosty areas so do not be surprised when it dies back or dies completely. 

This is a costly and time-consuming exercise and best for ardent bougainvillea fans only. 

You can cover the plant with frost cloth to protect it from the coldest periods. Do not use hard plastic as this could make the problem worse. 

Frost cloth is protective but still breathable. Remove the frost covers as soon as it warms or the sun comes out. 

When the plant is protected by a wall or other structure on at least one side it is often hardier and can handle colder snaps. 

Often the plant does not die completely and one simply needs to prune back the damaged areas once the frost is over. It could well surprise you as soon as the temperature rises again. 

 

Nutrient deficiency

While the bougainvillea is a hardy plant that does not require much in the way of pampering, in poor soil or bad conditions it could experience a lack of nutrients. 

Chlorosis is the worst of these and is caused but a lack of magnesium and iron. Yellowing leaves is one of the symptoms. 

Note that the plant prefers a soil that is slightly acidic. Use a slow-release organic fertilizer to prevent or treat this issue.

Another cost-effective treatment is to dilute Epsom salts into your water. 

 

Frequently asked questions about Growing Bougainvillea

 

How do I grow bougainvillea if I live in an area that has frost?

The best and easiest way to do this is to plant them in a pot. This way, you can take them indoors or under shelter if temperatures drop too low. The other option is to cover the plant is frost cloth. This takes time and effort. The frost cloth should not be left on during the day if the temperature rises. 

 

Will frost kill my bougainvillea?

It depends on how low the temperature drops and for how long it’s going to last. Most of these plants can bounce back after a spell of frost. Wait until the frost is over and cut away the dead branches. 

 

When do bougainvillea flower?

Bougainvillea put on a great display for most of the year. The only time they are unlikely to bloom is in the dead of winter. They do well from spring right through to autumn, generally from April to December, depending on the local climate. 

 

How do I know when to water my potted bougainvillea?

This will all depend on the local climate, the time of year, and the type and size of pots. As pots dry out fairly quickly, they will need more water than a plant in the ground. Bougainvillea does not like too much water and they certainly do not like to have their feet wet. Try to let the soil dry between watering. Using your fingers, if you feel the top two inches of soil are dry, you can give it good watering. The average will be two to three times a week. Ensure the pot has good drainage. 

 

Can I grow my bougainvillea in a hanging basket?

Bougainvillea can be grown in hanging baskets. Go for a large basket and select one of the shorter growing varieties. 

 

Conclusion

This highly versatile plant is a must for any garden in a temperate zone. It offers many months of flowering and grows quickly and easily. 

It is hardy and resilient, not needing much attention. The hardest part is probably going to be pruning it to keep it from taking over its spot in the garden. 

There are many reasons to grow a few bougainvilleas in your garden. The dramatic and plentiful blooms will be sure to add color to your area and require minimal effort. 

If you do not already have a few, it is time to get some of these amazing plants. They will be happy in the ground, in a pot, and even in a basket. 

Red, purple, pink, white, and many others are just waiting to liven up your area!