If you’re looking for a tough tropical vine with lots of color, you’ve found it! Bougainvillea plants are tough as nails, which includes their nail-like thorns. These plants put on a spectacular show of color in spring on their fresh new growth. If you’re thinking of planting a bougainvillea in your garden, be sure to allow plenty of room for it to spread and grow.
What many people think of as the blooms of bougainvillea are not actually blooms at all. The showy paper-like structures are a modified leaf called a bract. These three bracts hide the true flowers inside, which are small, trumpet-shaped flowers in whites and yellows. The showy bracts are typically found on new growth, with the biggest display following their winter dormancy. Typically, you will see the best display of blooms following a dry winter. If you are using bougainvillea as an indoor houseplant, make sure to keep the plants mostly dry during winter months.
Bougainvillea Care Must-Knows
Since bougainvilleas are tropical natives, make sure they get plenty of sun! Some varieties can handle part sun but will not perform as well as they could in full sun. In less than full sun, plants will be much more sparse and have a less than spectacular flower show, if any at all. Keeping your bougainvillea in full sun will keep your plant blooming. See more tips to encourage blooming.
If your plants are getting out of hand, pruning and maintenance is best done in the fall before a new growth cycle. You can also sporadically trim rangy stems as needed throughout the year. If you haven't had a significant show of blooms recently, try giving your plant a drought period by withholding water. This can sometimes trick your plants into a dormancy period and trigger new blooms. If you plant bougainvillea in the ground, make sure these plants have well-drained soil; they do not like to remain wet for too long.
When looking for a home for your bougainvillea, think about how you plan to train it. These are vigorous-growing plants that can quickly take over a wall or garden area, but can be trained and maintained to fit a desired setting. Bougainvillea can also be used in containers and trained as a shrub or sprawling groundcover.
Because of bougainvillea's woody habit and vigorous growth, these plants lend themselves very well to being manipulated and trained in a variety of ways. The most common, especially in tropical areas where plants are hardy, is to allow these plants to climb walls and trellises. This is the simplest way to display the wonderful blooms of bougainvillea.
They can also be used in hanging baskets with minimal care. Because these plants don't have tendrils, they do need some manipulating, but as a hanging basket plant, no training is needed. Bougainvillea also make fantastic topiaries. Since they are so fast growing, it is easy to create tall topiary plants with minimal effort. On a smaller scale, bougainvillea can make stunning bonsai specimens. This takes time over the course of many years, but with relentless pruning some unique bonsai can be made.
More Varieties of Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst' is an especially popular variety with large clusters of red bracts all summer and autumn. Climbs to 40 feet. Zones 9-11
Bougainvillea 'California Gold' is one of the best-performing yellow-flowering bougainvillea varieties. It begins blooming at an early age and produces warm yellow bracts on and off through the year. It climbs to 30 feet. Zones 9-10
Bougainvillea 'Juanita Hatten' offers bold fuchsia-pink flowers in summer and green leaves dotted in gold. It climbs to 20 feet. Zones 9-10