How to Plant and Grow Bougainvillea

This tropical shrubby vine needs plenty of room to grow.

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; some varieties reach 40 feet.

What many people think of as the blooms of bougainvillea aren't actually blooms at all. The showy paper-like structures are a modified leaf called a bract. These bracts hide the actual flowers inside, which are small and trumpet-shaped in whites and yellows. The showy bracts are typically found on new growth, with the showiest display following their winter dormancy. Normally, you'll see the best blooms following a dry winter.

Bougainvillea Overview

Genus Name Bougainvillea
Common Name Bougainvillea
Plant Type Vine
Light Sun
Height 8 to 20 feet
Width 10 to 40 feet
Flower Color Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Reblooming, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 11, 9
Propagation Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Drought Tolerant

Where to Plant Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea plants are tropical plants that thrive in hot, dry climates. In areas colder than Zone 9, they are grown as annuals or container plants. In the garden, plant this woody climber next to a fence or supply a trellis or other support.

How and When to Plant Bougainvillea

In the garden, plant these South American natives 6 to 9 feet apart in well-draining soil and away from other plants to give them room to grow. Because they have sharp thorns, locate them several feet away from a walkway or other area of activity. Plant bougainvillea in the garden in spring or summer, which gives the plant time to develop a strong root system before cool weather.

Bougainvillea Care Tips


Bougainvillea needs plenty of sun. Some varieties can handle part sun but won't perform as well as they could in full sun. In less than full sun, plants will be much more sparse and have a less spectacular flower show, if any at all. On the other hand, keeping your bougainvillea in full sun will keep your plant blooming.

Soil and Water

If you plant bougainvilleas in the ground, make sure they have well-drained soil; they don't like to remain wet for too long. This plant likes it dry, so water it deeply every three or four weeks, rather than more frequently. 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 blooming.

If you're using bougainvillea as an indoor houseplant, plant them in moist, well-draining potting soil and keep the plants mostly dry during winter.

Temperature and Humidity

In the garden, this plant performs best when the temperature is at least 60°F, and it tolerates temperatures as high as 95°F. It thrives in dry conditions.

When bougainvillea is grown as a houseplant, it likes high humidity of about 50 percent during the blooming period and lower humidity during the winter.


Bougainvillea is a heavy feeder. Fertilize the plant monthly during its active growing season. Scratch a granular fertilizer into the soil and water well. If you can't find a dedicated bougainvillea fertilizer, use a 10-10-10 general-purpose fertilizer.


If your plants are getting out of hand, pruning and maintenance are best done in the fall before a new growth cycle. You can also periodically trim rangy stems as needed throughout the year.

Pests and Problems

The biggest threat to bougainvillea plants in the garden is the appropriately named bougainvillea caterpillar. This 1-inch caterpillar dines on the leaves of the plant, leaving them looking ragged. You probably won't see this pest because when you touch the plant, the caterpillar falls to the ground. If you see leaves that have been munched on, you can treat the plant with a control such Bacillus Thuringiensis.

Training Bougainvillea

When looking for a home for your bougainvillea, think about how you plan to train it. These vigorous-growing plants can quickly take over a wall or garden area, but they can be trained and maintained to fit the 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 well to being manipulated in various 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 need some coaxing, but no training is necessary as a hanging basket plant.

Types of Bougainvillea

'Barbara Karst' Bougainvillea

'Barbara Karst' Bougainvillea
Jeffrey Rycus

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

'California Gold' Bougainvillea

'California Gold' Bougainvillea
Denny Schrock

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

'Juanita Hattan' Bougainvillea

'Juanita Hattan' Bougainvillea
Denny Schrock

Bougainvillea 'Juanita Hatten' offers bold fuchsia-pink flowers in summer and green leaves dotted in gold. It climbs to 20 feet.

Zones: 9-10

'Sundown Orange' Bougainvillea

'Sundown Orange' Bougainvillea
Denny Schrock

Bougainvillea 'Sundown Orange' offers bracts that begin deep orange, fade to coral, and mature to salmon pink. It blooms in summer and climbs 20 feet tall.

Zones: 9-11

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can bougainvillea plants be trained as topiaries?

    Bougainvillea plants make fantastic topiaries. Since they're so fast-growing, it is easy to create tall topiary plants with minimal effort. On a smaller scale, bougainvillea can make stunning bonsai specimens, but they require relentless pruning over several years.

  • How do I encourage more blooms on my bougainvillea?

    In general, the plant blooms best with direct sunlight and shorter days, which you might not be able to control. However, you can increase blooms by planting bougainvillea in well-draining soil, watering it infrequently, fertilizing it sparingly, and pinching the tips to encourage new growth.

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