A tropical vining plant, bougainvilleas catch your eye with cascades of colorful blossoms, often along walls, fences, and trellises. Sun-loving and drought-resistant, bougainvilleas are tough, rigorous, and easy to grow. Learn how to plant, grow, and care for bougainvilleas.
These tropical woody vines are evergreen and native to Central and South America. Bougainvilleas are perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11. In colder regions, however, they can be grown as annuals in hanging baskets or planters. The plant simply need enough space to spread out as they produce vines up to 40-feet-long. For containers, there are dwarf varieties 3- to 6-feet long.
Pronounced “boo-gun-VILL-ee-uh,” Bougainvillea glabra and Bougainvillea spectabilis are the two most common species grown ornamentally in the U.S. A tropical woody vine, this woody climber is usually spread its vines off the ground on a wall or trellis, but also it can be pruned as a shrub or it can be grown as a shrub, planted in rows as a hedge. The west side of a garage or house, a full-sun patio or deck, or next to the hot driveway are all perfect spots for this climbing vine.
Fast-growing and lush, they have been a common landscaping plant throughout the warmer areas at resorts and cottages, creating that tropical vibe of vegetation and color. Heat and sun lovers, bougainvilleas are perfect for adding color to areas that are so hot and dry other plants struggle.
Interesting, their colorful displays are not actual flowers but modified leaves called bracts, much like a poinsettia. Three to six bracts surround the actual flowers, which are small, tubular, usually white, and found in groups of three. They’re often pink but also comes in shades of red, magenta, orange, yellow, and even white.
Bougainvilleas may flower almost year-round when planted outside in their native warm climates. Those moved indoors for the winter may eventually stop flowering due to lack of light but will resume again after moving outdoors in the spring. Check these tips if your bougainvillea won’t bloom.
Bougainvilleas like sunlight and lots of it. This plant also likes it dry so the planting location must drain well. Overwatering can actually inhibit blooming. Bougainvillea are not picky about soil pH.
Bougainvilleas have long, narrow thorns used to climb, so avoid planting bougainvillea in places where the vines and pedestrians or small children might tangle. Wear thick leather gloves and handle them with care.
Also, plant bougainvillea 6 to 9 feet apart from each other and other plants to allow them the room they need to grow.
When to Plant Bougainvilleas
Plant in spring, well after all danger of frost has past. Anything below about 30°F will likely cause damage or even kill it. If you are planting it in a garden bed, spring planting will let it settle in before the high summer heat.
Remember: If you live in USDA zone 8 or cooler, you’ll need to grow bougainvillea in a container. Place outside in spring well after the last spring frost. You’ll need to bring inside for the winter so chose a container than can be moved come fall.
How to Plant Bougainvilleas
Bring your bougainvillea home and water it well while still in the container. Not only will the plant get a drink, but it’ll be easier to remove it.
Take care when removing them from their original container. The roots are thin and easily damaged. Transfer it straight from the nursery pot to its final home.
To plant in the ground, dig a hole about 12-inches deep. Mix in compost. Set the plant at the same depth as it was in its original container. After planting, add an inch or two of organic mulch, such as pine straw, keeping it away from the plant stems to avoid rot.
Bougainvilleas planted in containers should have an excellent draining potting mix that won’t hold on to water very long. Try using potting soil intended for palms or cacti.
Terra cotta is an excellent material for bougainvillea pots as it dries more quickly than plastic pots, helping to keep the soil from remaining too damp for this arid-loving vine.
Besides a sunny spot with good drainage, your bougainvillea won’t need much else from you to cover itself with bright blooms every year. Note that the very first season may not produce many blooms, but then watch out from season two onwards.
In the first growing season, water only to keep the soil slightly moist but not saturated. Once established, water deeply every three weeks or so; this plant would rather get a few long drinks than many short ones.
Each spring, apply an inch or two of compost (or a granular fertilizer) to the soil under the plant to keep up flowering, but no more than that as excess nitrogen causes more leaf growth then bloom.
If your bougainvillea isn’t blooming, it could be either a lack of sunlight or overwatering. Check both.
While able to climb up fences and arbors, or anything else, bougainvillea vines don’t have tendrils. You’ll need to help it and use soft but strong plant ties or strips of fabric to train the vine.
Remove any rambling vines that have strayed too far. The plant will flower on new growth after it comes out of dormancy, so fall pruning eliminates removing future blooms.
Remove dead or weak vines at any time of the year.
Remember the thorns! Wear tough gloves.
Bougainvilleas in containers may be fertilized twice per month during the growing season with a diluted general-purpose fertilizer when watering.
Bougainvilleas in a container or basket need to be brought inside to overwinter if you live in an area where it freezes.
Overwinter your bougainvillea in a sunny window, and keep it occasionally watered. It’s okay to prune it back before bringing it inside.
In spring, gradually reintroduce it to the outdoors, provide some fertilizer, and re-attach it to whatever structure you’d like it to climb, or treat it as a containerized shrub.
‘James Walker’ will bloom nearly year-round in areas that don’t receive a frost. Blooms are pink-purple. Hardy to zone 10 to 11.
‘California Gold’ is one of the most reliable yellow bougainvilleas.
‘Sundown Orange’ is hugely popular for its deep orange blooms that morph into coral hues as they age.
‘Barbara Karst’ is a red stunner that can get huge, with vines climbing as high as 40 feet.
‘Helen Johnson’ and ‘Pixie’ are dwarf varieties that will take on more of a shrub shape. They can be maintained under three feet tall and are sometimes trained as bonsai.
Bougainvilleas are essentially pest-free and disease-free. Just remember to avoid overwatering so the roots don’t rot. Most of the pests this plant gets come from neighboring plants and can be controlled with insecticidal soap.