Bougainvillea Plant Care

Botanical Name: Bougainvillea glabra

You'll find bougainvillea plant climbing arbors, scrambling along stone walls, and spilling over terra cotta pots in Mexico, Greece and Southern California...any place warm and sunny will make these flowering shrubs flourish.

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If you don't happen to live in a hot climate, a sunny window, greenhouse or sunroom will do. 

Of the hundreds of bougainvillea types, Bougainvillea glabra is the easiest to grow indoors and has long been a popular house plant. In fact, it thrives in a pot or hanging basket as long as you can meet its need for sunlight. You'll give it even more blooming power if you can move your container outdoors for the summer. That's right -- you'll get the most flowers if you let these tropical beauties bask on your sunlit porch or patio.

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Big clusters of brightly colored bracts in pink, red, orange or purple cover the plant summer through fall. The papery bracts surround small, creamy white flowers.

You can buy bougainvillea plants in the summer, when they're beginning to bloom. You have lots of beautiful bougainvillea varieties to choose from. Pink 'Alexandra' is a prolific bloomer...'Magnifica' has vivid purple bracts...'Sanderiana'  is dazzling magenta. 'Raspberry Ice' is ravishing red...and 'Harrissii' has variegated gray-green foliage splashed with creamy white.

Those long, arching branches are covered with thorns, so be careful when handling them. They can cause skin irritation, too. It's a good idea to wear thick gloves when pruning or repotting this plant.

Pruning tip: Prune back lightly in fall, after flowers fade. Pruning bougainvillea regularly will keep the plant small and prevent it from becoming leggy.

If allowed to grow, bougainvillea vines can be trained around a hoop or over a trellis inserted in the pot. Tie it to the support with florist wire, if you need to. However, this vigorous climber doesn't need much training to twine around any type of support.

Repot in spring, when you see new growth. Bougainvillea blooms best when slightly pot-bound, so move it to a pot 1 size larger only when necessary. While repotting, take care not to expose the roots to air for a long time because they will dry out; this Brazilian beauty likes its roots to stay moist at all times.

Bougies seem to shrug off pests, but may be invaded by aphids (that show up on new growth) or spider mites (they prefer dry conditions). If you see any signs of pests, isolate your plant and treat any infestation immediately.

Bougainvillea Plant Care Tips

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Origin: Brazil

Height: Up to 15 ft (4.5 m) if not pruned back. Can be grown as a bonsai -- bougainvillea bonsai tree can be kept small with frequent pruning.

Light: Full sun. Give it at least 4 hours of direct sun each day. Bougies won't bloom without enough light.

Water: Water thoroughly, then allow the top 2 inches (5 cm) of soil to dry out between waterings. Empty drainage tray to prevent soggy soil, which can lead to root rot. Overwatering will cause leaves to turn yellow and fall off. Plant bougainvillea in a pot with drainage holes. Keep slightly drier in winter.

Humidity: This South American native likes high humidity during the growing season, spring through fall. Aim for 50% relative humidity around the plant. It's a good idea to use a cool-mist room humidifier.

Temperature: Average to warm temperatures 60-80°F/16-27°C. Bougainvillea plants are frost-tender. Unless you live in a climate that's warm year-round, bring your plant back inside when the temperature dips below 60°F at night. It doesn't like the cold at all.

Soil: Good-quality, all-purpose potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks spring through fall. I highly recommend using fertilizer specially made for bougainvilleas.

Propagation: Take 4 in (10 cm) stem tip cuttings in spring and root them in moist soil. Propagating the cuttings requires a heat mat for best results. Cuttings should root in about 2 months.

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