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Growing Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea are native to Brazil and are woody tropical/subtropical shrubs/vines that are widely cultivated for their elaborate floral display.  Actually,  the "floral" display are flower-like bracts, not true flowers, as is the case with poinsettias.  There are two species commonly in cultivation: B. glabra (shown above), and the larger blooming B. spectabilis.  Bougainvillea can be enjoyed in any climate providing they receive over wintering protection from temperatures below 50 degrees.   Many dwarf forms and varieties with variegated foliage have been introduced as new cultivars.  This plant is hardy in Zone 10 and in sheltered environments within Zone 9.

Cultivation Tips

Surprisingly, Bougainvillea blooms best during the short daylight periods of winter but will sporadically bloom year round on new growth.  Growing season requires 60 degrees or warmer.  This makes it difficult for people in colder climates to get the maximum ornamental value of Bougainvillea unless it is greenhouse grown during winter months. Ours bloom heavily while hanging from ceiling rafters in the winter greenhouse! Bougainvillea's foliage is temperature sensitive below 50 degrees but the plant will survive down to the mid 30's with leaf drop.  We have actually put ours in an almost dark garage over winter and they have survived and refoliated next spring. When doing this, cut all fertilization and greatly reduce watering. We recommend growing Bougainvillea as a hanging basket plant. That makes it easy to take in and out as temperatures fluctuate. Remember to acclimatize any plant to lower light levels by gradual reduction of light if attempting to over winter in lower light conditions. It loves to be pruned occasionally which actually encourages new growth and therefore more potential bloom. We haven't really figured out the best fertilization program for them but have noticed that several sources have recommended a formulation similar to Hibiscus formulations of approximately 15-5-10.  Flowering is best forced by letting the plant dry to the point foliage shows wilting before watering thoroughly. This helps encourage the plant to bloom through stress reaction. Bougainvillea must receive full sunlight or bright light and must be grown in a well drained soil as it must be grown on the dry side. 

Some Bougainvillea Cultivars

Color of Flora Description Cultivar Name Other Ornamental Features
Royal Purple Royal Purple Bushy plant, large bracts
Lavender Pink B.P.J.s Weeping Beauty Compact, nearly thornless, good for hanging baskets, small variegated cream and green leaves
Rose Red Barbara Karst Very floriferous large bracts, a traditional favorite
Rose Red Double Red Dense large clusters of small long lasting double blooms, compact plant
Deep Scarlet Red Watermelon A vigorous grower,  floral color is unique and fiery
Brick Red Helen Johnson Very compact, bushy, wavy leaves, good for hanging baskets
Dark purplish-red Jamaica Red Foliage occasionally flecked with gold
Rich Magenta Juanita Hatten Leaves subtly variegated with lighter green, compact spreading habit-good for hanging baskets
Raspberry Red Raspberry Ice Variegated green & white leaves  - very colorful when not in bloom
Bronze to solid Pink Coral Bracts change color through maturity
Pure Pink Double Pink Miniature plant, dense clusters of pink double blooms, compact
Powdery Pink Pink Pixie Unique upright miniature plant, flowers produced individually along stem.  Good for containers
Pink and White Surprise Unpredictable combinations of pink and white blooms on same plant, either blended or solid.
Pink and White Vickie Same as Surprise with another surprise, boldly variegated foliage - green with yellow center.
Soft Orange to Pink Tropical Bouquet Compact and bushy, both colors of bloom at same time - orange to start fading to pink
Gold California Gold Vining habit, long lasting blooms that are a true golden color
Soft orange to Pink Double Orange Compact, dense clusters of bloom that change color with age
Orange to Pink Mardi Gras Softly variegated foliage, miniature plant, excellent for hanging baskets
Soft Orange Rainbow Gold Bushy compact habit, free flowering
Pure White Summer Snow Large bracts, good for hanging baskets
White tinged Pink Double White One of the most floriferous, white dense bloom clusters tinge pink in hot weather

This listing doesn't cover all the Bougainvillea cultivars available.  New ones are being introduced continually.  Check other sources for additional cultivars.

An excellent site for more detailed and comprehensive information on Bougainvillea is

Left:   A colorful variety of hanging baskets of   Bougainvillea pruned back in mid winter and grown in a hobby greenhouse in Houston, TX.

Right:  One way to display Bougainvillea is in hanging pots along a fence line.  Being a vine by nature, they "hang well" and are easy to remove & store in a hobby greenhouse in winter.