Bougainvillea: How to Grow Bougainvillea
Garden flowers remind us that beauty is abundant and they generate feelings of happiness with their brilliant colors and cheery appearance.
When you plan out your own garden, you want some colorful shades to grace it with. And, because bougainvillea comes with different shades of bright colors, it is definitely a smart addition to the entire setup.
Grow this plant properly and it will give your landscape a buoyant appeal.
Bougainvillea is one of the most memorable plants that exist, because when you see it, you will definitely remember it for its exceptional brightness. This plant is evergreen, with beautiful bracts that are thin and papery.
When you look at this plant from a distance, you will see colorful petals, but actually, they are not petals of this plant. Those parts are called bracts.
The bracts surround a small flower in their middle, and function as pollinator attractors. They call the attention of bees and butterflies that they seem to say “hey here is a flower”.
Bougainvillea is a fast-growing vine and is popular for planting around homes serving as a hedge. Due to their sharp thorns, they are also used as deterrent to intruders.
Facts about Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea is a Nyctaginaceae shrub or vine. It has 18 known species that originated in South America.
The original discovery was made in Brazil by French botanist Philibert Commerson in the 1760s. After his discovery, he named the plant after his friend Louis de Bougainville.
In South and Central America, these tropical vines are called ‘paper flowers’. In those areas, they are found to have the ability to tolerate drought well and produce brilliant flowers. These plants are also rapid growers, flowering all throughout the year in tropical regions.
In America, bougainvillea grows effortlessly in regions such as the Gulf Coast, Texas, Florida, California, Hawaii and other regions where winters are mild. The plant can also be grown in containers.
Bougainvillea is a hardy plant, but it should be planted on an elevated ground where water cannot pool. Too much moisture can rot its roots. When it comes to watering, deep watering every 3-4 weeks is preferred rather than frequent shallow watering.
When it comes to sunlight, bougainvillea needs a minimum of 5 hours per day. It flourishes best in temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees.
Give the plant enough space to spread out, but regular pruning is required to prevent it from running rampant. Pruning can be done any time of the year, except during the hot or frosty season.
Bougainvillea also makes a great container plant. If you have extremely cold winters, you would rather plant it in containers. When the winter comes, put the containers indoors.
There are several varieties of bougainvillea and most grow to a height of 20 to 30 feet. Its maximum spread is also about 30 feet.
If grown as groundcover, they can grow as tall as 2 feet and a minimum of 1½ feet and spread up to 10 feet wide. The dwarf varieties generally grow 2-6 feet tall and wide. By regularly pruning them, you can direct their growth and shape.
If you want to increase growth at the top, cut the suckers found at the base, and if you want to reduce the size, prune spindly and twiggy growth. Also cut the shoots back by about one third.
Bougainvillea leaves have an oval outline or ovoid shape, like an egg. They are also acuminate, which means they taper to a pointed end. In terms of size, the leaves can grow up to 13 cm long with broadness reaching up to 6 cm.
Bougainvillea is a plant that drops its leaves in winter, and when warm weather comes back in spring, it puts on new foliage.
The leaves of bougainvillea have anti-inflammatory properties. The flowers and the bracts can be made into a healthy tea that can be used to promote easy breathing and treat sore throat.
In zones 9-11, where temperatures are lowest (25 – 40 degrees), bougainvillea will bloom on and off all year. In colder regions, it will go dormant when taken indoors for winter, and will bloom in summer.
The true flowers of the plant are small white parts surrounded by bracts of different hues. The bracts are the true showstoppers and come in shades of white, apricot, orange, light pink, hot pink, magenta, purple and red. They are also called “false flowers”.
To force the plant into bloom for nursery sales, what growers do is withhold water for a period of up to three months. Too much supply of fertilizer and improper pruning may cause the bougainvillea not to flower.
There are around 250 varieties of bougainvillea, including thornless, extra-large, dwarf and semi-dwarf.
Although most bougainvillea species grow thorns of up to 2 inches long, you can find varieties that are thornless. Examples are aroborea and “Miss Alice”.
Bougainvillea aroborea is a fragrant species and can be grown as a free-standing shrub. It can also be grown on fences, walls and arbors.
Miss Alice, also called “Moonlight” and “Singapore white,” is prized for its fiery white bands of flowers and its semi-dwarf growing habit. Its leaves are long and elliptical and have colors ranging from medium to dark green.
These are varieties that reach up to a full length of 30 feet and a spread of 10 feet, which are probably the best varieties for groundcover. If looking for such a variety, one species recommended is the “Lady Baring” that also goes by the name “Hawaiian Gold”.
Exhibiting colossal clusters of lively yellow flowers, the Lady Baring can be added to your garden if a bold color needs to adorn your landscape. You can make it climb a wall or a trellis since its branches are strong and thick.
Dwarf varieties have an extremely slow growth rate, so think of these varieties as perfect items to put on entryways and arbors. They are also very popular as plants for hanging baskets and as bonsai specimens.
One example is “James Walker”, which is a species that is extremely showy and free-flowering. The plant’s bracts emerge with an orange color and open to a luminous magenta. Though classified as dwarf, James Walker can still grow up to 20 feet if left un-pruned for a long time.
Aside from the semi-dwarf Miss Alice species, another low-growing variety is the “Vera Deep Purple, which was introduced to Europe in recent years. It has pink purple bracts and medium-green rounded leaves. This is a plant that likes climbing and grows up to 4 feet tall.
This particular bougainvillea species likes full sun exposure and can be watered regularly, but still be careful not to overwater. Its thorns are stubby little nubs that hardly scratch as they are not as sharp as those of other varieties.
How to Grow Bougainvillea
Here’s how to provide this plant with the best growing and flowering condition:
The potting soil or the ground on which you grow a bougainvillea plant should be without a high level of peat moss. Too much peat moss retains moisture that leads to rotting of roots.
Ensure that, for every pot, there is at least one drainage hole to let water pass through. If planted on the ground, Bougainvillea does best with about 25 inches of rainfall per year.
A loamy soil is ideal. With bougainvillea, you can have organic compost and native soil in the ratio of 1:2. That is, 1 part organic to every 2 parts of native soil. Two to three inches layer of compost on top is the best setup for this plant.
The acidity of soil and its nitrogen content are also important factors to consider. Some growers mix coffee grounds with the soil to increase the supply of nitrogen. However, bear in mind that too much nitrogen supply promotes vegetative growth at the expense of blooms.
A pH level of 5.5 to 6.0 is the best acidity level for bougainvillea. You can increase the acidity level by mixing limestone with the soil. If there is a need to decrease the pH, you can use sulfur instead.
Bougainvillea thrives in full sun, and to reiterate, it needs 5 hours of sunlight at the minimum. If planted under shade, chances are it will not bloom. If putting them indoors, place it close to the south- or west-facing window, if possible.
You will know that the plant is not receiving enough amount of light if you see that its bracts are dropping.
If you are growing bougainvillea indoors, use grow lights and set the temperature not below 50°F and not higher than 60°F. Install the lights 18 inches above the plant’s top.
A single strip fluorescent may be enough to give the required amount of light. With artificial lighting, flowering plants need 12-16 hours of continuous exposure.
Of the many species of bougainvillea, the glabra type is the easiest to grow indoors.
Temperature & Humidity
Bougainvillea plants adore high humidity, most especially when they are about to bloom. The ideal humidity level is 50%. You can control humidity levels by spraying its leaves with cool mists of water. During winter, you can use a humidity tray or a humidifier to maintain the right levels indoors.
If humidity is too low, there is a possibility that spider mites will come and invade the different parts of the plants. As this pest hates moisture, what you can do to remove the bugs is dislodge them by rinsing the affected parts with water.
Bougainvilleas are tough plants, but at the initial stages of their growth, frost can kill them or their leaves may fall off. If they survive frost, the plants can regrow.
Make sure that you know the species that you are growing, as different species require different temperature levels.
For instance, the glabra species tolerates temperatures as low as 58 degrees, while the B. spectabilis species grow best in the range of 64 – 68 degrees. Bougainvilleas can grow in temperatures over 100°F.
Follow a strict schedule for watering, and during the first couple of years, water the plant regularly to establish its root system. Once the root system has been established, it is best that you side with keeping the soil dry. That’s because you want the plant to flower vigorously.
When is the right time to water? Check the top 3 inches of the soil. When you see that section is dry, it’s time to water the plant again.
Another indicator that you need to water it is when you see wilting parts. If the plant gets bone-dry, you will see its foliage and bracts falling to the ground. When watering it, ensure that every inch of the root system is covered.
For better drainage performance, you may add peat moss or perlite to the soil.
When choosing products for fertilizing your bougainvillea, you would want these products not to cause too much release of nitrogen. Check the label, and if it says that it is controlled-release type of fertilizer, that is an appropriate product to use as a nutrition supplement for the plant.
At planting time, use a fertilizer with high phosphate content, and at growing time, use fertilizer with balanced mineral content. Most products contain a ratio of 5-5-5 or 10-10-10, indicating the amount of N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) in the fertilizer.
To repeat, do not over-fertilize, because that will cause vegetative growth at the expense of blooming. Application of fertilizer is once a month. Take note that bougainvillea is a heavy feeder, and some growers of this plant even give it fertilizer every 7 to 14 days.
If your bougainvillea in its site does not receive enough sunlight, consider transplanting it to a more suitable spot, and the best time to do it is late fall or early spring. That is the time when your plant is dormant.
The first step is to dig around it, staying at least 6 inches from the stump. After digging about 10 inches, use a garden spade to slowly lift the plant. Be careful not to cut through its root system.
Before replanting it in another spot, put a handful of fertilizer at the bottom of the hole where you will relocate the plant. The top of the root ball should be about 1 inch below the level of the ground.
Afterwards, pat the earth down around the plant, followed by watering.
The right time to schedule pruning is after flowering at the start of the rainy season. Cut off just a third of the stems and remove old flower clusters.
Using your fingertips, pluck off about ½ inch of new stem growth. After some time, several new stems will come out of the pinched tip.
Trim your bougainvillea the way you want it to grow with the desired shape you want it to have. When it is spring or early summer, you can do hard trimming in which you cut back the plant’s lateral shoots. This encourages flower growth.
Prune off dead or diseased parts, including wilted flowers throughout the year as they appear. When pruning, wear gloves to protect yourself from the plant’s sharp thorns.
For propagation, you can use softwood terminals, as well as maturing green wood. The thickness of stem cuttings should be around 1/8 inch and must have at least three nodes.
Grafting is another way to propagate bougainvillea. Some cultivars have little to no chlorophyll in their leaves, so it is not advisable to grow them from stem cuttings. Instead, graft them using a rootstock. Grafting is preferred for cultivars that have weak root systems.
Bougainvillea plants root in about 4 to 8 weeks. Check rooting by gently tugging on the cutting’s base. If it resists the movement, then the cutting has successfully rooted.
Take extra caution when testing the plant if it has rooted, since bougainvilleas do not have strong root systems. Their roots tend to be long and brittle. As such, they easily break when moved or disturbed in any way.
You can also propagate bougainvillea in water. Choose cuttings that are hard and mature (to prevent rotting in water). Put them in a paper cup that is half-filled with water.
Keep in mind to maintain the right humidity level because water will naturally evaporate from the cup.
Bougainvillea Health Benefits
Bougainvillea beautifies gardens and homes, but their natural chemical content (pinitol, betacyanin, flavonoids, etc.) makes them also useful for fortifying health and treatment of ailments. This includes:
Detoxification – For flushing toxins from the body and for weight loss
Respiratory – Supports discharge of mucus from the respiratory tract and optimal lung function.
Digestive issues – Bougainvillea has been found to have the ability to treat diarrhea. It also has a positive effect on stomach ulcers, relieving ulcerations and the pain that goes with them.
Antiseptic – prevents growth of disease-causing organisms. Antiseptics are used to stop growth of bacteria on the skin and for prevention of infection.
Anti-inflammatory – The plant is used for treating joint and muscle pain
Pinitol – This chemical is used for diabetic people because of its insulin-like effect. Pinitol can also be extracted from soybeans.
Betacyanin – Betacyanins, along with anthocyanins, are natural red pigments present in fruits and vegetables. These chemicals have antioxidant properties that are useful for cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention.
Flavonoids – These chemicals help in the regulation of cellular functions and also fight free radicals. In simple terms, they help the body function more efficiently while protecting it against toxins and stressors. Flavonoids also function as antioxidants.
Ketones – These chemicals provide energy for the brain in the absence of glucose.
Uses of Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea’s wonders do not end with just the beauty, but it also comes with culinary and medicinal uses.
The flower bracts of the bougainvillea plant are edible. People eat them fresh in salads and prepare them deep-fried in batter. As an ingredient for drinks, the bract’s color is made to seep into liquids.
You can of course take advantage of the beauty by including bougainvillea bracts and flowers as decorations on your dishes.
The bracts can be combined with santan flowers for a healthy snack. The recipe includes flour made into a batter. Just deep fry the flowers after dipping them in the batter. You can have tomato sauce as dipping or any other sauce that your palate enjoys.
Bougainvillea Tea Recipe:
If you will use this tea for cough, fever, or sore throat, you will need:
- 1 cup bougainvillea flowers and bracts
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1/3 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups water
Bring the water into a boil including the cinnamon stick. Boil for 2 minutes. Add the flowers and bracts, and continue to boil for two minutes more.
Remove the bougainvillea ingredients and the tea is ready to give you relief.
Bougainvillea is reported to have medicinal values and can fight cancer, diabetes, and liver toxicity. In addition, the plant has these medicinal properties:
These therapeutic properties are due to the following phytoconstituents:
Remedial properties are due to the following content:
Here’s your guide to providing the best conditions for planting and growing bougainvillea. The plant exudes in beauty with bracts sporting deep colors of magenta, purple and orange.
All the parts of these plants have medicinal properties. The bracts and flowers are edible, so find ways to incorporate them in your kitchen recipes and take advantage of their beauty adorning your dishes and the health benefits they bring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does bougainvillea flower all year?
Bougainvillea can flower on and off all throughout year, but they bloom the best in summer.
Can bougainvillea grow in pots?
You can plant bougainvillea in planters, and this is recommended for locations where winter is bitingly cold. When the winter comes, simply transfer the pots indoors.
Can I grow bougainvillea indoors?
Yes, you can grow this plant indoors (especially during winter), but when the winter is through, the plant must be placed outside because it loves being showered with sunlight.