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The queen of the coastal and Mediterranean gardens, the magnificent bougainvillea is one of those plants that cannot go unnoticed. The tropical climber, originally from South and Central America, is a natural beauty, and its paper-like vibrant bracts with flowers are a striking decoration for any garden.
What is Bougainvillea?
Before we begin, let us clear up a common misconception. Contrary to what is commonly thought, the bloom of Bougainvillea is not flowers. Yes, you read that right!
The colorful foliage is just specialized leaves known as ‘bracts’, that grow around the actual Bougainvillea flower, which are small in size and usually white or yellow.
Although it does not look like it, growing bougainvillea is an incredibly easy task, as the plants require relatively minimal attention. They can survive climatic conditions ranging from light frosts to severe heat and drought.
As is common with tropical plants, bougainvillea requires plenty of sunlight, at least six hours a day, as exposure to sunlight, is integral to getting bountiful blooms.
In its natural habitat, bougainvillea is an evergreen thorny vine that can grow 15 feet or more in ideal growing conditions. The leaves are medium green, alternate heart-shaped between two and five inches long, depending on the variety.
Although the bougainvillea looks beautiful even out of the blooming season, its main attractions are prominent, paper-like bracts of intense colors that hide a tiny white or creamy-white flower.
The color of bracts most often is vibrant magenta, but nowadays, cultivars can bear red, white, orange, or sunny yellow bracts,
Flowers with bracts grow along the entire stem so dense that sometimes the leaves are not visible. This spectacular floral show lasts at least five weeks, even all summer if the plant gets enough sun.
In warmer areas, bougainvillea can be green all year round, while in colder regions, its leaves fall off in the winter months.
Name of Bougainvillea
The plant belongs to the Nyctaginaceae family, including 33 genera with more than 290 flowering plants from tropical and subtropical regions. The plant and the whole genus are named after the French sailor Louise Antoine Bouganville, who first brought the vine to Europe in the early 19th century.
However, thanks to selection and crossbreeding, today’s more than 300 bougainvillea varieties are significantly different from these indigenous species
For people living in cooler climates, planting bougainvillea in a container or a hanging basket is a viable option, especially if you are planting the shorter, shrubbier varieties as they work best for containers.
The plant can be brought inside during winters when warmth and light exposure can be controlled. But make sure to use a well-drained pot with drainage holes and gritty, as well as loose soil that would not retain moisture.
But for those of us who live in a warmer climate and can experience Bougainvillea in all its 40 feet glory, here are some tips to keep in mind. As the vines do not have any tendrils to climb up walls themselves, they will require support.
Tying them up works great, but they can also be trained to climb over fences or any structure, adding to the aesthetic of your place!
How to Care for Bougainvillea
The Luxuriant bougainvillea is a great choice even if you are not a skilled gardener. Yet, you have to follow specific rules if you want to grow it successfully:
Bougainvillea is a great garden or potted plant when it gets enough sunlight. Since it needs at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, a sunny terrace or south-facing balcony is ideal for summer.
If you keep it indoors, place it next to a large south-facing window that ensures unlimited sun exposure during the day if possible.
Keeping it in the shade will resist blooming because it needs at least five hours of direct sunlight during flowering.
Since it is a tropical plant, bougainvillea survives outside in climate zone 9 and up.
It tolerates temperatures above 98°F, but the night temperature should not be lower than 50℉, although some hybrids can tolerate slightly lower temperatures.
In a continental climate, it cannot winter outside. Yet, like oleander, it can grow in a large pot sheltered in a frost-free area during the cold months.
Therefore, you should keep your potted bougainvillea in a bright, airy, and cool room, approximately 47-50 ℉, although a healthy plant can survive at 20 ℉.
Due to its thin root, Bougainvillea prefers loose, loamy, well-drained soil and thrives best in acidic pH values of 5.5-6.
The ideal combination for potted plants is one-third of organic compost and two-thirds of ordinary garden soil or standard potting mix. In addition, you should avoid peat-based substrate as it contributes to root rot.
Since it is suitable for growing in the coastal area, it does not mind dry and salty soil.
Bougainvillea is resistant to drought, but it will grow, develop and bloom better if you provide enough water, especially during the flowering period.
During the summer, you should water bougainvillea two to three times a week, best in the morning, but always letting the substrate or soil dry between waterings.
In winter, when the plant is dormant and does not need a lot of moisture, watering once a week will be quite enough.
Abundant frequent watering can cause root rot and fungal diseases.
Bougainvillea proliferates, so pruning is necessary to maintain the plant’s appearance and encourage growth, flowering, and lushness.
The method and time of pruning depend on the type, but generally, you can prune your bougainvillea twice a year.
Prune new shoots after each flowering, and bougainvillea will bloom for a long time and flower until the beginning of winter.
Prune it at the end of winter or before the vegetation begins, leaving only its main branches. They will form the canopy in the spring and give flowers in the summer.
Take a stem cutting from a mature bougainvillea plant that is at least 6 inches long, with 2-3 leaves on it. Remove the bottom set of leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder.
Plant the cutting in well-draining soil and keep it in a warm, bright location. Water regularly and wait for roots to form before transplanting to a larger pot or outdoor location. This is the one I have used a few times.
Select a low-hanging branch of a mature bougainvillea plant and bend it down to the ground. Make a small incision in the bark where the branch touches the soil and dust the area with rooting hormone powder.
Cover the area with soil and keep it moist. After a few months, roots should form and the new plant can be separated from the parent plant.
Choose a mature, healthy branch of a bougainvillea plant and make a small cut in the bark where you want roots to form.
Wrap damp sphagnum moss around the cut and cover it with plastic wrap, sealing the ends with tape.
Keep the moss moist and wait for roots to form. Once roots have formed, cut the branch below the moss and plant it in well-draining soil.
Propagation of bougainvillea can take some time, so be patient and consistent with your care. Good luck!
To ensure the proper development of the plant, feed it once a month with liquid fertilizers rich in potassium. Try to make homemade fertilizer for your plant with comfrey tea.
It is best to fertilize bougainvillea immediately in spring when you move it outdoors. Intensify fertilization during spring and summer.
One of the biggest enemies of your Bougainvillea is over-watering. Excess watering will not only result in fewer blooms, but it can also cause numerous fungal diseases as well, most notably root rot.
A deficiency of important nutrients such as iron and magnesium can cause chlorosis. Chlorosis is a process that causes yellowing of the leaves and dark veins. It can be countered by supplying the soil with the required nutrients through a micronutrient blend.
Some of the most commonly found pests that harm bougainvillea are:
- Spider Mites
- Leaf Miner
- Caterpillars, Slugs, and Snails
- Leaf Spot (Bacterial and Fungal)
Many of the aforementioned pests can be prevented by monitoring your plant closely and regularly. Other remedies include the application of neem oil as well as various commercially available pesticides.
A simpler DIY trick is to spray the plants with a dish soap and water mixture. There are plenty of solutions for you to try, you just need to have enough determination!
Types of Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea comes in several different types, which vary in size and color. The yellow/orange varieties include Afterglow, California Gold, and Sundown Orange while Bengal Orange is more of a pink-orange shade.
Other pink-colored Bougainvillea types are Pixie, Helen Johnson, and Rosenka, while the Imperial Delight is pink-white. Moneth, Barbara Karst, and James Walker are purple.
In size, Helen Johnson and Pink Pixie are of the ‘dwarf’ variety, staying under 3 feet in height. Singapore White, Rosenka, and Bengal Orange come under the ‘semi-dwarf’ category, ranging between 2 to 8 feet. The rest are ‘full-size’ or ‘giant’ as they can grow up to 40 feet tall.
If you’re growing bougainvillea in a pot or any other type of container, make sure to repot the plant regularly, as bougainvillea are incredibly fast growers.
Repotting requires handling the roots with care as they are very thin and hence very delicate. Use the lower stem to remove the plant from the pot. Fill the new pot with a couple of inches of soil and place the evacuated plant inside.
Remember to water immediately after repotting!
As mentioned above, Bougainvillea grows at a rapid pace, which is why pruning regularly is a requirement. You can trim off the branches to half their length as Bougainvillea blooms on new growth. The best time for pruning is after the blooming cycle.
- This vigorous, showy vine shines with bright, magenta-red, petal-like bracts. Creates a fine cover for patios or arbors, and is a dramatic groundcover for banks when allowed to ramble unsupported.
- Drought tolerant when established. Evergreen in frost-free climates; provides superb warm season color in colder winter areas.
- The Bougainvillea variety ‘Barbara Karst’ is a marriage of toughness and beauty. Not only does ‘Barbara Karst’ handle desert heat well, it has been noted as hardy down to 25°F.
- From spring, all the way through summer, the relatively inconspicuous blossoms of ‘Barbara Karst’ are surrounded by bracts of such a bright magenta-red color that they almost look unreal, though in light shade the bracts will take on a more earthly violet cast.
- Plant in full sun to bring out the bright color of the bracts, if planted in more shade the color will dull to a reddish-blue. It requires very little irrigation along the coast once established.
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