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How to Care For Bougainvillea Plants

Last Updated on September 16, 2022 by Plant Mom Care

Bougainvillea consists of a genus of ornamental thorny bushes, trees, and vines from the Nyctaginaceae family. It is indigenous to South America with about 18 species of plants in the genus and more than 300 different varieties. 

There’s an interesting story behind the name of this genus when it was first found by Europeans. In 1766, Philibert Commerçon, a French botanist along with his lover and assistant, Jeanne Baret, accompanied Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his circumnavigation of the world. As women weren’t allowed on the ship, she masqueraded as a man called “Jean”.

26-year-old Jeanne was an expert botanist herself and loved adventure and enjoyed the thrill of traveling with her lover while collecting new plant and flower species. When the ship landed in Brazil, she came across a beautiful plant that she handed to Philibert after she returned to the ship.

Commerce begged Bougainville to save her life and promised to name the colorful new specimen after him if he did. This was considered quite an esteemed honor at the time, so Bougainville accepted and spared Jeanne’s life. That’s how the name of the plant we now call the Bougainvillea came about. And to cap it all, Jeanne Baret became the first woman ever to circumnavigate the world! 

Commerçon’s description of the plant was first listed as ‘Buginvillaea’ in A.L. de Jussieu’s edition of Genera Plantarum in 1789. The plant was finally called “Bougainvillea” in the 1930’s edition of Index Kewensis. 

The growth rate of these plants varies from slow to fast, depending on the variety and they grow 3 to 39 feet tall, climbing on other plants with help from their spiky thorns. They are evergreen in places where rain is plentiful all year, or deciduous when there is a dry season.

Their long thorny branches bear leaves that are 1.5–5 inches long and around 2 inches broad and their inflorescences are large colorful bracts in magenta, pink, purple, red, yellow, orange or white, that surround three waxy flowers several cultivars have been developed, including some variegated and double-flowered specimens. These plants are popularly grown as ornamentals almost everywhere in places with warm climates. 

Most of these plants today can be traced back to three species – Glabra, Spectabilis, and Peruviana, these three have the colorful bracts that characterize the entire genus that has been bred, developed, and sold by the horticultural industry today.

These plants can be cultivated as houseplants in temperate climates and they are perfect for growing in hot climates since they are drought tolerant as well as salt tolerant. This makes them excellent hot season plants to be grown throughout the year in warm climates and their tolerance of salt makes them a nice selection to provide color in areas along coastlines.

They can be pruned and trained into topiary shapes, but they are also grown as fences or hedges, on walls, in hanging baskets and containers. These plants are also very attractive to Bonsai enthusiasts as they are trained easily and grow small with bonsai techniques.


Bougainvillea Light Requirements

These plants thrive under the very bright sun, although some shade in the afternoon under extremely hot weather might be beneficial. Several gardeners tend to move their potted plants outdoors in summer to ensure the plants get enough sun exposure.

During winter, if you grow your plant indoors, select a spot that gets the most sun. The hues of the blooms are linked to how much sunlight these plants get—more light will produce brighter and more saturated colors.


Bougainvillea Watering

Water these plants thoroughly and then let them dry out. If they are water-logged in poorly draining soil, their bracts and leaves will drop regularly but limited watering will result in weak and shallow root systems.

The amount and regularity of watering must be in sync with your climate, keep the plants consistently watered during spring until autumn and reduce the frequency of watering in winter as they bloom better in dry winter conditions.

Too much watering can produce too much foliage growth and root rot, while too little watering will make the plants wilt. 


Bougainvillea Humidity

Due to their tropical origin, they can thrive in any level of humidity but if humidity is low indoors, keep a humidifier near the plants to raise the level.


Bougainvillea Temperature

These plants are relatively hardy and able to endure a wide range of temperatures, from highs of 80°F and above to lows of 40°F.

Nonetheless, for these plants to thrive indoors, keep temperatures around 60-70°F. They will bloom again and again throughout the year in zones 9 to 11, gut tends to become dormant in colder zones and will usually bloom in summer.


Bougainvillea Soil

These plants thrive in well-watered but also well-drained and slightly acidic soil. Add compost to make the soil rich and nutritious and use a pot with a minimum of one large drainage hole to avoid root rot.


Bougainvillea Repotting

These plants spread rapidly in suitable settings and will quickly become small trees or shrubs many feet high. To keep the plants manageable in pots, control their growth by repotting every year and pruning their roots in spring. When selecting a container for these plants, always go for a bigger size than the old one. 


Bougainvillea Propagation

They are easily propagated from cuttings and can be done any season of the year. Cuttings from softwood are easier to propagate since woody cuttings take more time. Take a cutting 4 to 5 inches long that has about 4 or 6 nodes.

Remove the leaves and insert them straight in a mixture of perlite and peat, around 1 or 2 inches into the mix. Keep the pot in a warm site and lightly water or mist it now and again, but don’t saturate the mix. It should start rooting after a few months and become a new plant. 

Additional Care

These plants require plenty of nutrition to flower throughout the season, particularly indoors where most plants rarely bloom as frequently. Feed the plants with a weak liquid fertilizer every seven or ten days. There are many fertilizers specifically tailored towards the species on the market but look for one that is suitable for other tropical plants, such as hibiscus. 

Pruning these plants after flowering will keep them in shape and encourage more flowering. Since flowers appear with new growth on these plants, frequent trimming will stimulate fuller growth and more blooms. Remove dead branches to tidy up the plants. Gloves are necessary when pruning them, as most types have plenty of thorns. 

These plants won’t naturally attach themselves and need help to climb, use straps or twine to tie and train them to their supporting structures. Their thorns will help secure the plant’s fencing or other structures.

Common Problems

While they are usually quite resistant to disease, they can be bothered by scale, aphids, leafminers, slugs, whitefly, and spider mites. The best solution to keep these plants healthy is to not wet the leaves and areas around the plants and provide good ventilation to remove any dead, damaged, or infected foliage and branches. 

Indoor plants have to be monitored for mealybugs; these pests attack new growth, turning leaves yellow, damaging the leaves, and eventually dropping off. To rid the plants of mealybugs, treat them weekly with neem oil until they die off.

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