Bougainvillea: A Beautiful Tropical Plant

a bougainvillea growing wild.

Bougainvillea is a beautiful, thorny decorative plant with stunning petals that come in a variety of colors. (Image: Martin Muller via Dreamstime)

Bougainvillea is a beautiful, thorny decorative plant with colorful petals that come in shades such as purple, pink, orange, yellow, white, or magenta. It has its origins in South America, including Brazil, Peru, and southern parts of Argentina. Scientists have identified about 22 viable species of this plant, which can grow up to about 40 feet tall under the right conditions. You can trim it to any desired height.

Optimal growing conditions

The bougainvillea plant grows best in tropical areas since it is adapted to dry climatic conditions and well-drained soils. It can also be grown against a wall, in a container, as a fence, or in hanging baskets. If you live in a hot climate and desire beautiful blooming flowers all year round, this plant is a great choice.

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Colorful purple bougainvillea growing up the side of a house in Italy.
Bougainvillea can be grown against a wall, in a container, as a fence, or in hanging baskets. (Image: Naturefriend via Dreamstime)

Planting and caring for your bougainvillea

First, cut about 2- to 3-inch stems from the parent plant at a 45-degree angle and prune all the leaves and flowers, as these are likely to dry off after planting. Then moisten the bottom part of your cut stems and gently dip them in rooting hormone powder.

Secondly, prepare the area where you want to plant your bougainvilleas or fill flower pots with soil. Do not fill your pot to the brim with soil but leave a little space for watering.

Thirdly, plant your stems about 1.5 to 2 inches deep. Plant one stem per pot or 5 to 10 feet apart for those grown in the ground or 3 feet apart for smaller species. Lastly, water your new stems to encourage roots to grow, but do not overwater them.

Transplanting bougainvillea

After about 6 to 10 weeks, your bougainvillea stems will produce small green leaves around them. It’s a sign that your plants have taken root. If you want to transfer your shooting stems from the pot or container to the ground or a bigger pot, it’s best to do so during summer or spring because they love warm temperatures.

Bougainvillea roots are delicate, so be gentle while transplanting them. Prepare your flower bed or your new larger flower pot and gently tap the rooting vase to loosen the compressed soil. Then, gently remove your plant and transfer it to its new home.

Bougainvillea at the plant nursery in black plastic containers waiting to be planted.
Bougainvillea roots are delicate, so be gentle while transplanting them. (Image: Lzf via Dreamstime)

Tips for care

Pruning your bougainvillea needs to be done for them to produce beautifully colored flowers. Prune them during late winter to give room for a new blooming cycle or after each cycle. Water your bougainvillea every 3 to 4 weeks to avoid root rot and fungal diseases, but no fertilization is needed. If you are using your bougainvillea for ground cover, then it doesn’t need any support. However, if you need it to go over a wall or fence, you will need to tie and give them support since they do not have tendrils.

Pest and disease control

Most bougainvillea species are not prone to pests or diseases. Still, some species may be affected by leaf miners, aphids, caterpillars, fungi, and bacterial leaf spots, among others. If you suspect that your plants are affected by any of the above pests or diseases, assess the kind of pest or disease, then find the right insecticide because different pests have specific treatments. 

To give maximum aesthetic benefits, your bougainvillea plants need plenty of sunlight, about 5 to 6 hours a day. The more your plants are exposed to sunlight, the more they will bloom with plenty of colorful flowers.

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