Bougainvillea Plant Care

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Bougainvillea pink with lots of flowers on a white wall

Bougainvillea is an outdoor hardy tropical vine that can grow well in pots as well as ground cover. They need direct sunlight of at least 6 hours a day and grow best in a southeast location. They also require frequent light pruning of about 2-3 inches to branch out and grow. Overwatering or lack of potassium causes the leaves to grow more instead of flowering and they need the soil to have very good drainage and aeration. 

 

In this article, I will discuss my personal experience with Bougainvillea plant care, problems & solutions, how to grow and propagate, what Soil to use, Repotting, Pruning and how much Water, Sunlight and Fertilizer is needed. You will know the best and most recommended ways to care for your Bougainvillea plant.

Bougainvillea General Info

  • Origin: Brazil, Peru, Argentina
  • Genus: Bougainvillea
  • Scientific Name: Bougainvillea
  • 👪Family: Nyctaginaceae (the four o'clock family)
  • 🌵Type: Thorny ornamental vine
  • 🌡️Temperature: 60°F to 100°F (15°C to 37°C)
  • 💧Watering: When soil is 2-3 inches dry
  • ☀️Light: Full sun, south facing window.
  • 🐛Pests: Orange Aphid
  • Propagation🌱: Stem cuttings
  • Height📏: 60-120 cm (20-30 ft) tall and wide
  • Soil: Well draining and slightly acidic. ¾ Potting Soil with ¼ compost + succulent/cacti mix.
  • Fertilizer: Organic fertilizer + 2 tsp potash every 20-30 days.

How to water💧

Water only when the top 2-3 inches of the soil is completely dry. When bougainvillea has flowers, water when the top 2-3 inches of the soil is slightly dry. Keep the soil damp, but not so much that it gets water clogged.

 

When you are planting a new bougainvillea or when the plant is flowering, you should give it regular water but don’t keep the soil soaking wet.

 

Overwatering bougainvillea weakens the plant, by promoting leaf growth only where flowers are already present. Water immediately if the plant looks wilted.

 

On average, I water it once a week when kept under direct sunlight in a South facing window and twice a week when the plant is flowering. 

 

Relationship between Water and blooming

 

You can trick a plant into blooming by withholding watering. When you see it has stopped blooming, stop watering the plant for 3-4 weeks and keep it in a medium sunlight area. It puts the plant in stress, causing it to believe it’s dying and as a natural response, it produces buds as a means to reproduce and create a future generation. You will see buds starting to come out. Then you can give it water, add fertilizer and shift it to a place that gets direct sunlight.

 

I haven’t tried this personally, but I am experimenting right now and will share the results and update this article when I have more information.

Sunlight Requirements ☀️

Bougainvillea needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. They can take a lot of heat. A south facing window is the best location for your Bougainvillea.

 

If you are growing bougainvillea indoors with some indirect sunlight, the plant will grow but have little to no bloom. Also the color of the flowers won’t be as bright.

Soil

Bougainvillea needs following properties in its soil

  • well-draining and well-aerated soil (root system is extremely fine) and low peat levels to avoid water/moisture retention that can lead to root rot.
  • Slightly Acidic (5.5-6.0 pH). Add sulfur, used coffee grounds or white vinegar to make the soil acidic.

 

¾ Potting Soil with ¼ compost + succulent/cacti mix is the most suitable soil mixture for Bougainvillea that makes sure the soil is well drained and well aerated with rich acidic composition.

Fertilizer

Bougainvillea is a heavy feeder and needs fertilizer every 20-30 days to keep the flowers blooming. The best fertilizers for Bougainvillea are organic and slow release fertilizers and 2 tsp of potash to promote flowering.

 

You can also use NPK 19-19-19 instead of organic fertilizer.

 

Bougainvilleas need potassium for flowering. You can feed bougainvilleas with 2 tsp of potash or banana peels that will increase the potassium content in the soil and help in flowering.

 

Bougainvilleas flower between November to May. Before the season begins, fertilize the plant well so it will flower.

Temperature🌡️

Bougainvillea likes direct sun as well as heat. Ideal temperature for growing Bougainvillea is between 60°F to 100°F (15°C to 37°C) with about 50% humidity around the plant.

 

It can tolerate a light freeze for a few days but anything more than that will kill the roots. The maximum temperature a bougainvillea can withstand is about 102°F (39°C) but anything higher than that can cause the leaves to burn, stunted growth and no flowering.

Pruning ✂️

Why Bougainvilleas need Pruning

Bougainvilleas are prolific growers and in order to see their growth, we need to prune them. Whenever the flowers are fading and about to fall off, you need to prune them. Pruning promotes growth, forces blooming and maintains the shape of Bougainvilleas.

When to Prune Bougainvillea

Although the best time to prune is before the winter so it has some time to settle in before winter hits, when you see more leaves and less flowers, it's time for some Bougainvillea pruning. Don’t prune when it's already flowering, prune when the flowers are starting to fall off.

How to prune Bougainvillea

Bougainvilleas need frequent pruning. 

To prune your Bougainvillea, 

  • cut 3-4 inches of every tip, just above a leaf node
  • Prune once the flowers have fallen off
  • If you see any large leaf, pluck it off to focus the plant's energy on new growth instead. By doing this light pruning, the plant actually branches and sends out two new shoots where there was only one.
  • Bougainvilleas only bloom where there is new growth. That is why it is important that you pinch on the new growth to promote flowering. You prune the dead branches, and pinch the new growth for flowering.

 

When you cut a branch, one or more new branches grow from there. Each leaf that you pluck will promote new branch growth.This makes the plant more bushier and these new branches will eventually form new buds and bloom more. More branches = More Flowers. 

 

If you have a bigger bougainvillea and you want to train it, you will need a support system like a trellis or a wire on the wall for it to be tied on to.

Flowering Season🌼

Bougainvilleas want a hot and dry climate to grow and bloom. So they bloom all year round in warm climates and almost 8-9 months where the winters are at 30 F. Bougainvilleas flower most between May to July and in some climates, they can flower until mid december as well. Before the season begins, fertilize the plant well so it is all set to grab that energy needed to grow and form buds.

 

Did you know?

 

The small white portion is the actual flower, along with bracts (colored leaves). The bracts fall off eventually, and new buds form, and then the bracts form all over again.

 

Plant Care Problems

 

Bougainvillea Problems

Reason and Solution

Leaves having spots or browning on the edges

This happens when bougainvillea is overwatered.

Leaves turning yellow

Overwatering or Underwatering

Leaves falling off

If it's winter, new growth will come so it's normal. Just prune and pinch to promote new growth.

No Flowering

  • Pinch the new growth to promote flowering
  • Overwatering
  • Over fertilization or under fertilization
  • Lack of potassium
  • Not enough sunlight (need 6 hours daily)

Less flowering and more leaves

You are overwatering your plant which results in more foliage growth and less flower growth. Also make sure your soil and pot has good drainage.

Not Growing

  • Not enough pruning, prune frequently
  • Not enough sunlight
  • Fertilize every month

Bougainvillea Not Flowering

If your bougainvillea is not flowering, the reason can be infrequent pruning, over fertilization, nitrogen rich fertilization with low potassium in soil, damp soil (overwatering) and/or lack of direct sunlight.

 

The 4 important factors in flowering Bougainvilleas are sunlight, water, pruning and fertilizer. Look out for the following 4 factors that may be preventing your plant from flowering:

 

  1. Pruning: One of the top reasons bougainvillea isn’t flowering. Frequent light pruning is necessary for new growth and buds are only formed on new growth. Just cut 3-4 inches of every tip and defoliate 40 to 50% of the leaves.
  2. Damp Soil: Make sure you are not overwatering. Bougainvilleas are better off on the drier side than being overwatered.
  3. Fertilizing is extremely important for a healthy flowering Bougainvillea. Fertilize once every 20-30 days with organic and slow release fertilizer and 2 tsp of potash to promote bloom.
  4. Sunlight is the fourth factor that is extremely important for Bougainvilleas to flower so make sure you can give as much sunlight to your plant as you can. A southeast location gets all the morning sun along with most of the afternoon sun and is the best location for Bougainvillea to flower.

 

To increase flowering in Bougainvillea, 

  • pinch the tips of the plant to promote growth.
  • Add phosphorus to promote flowering
  • You can trick a plant into blooming. When you see it has stopped blooming, stop watering the plant for 3-4 weeks and keep it in a medium sunlight area. You will see buds starting to come out. Then you can give it water, add fertilizer and shift it to a place that gets direct sunlight.

Bougainvillea Care in Winter

Bougainvillea grows in areas where winter temperatures do not go below 30 degrees F. Bougainvillea produces three rounds of vibrant blooms in spring, summer and autumn.

 

If you live in a place where winters go below 0 degree C, and you have planted Bougainvillea in a pot or a container, the best way to care for the plant would be to first bring it indoors because it will not survive the harsh weather. Most of the foliage will fall off during the winter season while the leftover foliage will fall off as the new growth starts in the spring season.

Pests 🐛and Diseases🦠

Most varieties of bougainvilleas are almost pest-resistant. They may be susceptible to Orange Aphids. You can easily get rid of these pests and diseases. Just hose them off.

How to Propagate🌱

You can easily propagate bougainvillea by stem cuttings. 

  1. Cut a branch that has 5-9 nodes in them. The branch should not be too mature or too immature.
  2. Remove the leaves and any recent growth from the stem to avoid spending energy on supporting the foliage but focus on root growth.
  3. Dip 2-3 inches of the cutting in a rooting hormone. You can also use Cinnamon + honey as a rooting hormone.
  4. Place the cutting in soil 2-3 inches deep, burying one node.
  5. Spray some water into the soil as soil should be moist when planting the branch. Don’t water the plant now as the effect of rooting hormone will be lessened. Water the next day.
  6. Keep it in shade for a week, and do not keep it in direct sunlight. It will start to grow thorns quickly.
  7. You will start seeing growth in a week. After 45 days, transplant your new Bougainvillea baby to a bigger pot.

Bougainvillea Care in Pots

If you don’t have enough growing space, you can plant bougainvillea in a pot. Bougainvillea grows well in small containers but their root growth is restricted. When your Bougainvillea seems to start getting root bound, re pot in a slightly larger container. Summer and spring is the best time for repotting so the new plant can take all the sunlight in while there is sunlight.

 

It is better to always plant bougainvilleas in a large container rather than repotting as bougainvilleas don’t like their roots being disturbed. If you have limited space in your garden and you wish to plant your bougainvillea in a pot but also want it to touch the sky, invest in a pot that is at least 36" tall.

 

When newly planted, water your bougies regularly and keep the soil moist until the plant is established. 

How fast does Bougainvillea grow

If you are propagating a Bougainvillea plant, it takes about a week to start seeing some growth, and about 2-4 months to start seeing some flowering. In order to grow bougainvillea without any restriction, grow the plant in at least 36" pot. If you want to increase the size and height of the Bougainvillea, use NPK and DAP (just a handful) every 2 weeks and water heavily. The most important factors in the growth of bougainvillea is frequent pruning, 6 hours of direct sunlight, and fertilizer.

 

Most bougainvillea varieties with support can grow as tall as upto 20 to 30 ft and wide.There are some short varieties that grow just 2-3 ft tall and wide.

Tips while buying Bougainvillea

 

  • Buy a bougainvillea that has small leaves because the one with long leaves flowers less than the one with small leaves. If you need lots of bloom, buy a plant with small leaves.
  • Do not buy a plant with multi-color blooms as they don’t produce many flowers.
  • Look for multiple branches in the pot so you can repot and have more bougainvillea plants.

 

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