How to Grow Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea are beautiful, if somewhat challenging, houseplants. Hina Syed / EyeEm / Getty Images

Bougainvillea are not typical houseplants—in their natural form, they are sprawling climbers and shrubs with formidable thorns. They are suited to a somewhat arid, subtropical to tropical climate. Nevertheless, these plants possess something many indoor gardeners prize: color. During blooming season, their insignificant flowers are surrounded by bracts of blazing color in bright purples, pinks, oranges, and other hues.

As an added bonus, they are easily trimmed and trained and, with an experienced hand, can make a striking container plant for indoors.

Growing Conditions

Light: Full sun. Many growers move bougainvillea outside during the summer months.
Water: Keep evenly moist during summer and nearly dry in winter. They bloom better with drier winter conditions.
Temperature: Relatively hardy. They are able to withstand tropical high temperatures and cold down to the mid-40s.
Soil: Well-drained potting mix with plenty of perlite.
Fertilizer: Feed in summer with weak liquid fertilizer weekly, or use controlled-release fertilizer.

Propagation

Use branch cuttings with a rooting hormone in the spring, with bottom heat provided. Bougainvillea are not easy to propagate by most home gardeners, so several attempts may be necessary.

Repotting

Bougainvillea are rapidly growing, and in suitable outdoor environments, will quickly grow into small trees or large clumping shrubs up to 15 feet high.

In containers, the idea is to control this growth by yearly repotting and root pruning in the spring. Once the plant is larger, repot every two years.

Varieties

The basic bougainvillea is B. glabra. However, this plant has been extensively hybridized, so most bougainvilleas seen in garden centers are hybrids.

Choose your bougainvillea based on its bract color and shape. All care requirements are similar.

Grower's Tips

You will likely encounter one of two problems with your bougainvillea: lack of blooms, or too-rapid growth. If the plant is not blooming, cut back on watering for a few weeks. They naturally bloom in the spring and seem to bloom harder in drier years. Bougainvillea need to be trimmed to maintain their shape. However, be aware that they flower along their long branches, so aggressive pruning of new growth will reduce their color. The best approach is to prune in the autumn after the growing season is complete, so it will bloom from next season’s new growth.