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Bougainvillea: You Can Grow That

‘Barbara Karst’ bougainvillea

The vibrant color of bougainvillea adds a welcome splash of color to southwestern landscapes. Despite their lush green appearance, they thrive in hot, dry climates with little fuss. There are several different species of bougainvillea with Bougainvillea glabra, B. peruviana, and B. spectabilis being the most common.

Bougainvillea trained onto a rebar structure at The Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Native to South America, this drought-tolerant plant comes available as shrubs, vines, as well as pruned up into trees. All bougainvillea have thorns. This tropical plant is grown in Zone 9 and 10 USDA zones and is frost tender, which means it will suffer damage when temperatures dip below freezing.

Bougainvillea makes a great hedge against a hot wall.

The requirements of this colorful shrub are minimal – plant them in a sunny spot and water deeply and allow them to dry out in between irrigation. In fact, bougainvillea shrubs are one of the best choices for a hot, west-facing wall with hot reflected heat where many other plants struggle to survive.

‘Orange King’ Bougainvillea

Though magenta is the most common color, there are more than 300 different varieties of bougainvillea. Many are available in a variety of colors, including magenta, red, orange, white, and even golden yellow. It’s interesting to note that the colorful parts of this plant aren’t actually flowers, but bracts, which are specialized leaves that surround the tiny flower. The real flower is small and cream-colored and is located in the middle of the bracts.

‘Pink Pearl’ Bougainvillea

To be honest, many people have a love/hate relationship with this tropical beauty – they love the color and lush foliage but hate the mess that their fallen bracts cause, so this isn’t a plant that belongs next to a pool or courtyard where its debris can collect. However, you can still enjoy their beauty while minimizing the mess. One way to do this is to plant them in a container as they do exceptionally well in pots and stay smaller, thereby producing less litter.

‘Torch Glow’ Bougainvillea

‘Torch Glow’ is a unique type with artfully arranged branches with the color localized at the tips. They produce less debris than other varieties.

Damage caused by caterpillars.

While easy to grow, caterpillars can sometimes be a problem with bougainvillea. The damage shows up as ragged leaves, and it’s rare to see the caterpillars, which are very small. Typically, the damage is minor and doesn’t harm the plant, however. More severe infestations can be treated with the organic pesticide BT (Bacillus thurengiensis).

Pink bougainvillea shrubs

To maximize their colorful impact, plant this tropical shrub in full sun in a high-profile area. Bougainvillea will grow in light shade, but will produce fewer flowers with more of their attractive foliage on display.







6 replies on “Bougainvillea: You Can Grow That”

Hello Kathleen,

As with any plant grown in a container, bougainvillea do require fertilizer when growing in pots. I like to use a slow-release fertilizer in March, July, and September.

Virginia, I did the same thing in Zone 10a, also with my Ficus hedge. It was ‘self-pruning’. Noelle, one caution about bougainvillea in a HOA area? Don’t let the gardeners use the gas hedge pruners every week (as they like to do). You will never see a flower. OK, maybe I’m generalizing, but in Palm Desert, that was the rule.
Thanks for letting me donate my two cents.

Noellle, thanks for the mention of torch glow bougainvillea. I was not aware of that version. I have 3 different colors of the common bougainvillea in my front patio and the mess does keep me busy. But these three colors present a fabulous display; Purple, magenta and orange. We live at the 2085 altitude and have just enough cold to frost and freeze these plants in January. In late February when the freezes are over I prune off the damaged branches. This gives me an opportunity to bring down the size of the plants as some branches shoot way up in the air. The purple one grows up into a willow tree and interestingly adds to its color. One winter the bougainvilleas were frozen down to the ground but after severe pruning they all came roaring back, tall again by summer. An amazing plant, really.

Hi Virginia,

Thank you for sharing your experience with growing bougainvillea!

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