- Author: Jenni Dodini
One of my surprise gifts this year was the lovely bougainvillea pictured below. I did not have the heart to tell the giver that I have been known as a killer of bougainvillea. I have always looked at them with jealous eyes because they are SO BEAUTIFUL, especially when the cameras pan the landscape at the Augusta National Golf Course on TV. (Just FYI, I am NOT the watcher of golf at this house. It's my husband.)
So, what to do, what to do? Well, RESEARCH of course.
I went on-line to my favorite site, GardeningKnowHow to start my research. Then, the next site down was JoyUsGardens, with a lovely flower between Joy and Us. The JoyUs site has several videos on the individual topics addressed and many pictures of several varieties.
Well, just what did I learn? Firstly, I probably have killed the previous plants with the kindness of water. Or the wrong soil. Or both. Bougainvillea is a very drought-resistant plant. They only require watering when they start to wilt and/or the soil is very dry. They also prefer a deep and infrequent watering. However, they do need regular watering until they are well established.
Now, as for soil, the preferred medium is loamy, containing equal amounts of sand, clay, and silt and a pH of just over 6. There were 2 recommendations for fertilizing: 1) monthly with well balanced, all-purpose fertilizer at half the recommended amount; and 2) using compost to fertilize. If over-watered, they will develop root rot or have more greenery and less flowering.
This leads to what I learned next - planting. Plant in a place that gets at least 6 hours of full sun per day. (Guess that I need to modify my planting plan to a different location.) They are native to the Brazil latitude region of the South American continent. In our latitude, they do best in USDA zones 10 and 11, and zone 9 with adequate protection as they don't like sustained temperatures less than 30F. We are in Zone 9B. Older plants do tolerate the cold better though. Bougainvillea does well in pots so long as the pot is large enough and has good drainage. They really do not like to be transplanted as the roots are very sensitive, so be sure to plant in a place where the plant will thrive undisturbed.
Once planted, they need to be trained. Even though a bougainvillea is a vine, it does not twine or attaches itself. If trellising, make sure that the trellis can support the weight of the growing plant. There are dwarf varieties available that can be shaped into a hedge or ground cover, and are even amenable to being a bonsai! Other varieties grow up to 8 feet and as tall as 25 feet in the wild and supported! Getting back on topic, the plant needs to be tied to the trellis with a tie that can support the weight of the plant over time. That leads to the topic of pruning. If the plant needs pruning, it is best to prune it in the very late fall or end of winter. It was recommended to cut away any dead wood as it appears and pinch off the soft growing tips to make the plant have thicker and fuller growth. When working with the bougainvillea, one must WATCH OUT FOR THE THORNS!!!
Now about the BEAUTIFUL flowers. Bougainvillea is an evergreen plant that blooms in the summer. Most think that the orange, yellow, crimson, or magenta blooms are the flowers, but those are actually modified leaves called bracts that surround the tiny white flowers. The color depends on the variety and tends to fade as the summer progresses.
The list of pests is thankfully short. Aphids, which can be sprayed away with water; Bougainvillea looper caterpillar that eats the leaves at night but only for a short time; and leafcutter bees, also for a short time.
Now that I have a better understanding of taking care of this plant, hopefully, I can keep it alive.