How to Grow Vibrant Bougainvillea in a Pot

Tips on its care

With its vibrant colors and lush foliage, bougainvillea is one of the most eye-catching plants for backyard landscaping. This woody, climbing perennial can grow up to 30 feet tall and spread 15-25 feet wide. Bougainvillea comes in a diverse range of flower colors like pink, purple, red, orange, white, and yellow. There are also many hybrid cultivars to choose from. While bougainvillea is native to South America, it can thrive in warm climates worldwide. The good news is bougainvillea is relatively low-maintenance and can be grown by gardeners at all levels! Follow this guide to learn how to successfully grow bougainvillea in your own backyard.

Introduction to Growing Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea makes an excellent choice for adding color to fences, arbors, trellises, and more. Here’s a quick overview of what’s covered in this guide:

  • Propagating bougainvillea from cuttings or seeds
  • Ideal growing conditions and requirements
  • Watering, fertilizing, and transplanting tips
  • Maximizing flowering and dealing with pests/diseases
  • Steps for winter care and protection

With the right care, you can enjoy prolific flowering and the vibrant colors of bougainvillea in your backyard for years to come. Let’s get started!

Propagating Bougainvillea for Your Garden

You have a couple options for propagating new bougainvillea plants – growing from seeds or taking cuttings.

Growing Bougainvillea from Seeds

Starting bougainvillea from seeds can be challenging. The seeds have low viability rates and can take upwards of 16 weeks to germinate. Begin by extracting the tiny seeds from the flowers. Plant the seeds in pots filled with well-draining soil. Cover lightly with 1/4 inch of soil. Place the pots in a sunny location at 70-75°F. Keep the soil consistently moist. Transplant the seedlings into 3-4 inch nursery pots once the second set of true leaves appear.

Propagating Bougainvillea by Cuttings

Taking cuttings from an existing plant is the easiest way to propagate bougainvillea. Start by selecting a healthy stem that is semi-hardwood to hardwood. Remove all flowers and leaves from the lower 6 inches of the stem. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder to encourage root growth. Plant the cutting in a pot filled with perlite, vermiculite, or potting soil. Place the pot somewhere warm and sunny. Keep the soil moist but not soaked. Roots should develop in 3-6 weeks.

Growing Conditions for Thriving Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea thrives in warm climates with plenty of sunlight. Follow these tips to provide the right growing conditions.

Sunlight, Soil, and Temperature

  • Plant in full sun locations with at least 5-6 hours of direct sun daily. Morning sun is ideal.
  • Well-draining soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5 is optimal. Add organic matter like compost to improve drainage.
  • Ideal temperature range is 70-95°F during the day and 60-75°F at night.
  • Drought tolerant once established but does best with occasional water.

Watering Your Bougainvillea

As a drought resistant plant, bougainvillea does not require frequent watering. Follow these guidelines:

  • Water more frequently while establishing new plants. Slowly reduce watering as the plant matures.
  • Water thoroughly only when the top several inches of soil become dry.
  • Adjust watering based on climate, reducing in cool or rainy periods.
  • Pay attention for signs of underwatering like drooping leaves and faded bracts.
  • Allow the soil to fully dry out between waterings for maximum blooms.

Fertilizing for Abundant Flowers

Feed your bougainvillea with a balanced fertilizer to encourage prolific flowering.

  • Use a bloom-boosting fertilizer with an NPK ratio like 15-30-15 twice monthly during the growing season.
  • Organic options like compost, manure tea, bone meal, and blood meal also work well.
  • Incorporate slow release granular fertilizers into the soil at planting time.
  • Switch to fertilizers with lower nitrogen in the fall to harden off plants.
  • Always follow label directions to avoid fertilizer burn.

Transplanting Bougainvillea into the Garden

Once your bougainvillea cuttings have developed strong root systems, it’s time to transplant into the garden!

  • Choose a planting spot with full sun exposure and well-draining soil. Dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the pot.
  • Carefully remove the plant from its container, loosen the root ball, and place in the hole.
  • Backfill the hole with soil, packing firmly to remove air pockets.
  • Water thoroughly after transplanting to settle the soil.
  • Stake the plant initially to provide support as it establishes.

Maximizing Flowering

Vibrant bougainvillea flowers are actually modified leaves called bracts. Follow these tips for prolific flowering.

  • Ensure plants receive at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Morning sun is ideal.
  • Allow the soil to partially dry out between waterings. Drought stress encourages blooming.
  • Prune back new shoots after flowering to encourage additional blooms.
  • Use high potassium fertilizer to stimulate flowering.
  • Reduce high nitrogen fertilizers which lead to more foliage growth.
  • Blooming slows in cool weather and increases as temperatures rise.

Caring for Bougainvillea in Winter

Bougainvillea is sensitive to cold temperatures below 30°F. Follow these winter care tips:

  • Prune back bougainvillea after it loses its leaves in late fall. This removes damage and minimizes regrowth if frost occurs.
  • Protect plants by covering with frost cloth when freezing temps are expected.
  • Avoid excess nitrogen fertilizer which stimulates new growth prone to frost damage.
  • Reduce watering frequency as plants go dormant for winter. Only water if soil is very dry.
  • In colder zones, grow bougainvillea in movable containers that can be brought indoors until spring.

Preventing Pests and Diseases

Bougainvillea is relatively pest and disease resistant, but may encounter a few issues in some regions.

Common Pest Problems

  • Aphids – Control with horticultural soaps and oils. Ladybugs also prey on aphids.
  • Caterpillars – Hand pick or use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) treatments.
  • Thrips – Apply insecticidal soap sprays.
  • Scale – Prune infested stems. Use neem oil or horticultural oil sprays.
  • Whiteflies – Spray water or insecticidal soaps directly on flies.
  • Snails/slugs – Remove by hand or trap using beer. Avoid pesticides that harm pollinators.

Diseases and Disorders

  • Bacterial/fungal leaf spots – Improve airflow. Apply fungicides like copper sulfate.
  • Sooty mold – Treat sucking insects. Improve air circulation. Wipe leaves with water and mild detergent.
  • Chlorosis – Check pH. Apply chelated iron.
  • Leaf drop – Reduce watering. Rule out root rot or stem issues.
  • Rot – Improve drainage. Discard infected plants to prevent spreading.


With its colorful blooms and lush foliage, bougainvillea makes a gorgeous addition to backyards and gardens. Follow this guide to get your bougainvillea plants established and keep them thriving for years of beauty. Pay close attention to sunlight, water, drainage, and fertilization requirements. Protect plants from frost in winter. With the proper care, you can enjoy a low-maintenance, high-impact display of brilliant flowers.

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