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Bougainvillea Care – How to Plant, Grow and Help Them Thrive

By Patricia Telesco • Updated on 2024-03-08

Bougainvillea is a beautiful flowering plant that is native to South America. It can add vibrant colors and beauty to any garden or home, but it requires special care in order to thrive. In this article, you’ll learn much about bougainvillea care, from where and how to plant it to to recognizing common pests and diseases that can affect it.

Key takeaways

  • Bougainvillea blooms year-round in warm climates and needs regular pruning to maintain its shape.
  • Bougainvillea are hardy and can tolerate temperatures from 50-100 F.
  • Bougainvillea can be used as a ground cover, in hanging baskets, or as a shrub.
  • Bougainvillea can be grown as a houseplant, too.

Bountiful Bougainvillea

Also known as paper flowers, Bougainvillea is a dynamic, colorful plant that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and has become a popular ornamental plant around the world. Although they look like petals, the flowers of bougainvillea are actually modified leafy structures called bracts.

If you’re looking for something unique and eye-catching for your garden or home, then bougainvillea could be just what you’re looking for! These stunning flowering plants can provide an abundance of texture all year round – especially when planted in containers or hanging baskets that you can move around your outdoor space as needed.

Bougainvillea Overview: The bougainvillea is a tropical and subtropical flower often used for ornamental purposes. It is an evergreen plant that can grow up to 20 feet, climbing upward or outward. The flowers come in groups of three, all trumpet-shaped, attracting pollinators. Colors include purple, white, orange, magenta, and crimson. You can also find hybrids where there are two different colored flowers on the same plant!

Tips for Outdoor Bougainvillea Care

Caring for bougainvilleas is not a difficult task. To keep your plants in their best condition, it’s essential that they receive adequate water and nourishment with a balanced fertilizer twice yearly. Additionally, pruning during the early spring or late fall encourages new growth and maintains the shape of the plant.

You can make your flowers happy by adding organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the bougainvillea base to help retain soil moisture, reduce weed growth, and add vital nutrients over time. Furthermore, you should inspect your plants regularly for signs of pests such as aphids or mealybugs, treating them promptly if found.

Brazil’s Gift

A French navigator by the name of Louis Antoine de Bougainville discovered these plants on an 18th global exploratory expedition. He was in Brazil, and (as often is the case) the showy flowers bear his name. The largest regions where bougainvillea is commercially grown are Thailand, Hawaii, Malaysia, and Florida.

Outdoor Bougainvillea Needs

Bougainvillea care

Image credit: © budaalex

When it comes to planting bougainvillea, the right location is essential. Bougainvilleas thrive in warm climates and bright, indirect sunlight, so aim to plant them in a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily. You can plant them in containers or directly into the ground; however, if you choose to pot them, make sure you use a well-draining potting mix specifically designed for bougainvillea plants. For outdoor planting, select an area with slightly acidic soil and good drainage.

Tip: The advantage of container planting is the ability to move your plants indoors when frost threatens. They don’t do well in temperatures below 45F.

Bougainvillea: Hallmark Plants in Singapore: Everywhere you look in the Singapore landscape, you’ll see this flower. The weather means it blossoms all year long! Here, other names for bougainvillea include Ye Zi Hua, and Kembang kertas. Just remember that cultivars of specific plants typically have other trademark names. For example, the Singapore White Bougainvillea is sometimes called Clifton Moonlight.

Ideas for Garden Bougainvillea

This is a plant many gardeners love because it’s versatile. You can use it to create garden walls, plant them near pergolas, or use them in trellises. You won’t have trouble finding a flower you like!

Bougainvillea arborea: Lavender pink flowers filled with fragrance. Fifteen to thirty feet tall, this plant’s leaves darken as the plant ages. Low maintenance.

Bougainvillea buttiana: A rich, red flower adorns this plant, having trumpet-shaped little blossoms in the center. It’s a compact tree, growing about 15 feet tall.

California Gold: Lovely golden yellow bracts set against wavy-edged foliage. A fast-growing cultivar. Benefits from pruning.

Bougainvillea glabra: A drought-tolerant plant, an excellent choice for container planting. The red-pink flowers appear fluffy. Mature height between 10-12 feet.

Bougainvillea peruviana: Expect large clusters of colorful flowers throughout the year. This vigorous climbing variety (15 feet) is quite trainable for growing on fences. The bark has a green tone. Prune this plant carefully for the best results.

Bougainvillea spectabilis: A common cultivar that produces bright purple flowers in clusters throughout the year. In the center of each lies a delicate white stamin blossom. Heart-shaped, glossy leaves surround. This is a grand plant with an adult height of 15-40 feet.

Key West White: Explodes with white flowers all season long. Hummingbirds love this plant. 15-20 feet tall at maturity.

Oh-La-La: A magenta flowering plant with a long season. As a compact dwarf, you have a lot of options for this bougainvillea. They grow two feet tall and six feet wide.


Bougainvillea is not fond of cold. Frost can kill them. So, if you have your plants in pots, you can put them in a low-light area of the home, like your basement or garage. Until spring, only water twice a month. Come spring, move them to a south-facing window to slowly acclimate them for outdoors.

Watering Techniques

Bougainvilleas need regular and consistent watering in order to thrive. If you water too much or too little, your plant could be in trouble. Overwatering can lead to root rot–a common problem that can be difficult to cure and may require replacing the entire plant. On the other hand, underwatering can cause the leaves to dry out and become brittle, potentially leading to leaf drop.

Pitfalls in Bougainvillea Care.

  • Prickly thorns: One of the main drawbacks of bougainvillea is its sharp thorns, which can cause injuries. This makes it unsuitable for homes with children, the elderly, or pets. Additionally, if you get pricked by one of the thorns, you may develop an allergic response similar to that of poison ivy or poison oak, leading to symptoms like blisters, swelling, pain, itching, and stinging. It’s essential to exercise caution when handling bougainvillea.
  • Toxic sap: Bougainvillea’s sap is toxic, and if ingested in sufficient amounts, it can make people and pets very ill. Take care to prevent ingestion and keep an eye on your pets around the plant.
  • Bloom requirements: Bougainvillea blooms best when it’s water-stressed. This can pose a challenge for homes with automatic irrigation systems, as the plant may not receive the optimal amount of water. You can address this issue by adjusting the irrigation system to deliver less moisture to the area where the vine is planted.
  • Invasive potential: Bougainvillea has the potential to become invasive if not managed and maintained properly. Its fast-growing nature and adaptability make it a risk if it spreads uncontrollably. It’s important to regularly prune and manage the plant to prevent it from becoming invasive.
  • Spacing requirements: Bougainvillea needs to be planted a minimum of four feet from walkways and similar locations to prevent injuries to people and pets. To avoid disturbance to other landscape plants, it’s recommended to grow bougainvillea at least six to nine feet away from any other plant. Proper spacing is essential for the safety and health of other plants.

Potting and Repotting Outdoor Bougainvillea

Select the right time to sow your plant. The best time to repot bougainvillea is during the spring or early summer when the plant is actively growing. Avoid repotting during the dormant winter months.

Potting and Repotting Bougainvillea

Image credit: © Fotografik

Choose the right pot. Select a pot that is slightly larger than the current one but not too big. Bougainvillea plants prefer to be slightly root-bound, so a pot that gives some room for growth is ideal. Ensure the pot has drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil.

Prepare the new pot. Place a layer of coarse gravel or broken pottery shards at the bottom of the new pot to aid in drainage. Fill the pot with well-draining potting mix, such as a mixture of compost, peat moss, and perlite or sand.

Carefully remove the plant. Gently remove the bougainvillea from its current pot. You may need to loosen the roots slightly with your fingers or use a garden fork to avoid damaging them. Be cautious, as the plant might have thorny branches.

Prune if necessary. If the plant has grown leggy or has any dead or damaged branches, this is a good time to prune them. Trim back about one-third of the plant to encourage new growth and a bushier shape.

Repot the bougainvillea. Place the plant in the new pot, ensuring it sits at the same soil level as before. Add more potting mix around the plant, gently patting it down. Avoid packing the soil too tightly, as it may restrict root growth.

Water thoroughly: After repotting, water the bougainvillea thoroughly to remove any air pockets. Keep the soil slightly moist but not overly wet, during the initial days after repotting. Your plant may look a little lackluster for a while. They sometimes go into temporary shock after repotting.

Prickly Situation: Bougainvillea has a thorny side. The plant has sharp thorns all over it. They protect the flower against herbivores. However, bees and butterflies are brave. They crave this sweet plant and rest among the petals all the time.

Pruning and Maintenance of Outdoor Bougainvillea

Is it time to prune your Bougainvillea? The answer is yes; when the plant becomes leggy or has branches that extend beyond the desired shape or size, it’s a clear sign that your plant needs pruning. Bougainvilleas can grow vigorously, so regular pruning helps maintain a compact and well-shaped plant.

If your bougainvillea is not producing as many flowers as it used to, it may be a sign that pruning is necessary. Pruning stimulates new growth, which can lead to an increase in flowering.

Pruning should be done when the bougainvillea is not actively flowering, typically during late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Avoid pruning during the colder months, as it can weaken the plant. Wear gloves when you prune to avoid the thorns.

Remove dead or damaged branches. Start by inspecting the plant for any dead or damaged branches. Prune these branches back to where they originate from healthy wood. Make clean cuts at an angle just above a healthy bud or leaf node.

Remove excessive foliage. If the bougainvillea becomes overly dense with foliage, it may hinder airflow and increase the risk of disease. Thin out some of the excess foliage to promote better air circulation and reduce the chance of fungal growth.

Bougainvillea Symbolism

​Bougainvillea holds symbolic meaning in different cultures and contexts. It is often associated with passion, liveliness, and life experience. In traditional ​Tarot cards, the bougainvillea is on the Lovers Card, meaning passionate attraction. ​Victorian people believed that these flowers also represented life experiences and enthusiasm. Additionally, bougainvillea has connections with protection and spiritual connection.

It is worth noting that in some cultures, bougainvillea a symbol of peace, warmly inviting visitors and supporting ​free trade between individuals or organizations. The flower’s vibrant colors carry their own meanings as well. ​White bougainvillea signifies purity, peace, and elegance. Pink bougainvillea represents passionate love, tenderness, and admiration. Purple bougainvillea is associated with achievement, success, and refinement. Orange bougainvillea represents enthusiasm, desire, and satisfaction. Yellow bougainvillea is synonymous with new beginnings, clarity, and friendship. Finally, red bougainvillea symbolizes love, passion, and deep attraction.

Bougainvillea Blooming and Resting Periods

Blooming and Resting Periods

Image credit: © pichart99thai

​Paper flowers, also known as ​bougainvillea, have distinct blooming and resting periods throughout the year. Bougainvillea plants bloom profusely during the warmer months, especially in ​tropical and subtropical regions. The blooming period generally starts in early spring and continues throughout the summer and into the fall. The vibrant and colorful bracts, which are often mistaken as flowers, cover the plant and create a stunning display.

After the blooming period, bougainvillea enters a resting period. This typically occurs in late fall and winter when the days become shorter and the temperatures drop. During this time, bougainvillea may either reduce or completely stop producing new blooms. The plant conserves energy and goes into a dormant phase to prepare for the next blooming period.

Snacking on Bougainvillea: Yes, ​bougainvillea flowers are edible, but not all varieties are suitable for consumption. The purple variety, ​Bougainvillea brasiliensis, makes an attractive and violet-colored water drink called “​agua de buganvilia” in ​Mexico, which is said to have a refreshing taste. However, other types of bougainvillea are not recommended for culinary use. It’s important to note that while the flowers are edible, bougainvillea plants have sharp thorns that can cause ​contact dermatitis and should be handled with care.

The most commonly recommended variety for culinary use is Bougainvillea spectabilis, specifically the purple-flowered variety. It is important to ensure that the flowers are pesticide-free and have not been treated with any harmful chemicals before using them in food or beverages.

In the culinary circle, these flowers appear in salads, desserts, teas, and punches.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Aphids, caterpillars, nematodes, mealybugs, and other sucking pests can all detrimentally affect the health of your bougainvillea. Aphids are tiny insects found on the underside of leaves, which feed off of the plant’s sap. They can cause leaf curling, yellowing of leaves, stunted growth, or wilting of foliage. Caterpillars feed on the foliage of bougainvilleas, which causes discoloration and premature leaf drop. Nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on root systems and eventually rot the roots.

There are two diseases you can easily treat with fungicide.

  • Powdery Mildew: Powdery mildew appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves, stems, and flowers of bougainvillea. It thrives in humid conditions and can stunt plant growth and reduce flowering. To manage powdery mildew, improve air circulation around the plant, avoid overhead watering, and apply fungicidal sprays if necessary.
  • Leaf Spot Diseases: Leaf spot diseases manifest as dark or discolored spots on the leaves of bougainvillea. These spots may have a yellow halo around them. To prevent leaf spots, avoid overhead watering and remove affected leaves promptly. Fungicidal treatments may be necessary in severe cases.
A Touch of the Tropics

Among Hawaiians, bougainvillea appears in leis as an alternative to orchids. These are for special occasions but also for welcoming visitors. Its bright and inviting colors have often been associated with hospitality and warmth. The meaning goes even further as an emblem of peace and tranquility.

Troubleshooting Common Outdoor Bougainvillea Problems

Some common problems faced by bougainvillea plants that you can easily rectify include:

  1. Lack of water: Bougainvillea plants require regular watering, especially during hot and dry weather. Lack of water can lead to wilting and poor growth.
  2. Overwatering: While bougainvillea plants need regular watering, overwatering can cause root rot and other fungal diseases. It is important to maintain a balance and avoid waterlogging the soil.
  3. Poor drainage: Bougainvillea plants prefer well-draining soil. If the soil does not drain well, it can lead to root rot and other moisture-related issues.
  4. Lack of sunlight: Bougainvillea plants thrive in full sunlight. Insufficient sunlight can result in weak growth and fewer blooms.

Around the World with Bougainvillea We start our journey in the Phillippines.

Bougainvillea is a beloved flower in the Philippines and has associations with positive sentiments. It is a symbol of resilience, beauty, and hospitality. You commonly see it adorning houses, gardens, and even public spaces, adding vibrant colors to the surroundings.

Moving on to India, this culture honors this flower as an emblem of prosperity and good fortune. They use the flowers in religious ceremonies, weddings, and festivals. Bring Bougainvillea near your home, where it’s believed to bring blessings and positive energy.

The Greeks say bougainvillea represents joy, health, and beauty. The flower often appears on wreaths and decorations for celebrations and special occasions.

Moroccans see this plant as resilient and so give it the symbolism of strength of spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bougainvillea Care and Keeping

How do you take care of bougainvillea?

Bougainvillea thrives in full sunlight, so make sure to place your plant in an area that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Let your plant’s soil dry out slightly between waterings. Well-drained soil is essential.

How do you keep bougainvillea blooming?

Besides the fact that these flowers love light, if they don’t get enough, they will not bloom properly. Also, during active growth, water the plant deeply. Give your plant a balanced fertilizer during the growing season.

How do you keep bougainvillea alive in the winter?

Move potted bougainvillea indoors: If you have bougainvillea planted in containers, the easiest way to protect them during winter is by moving them indoors. Provide insulation for in-ground bougainvillea using mulch, straw, or dried leaves around the base of the plant, covering the root zone. This helps shield the roots from extreme cold.

Where do bougainvilleas grow best?

Bougainvilleas grow best in warm, tropical and subtropical regions. They are native to South America, particularly ​Brazil, and have adapted well to various parts of the world with similar climates. Some of the ideal regions for bougainvillea growth include:

Why is my bougainvillea healthy but not blooming?

Usually, it’s due to insufficient sunlight: Bougainvilleas require full sun to thrive and produce vibrant blooms. They typically need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. If your bougainvillea is not receiving enough sunlight, it may prioritize foliage growth over blooming. If it’s a young plant, it may not be mature enough yet to blossom.


These are just a few intriguing facts about Bougainvillea. Whether you appreciate its stunning visual display or its ability to thrive in challenging conditions, Bougainvillea is a captivating plant that adds vibrancy to gardens and landscapes around the world. Now it’s dotting your landscape, painting the yard with colors.

Final Thoughts on Bougainvillea Care

Even though you can use bougainvillea vertically, I’m sad my yard simply can’t support that sized bush/tree. I encourage you to look at your space with a critical eye before deciding on this plant or when buying one that suits the room you have in your landscape.

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