I am so fond of having Bougainvilleas in pots in my landscape. Nothing really compares to the riot of color that they can produce during the heat of the summer. Add the fact that they are so easy to care for, and we have a real winner on our hands. Simply familiarize yourself with their needs, and you will have an explosion of color in your yard, too!
Bougainvilleas require at least 5 hours of sun each day in order to bloom well. Because they bloom on new growth, promoting new growth with fertilization is a must. I have used NutriStar time-released Bougainvillea fertilizer (17-7-10) for over 15 years, and I have never found another fertilizer that I like better for my Bougies. Be sure to water your plant the night before fertilizing to avoid burning the root system. Apply the granules to the top of the soil about once a month during the growing season, and always water them in right away.
When Bougainvilleas are between blooms I will prune them to shape, as the more branching that I can encourage means more blooms produced. The bright colors we see are actually modified leaves called “bracts”. The actual flowers are tiny, white and tubular-shaped, and the hummingbirds just love them!
Repot Bougainvilleas only when they are fairly root-bound, and choose a pot that is not more than 4”-6” larger than the pot it is in. I prefer to “double-pot”, which means setting a plastic pot down inside a decorative pot. This makes them much easier to move in and out in the winter.
There is a bit of controversy about how much to water Bougainvilleas. In their native country, Brazil, and the other tropical places that they can be grown in the ground successfully, they do withstand drought pretty well. However, in a pot, we need to treat them like “potted plants”, meaning that their whole root system in the pot is dependent upon you knowing when and how much to water them. The “how much” part is easy. Every time you water a potted plant, you water it WELL! Fill the pot over and over again. Do not place a pot in a saucer as the roots will rot if left to stand in water. Frequency of watering will be determined by the temperature, amount of wind it receives, and how root-bound your plant is. Do not allow the plant to wilt, as tiny roots are lost when they get that dry. When the soil is visually dry, or if you pick up the pot and it seems light, that is the day that you water! And water WELL!
Bougainvilleas are tropical plants, meaning that they do not tolerate freezing temperatures. Actually, they do not really like it below 55 degrees F., but I usually don’t protect mine unless there will be a frost or a freeze. I end up moving it in and out during the winter, but it seems to do best that way. (Remember to “double pot”) Some people will put them by a window in the garage for the winter, and that will work as well. Just remember to water it occasionally, and trim it back in the spring before the new growth starts.
Caring for Bougainvilleas is not that complicated once you know what they need. With proper care, they will last for many years. Even if you decide to replace them every year, their striking flowers are well worth the time and money!