How to Grow Bougainvillea Plants

how to grow the best bougainvillea

Here are some easy tips for how to grow Bougainvillea Plants: Plant in a hole as deep as the root ball (and 2x the width). Pack soil to get air out. Soak with 1 gallon of water. Add 2 in. organic mulch. Use a well-draining soil of equal parts sand, silt, and clay mixed with some organic matter. Use a soil mix labeled Quick Draining.  Bougainvillea plants have two growth cycles: vegetative (new leaves and stems) and a blooming period (flowers 3-5 wks.) Flowers need 5 hrs. minimum full sun daily to bloom.

Common Name: Paper Flower

How to Pronounce: (boo- or boh-gun-VEE-yuh)

Description: A large, shrub-like tropical vine with heart-shaped leaves and masses of paper-thin flowers (bracts) on thorny branches. These annual plants grow 15-20 ft. tall and need support, like a trellis, wall, or arbor. Bougainvillea plants like well-draining, slightly acid soil. The many cultivars include double-flower and variegated types.

Propagation: None

Origin: South America; Named by a French botanist

USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11

Companion Plants: Salvia, Periwinkle, and Coral Bells

Fertilizer Needs: The roots of these annual plants are weak and need iron. In bloom, Bougainvillea plants are heavy feeders. Use a 6-8-10 water soluble or granular food monthly. Follow package directions.

Maintenance: For fuller growth, pinch about 1/2 inch off the soft tips of young plants. New stems grow from 2-3 leaf buds down below the pinch. Best time to do this is after the flowering cycle. Bougainvillea only blooms on new growth, so prune in early summer to shape and strengthen them.

Water: Paper Flower plants are drought-hardy; water 2-3 in. once a week. Let soil dry in between, but not bone dry. Make sure water drains away; they don’t like wet feet.

Environment/Light Needs: Paper Flower plants need a minimum nighttime temp. of 60 degrees; they can survive in daytime temps. of 100 degrees or more. They do best with 8-10 hours of full sun.

Overwinter: Grows in full sun (60-70 degrees); take indoors before first frost. Use a soil-less (lightweight, easy-draining) mix. Overwintered, Bougainvillea will usually not bloom.

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  • Reply
    July 26, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I need some advice on the Juanita Hatten Bougainvillea I’m growing from you. We’ve had an abnormal amount of rain the past 2 months. We’ve had over 15 inches of rain since Memorial Day and we were 5 inches ahead of normal at that point.

    Juanita is barely growing. Could all this rain be a problem for her? Is there anything I can do to boost or help her grow more?

  • Reply
    July 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Well, Mia, depending on where you are in Atlanta, it is only a Zone 7 or 8, and the Bougainvillea will not be hardy there. I would advise planting it in a pot so it can come inside before the first frost. Add it to a large pot of mixed plants for the first summer and as it matures it will need its own pot and then can climb a trellis on the post. This will also allow for a better-draining soil than the typical heavy clay found in the ground soil in your area.

    Bougainvillea don’t like to have continually wet soil, like what happens in heavy clay. They like to dry a little between waterings. They are also slow to establish since they don’t like their roots disturbed, so they will spend early energies getting roots established before sending out a lot of top growth. Add some balanced extended-release fertilizer when planting to help the roots establish. They are also heavy feeders; just don’t over-feed the first year. After they’re established, you will want to feed them frequently with a bloom-based fertilizer. Even in their native climates, Bougainvillea are not aggressive growers the first year, unlike annual vines that will cover a trellis in a few months. When purchasing a young tropical like this, expect some time before you get your big bang display. They overwinter well in a sunny window and will offer you blooms almost all winter long. They will often drop their leaves with the shortened daylight period but they always come back. Maintain water and very light fertilization during the winter as long as they are showing active signs of growth. I have maintained them in pots for ten years or more. I had to donate one to a botanical garden, as it just became too large for my home.

    I suggest you move your plant up to a pot, give it a nice sunny location, then winter over and next year you should start to have a fabulous display. Bougainvillea are a wonderful investment for that tropical feel in your summer garden.

    Happy growing,


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