How to Grow Bougainvillea Plants

how to grow bougainvillea

Looking for some easy tips for how to grow bougainvillea plants? Well, you’re in the right place, friends! These gorgeous vines with their colorful bracts and ‘always ready for a party’ demeanor have made them the darling of  backyard growers. And we’ve got all the info you need to keep your bougainvillea in tip top shape and adding some serious color to your days!

What are Bougainvillea Plants?

Also called paper flower, bougainvillea (pronounced boo- or boh-gun-VEE-yuh) are large, shrub-like tropical vines with heart-shaped leaves and masses of paper-thin flowers (called bracts) on thorny branches. These annual plants grow 15-20 feet tall and need support, like a trellis, wall, or arbor. The many cultivars include double-flower and variegated types.

How to Grow Bougainvillea

When planting, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice the width. Bougainvillea plants like well-draining, slightly acid soil. Use a well-draining soil of equal parts sand, silt, and clay mixed with some organic matter. If in doubt, check the soil package for a mention of ‘quick draining’. This will give your bougainvillea the right environment to establish a lovely, supportive root system. Pack the soil to get all of the air out. Then soak the whole area with a gallon of water. On top, add 2 inches of organic mulch.

How to get Bougainvillea to Bloom

Originally from South America, and named by a French botanist, bougainvillea plants have two growth cycles: vegetative, when they produce new leaves and stems, and a blooming period, where they are in flower for 3-5 weeks.

The question of how to grow bougainvillea is often only trumped by the question of how to get bougainvillea to bloom. Bougainvillea need full sun (minimum of about 5 hours) to bloom. These plants only bloom on new growth, so make sure you prune in early summer in order to shape and strengthen them. For fuller growth, you can pinch about a 1/2 inch off the soft tips of young plants. New stems will grow from 2-3 leaf buds down below the pinch. The best time to do this is after the flowering cycle. In bloom, bougainvillea plants are heavy feeders. Their roots are typically weak and need iron. Use a 6-8-10 water soluble or granular food monthly, and be sure to follow package directions.

How to Grow Bougainvillea: Water Needs

Paper Flower plants are drought-hardy. It’s best to give them 2-3 inches water once a week. You can let the soil dry out in between watering’s, but make sure it’s not bone dry. And ensure all of the water drains away, as  these plants don’t like wet feet.

Bougainvillea: A Warm Weather Plant

Bougainvillea will survive the winter only in zones 9-11. Find your grow zone here. They need a minimum nighttime temperature of 60 degrees, and can survive in daytime temps of 100 degrees or more. While they can get by on 5 hours of sun, they do best with 8-10 hours of full sun.

Not ready to say goodbye to your bougainvillea at the end of the season? We’ve got tips on overwintering annuals. Be sure to take it indoors before the first frost, though typically an overwintered bougainvillea will not bloom.

Pairing Tips

Bougainvillea look great with all sorts of companions. For some color contrast, you can try growing purple shades of bougainvillea with yellow shades of coreopsis. And pair orange/yellow shades of bougainvillea with lovely purple salvia.

Keen to try growing some bougainvillea of your own? We’ve put together a gorgeous collection, so choose your favorite and discover the wonderful world of Bougainvillea plants!

Happy growing.

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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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