There are few homes near my southern California garden that do not have at least one bouganvillea vine blooming most of the year. The bright colors can be garish but the look well in the bright sun and are a welcome sight when other plants start to fade. Bougainvilla is a heat-loving, thorny, woody vine from the tropics of South America that can grow over 36 feet on fences, trees, and just about anything else that is in its path. It likes lots of sun, a steady supply of nutrients, and is salt tolerant and drought tolerant once established. Blooming is best, in fact, when the plant is a bit stressed and kept on the dry side. Plants are sensitive to light frosts but recover if not subjected to further frost damage.

The flowers of bougainvillea are small and white but are surrounded by 3-6 colorful papery bracts that persist for weeks. A stem of “flowers” added to a vase of mixed greens makes a colorful arrangement.

Plants can be pruned to grow as shrubs or standards, or allowed to climb or cascade from trellises or hanging baskets. Bougainvillea makes a fine container plant in cold areas where it can be taken indoors during the winter but will probably not bloom indoors because of insufficient light.

Type: Perennial woody vine

Bloom: Small white flowers surrounded by colorful, papery bracts appear from spring until frost, sometimes in winter in warm areas. Bract may be red, pink, purple, lavender, yellow, or white and provide the bright color associated with bougainvilleas.

Foliage: Simple, ovate, alternate medium green or variegated leaves; evergreen or deciduous depending on the environment.

Size: 3-36’ length

Light: Full sun

Soil: Fertile, well-drained

Fertilizer: Responds to constant supply of nutrients

Hardiness: Zones 9-10

Care: Low maintenance

Pests and Diseases: None of significance but susceptible to snails, aphids, and root rot if conditions too wet.

Propagation: Cuttings 4-6” long

Outstanding Selections:

    ‘Barbara Karst’ (red)
    ‘Hawaii’ (raspberry pink)
    ‘Lavender Queen’
    ‘San Diego Red’

Plant profiles pointer

By Karen