How to Care for Your Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea in Full Bloom
The bougainvillea are in full bloom in late winter/spring and fall. As the weather gets cooler and cooler, be sure your bougainvillea has good drainage to prevent possible root rot from having "soggy feet".
Also, make sure it is secured to its trellis to prevent wind damage. The older canes are thick, hard, and sturdy, but the new wood will be delicate and very flexible. They can become broken in high winds. You may even want to consider pruning it back a bit -- after it finishes blooming, of course.
These Beauties Thrive in Mild, Temperate Climates, and Love the Tropics
These beautiful vines are rapid growers and climbers, and prolific bloomers. They need a warm climate, full sun, and good drainage. They also need rich, acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0. I sprinkle used coffee grounds around my bougainvillea, as well as my azaleas which also require acidic soil. If we don't drink all the coffee made in the mornings, I dilute it with plain water for my acid-loving plants.
Bougainvillea is native to Central America, most of South America, the Caribbean Islands, Spain, parts of the United States, and many other warm climates. Bougainvillea is available in many colors including hot pink (my favorite) red, purple, lavender, yellow, orange, pale pink, white, and white with pink-tipped edges.
Now (May, 2015) that the spring peak of blooming here in central Florida has passed, the bougainvillea are still blooming, but with far fewer flowers. It's also time to be on the look out for pests that will eat the leaves, and leave you with an unsightly plant and no flowers. More information about the pests is shown below.
It Was Love at First Sight
I have loved bougainvillea since I first saw one on a trip to San Francisco. Now that we have relocated to Florida, I can finally grow my own. I purchased the one in the photo above about a month after we moved into our new home. Below is a photo of how it looked the day it was planted in December, 2012. It has now reached the roof of the house, and has almost covered the entire wall behind it. That little trellis had to be replaced with 3 larger and stronger ones in the summer, 2014. Unfortunately, getting it onto those 3 trellises required some pruning. It is no longer laying on our roof, but probably will be by the end of the summer. Be forewarned that this gorgeous flowering vine can become quite invasive. I have decided to prune mine in the way that a vineyard manager prunes grape vines, but not as severely. After all, it is only the new growth that produces flowers.
Take care when pruning bougainvillea, as it has large, sharp thorns. The sap can cause severe skin rashes. I often use wire cutters to clip off the thorns on the sections to be removed.
In Summer Heat Insecticidal Oils will Melt and Drip Off
In the summer heat, Neem Oil, the organic pesticide that I normally recommend (and all garden oils) will melt and drip off of your plants. At times of temperatures in the high-80s Fahrenheit or above, insecticidal soaps will work best.
It is true that the insecticidal soaps will need to be sprayed after each rain, but the do work. I used to spray my pansies and mondo grass with cayenne pepper dissolved in water to prevent squirrels from eating them. It, too, has to be re-sprayed after a rain, but it's a lot cheaper than insecticidal soaps, and you probably already have some in your pantry. I may try that on my bougainvillea, because it contains no chemical pesticides. Stay tuned. I'll let you know how it works.
Freeze Damage on My Neighbor's Bougainvillea
Protect Your Bougainvillea Against Occasional Freezing Temperatures
Here in central Florida, a hard freeze is infrequent, but does happen from time to time. We recently had a hard freeze that damaged a lot of plants, including some bougainvilleas that were freestanding. That is, not protected by being planted against a wall or the side of a building.
Mine is planted against the wall of our garage, and was protected by that wall, as well as by the eaves of the roof overhang. My neighbor's bougainvillea and some hibiscus bushes are planted in a large planting bed that is in an open area of her backyard. Normally, this is not a problem, but in the event of a prolonged freeze, it leaves these tropical plants quite vulnerable; they must be covered.
The plants in this photo suffered severe damage, but will survive. Green leaves can be seen in the bottom half of the plant. The dead portions can be cut away, after danger of additional freezing temps has passed. This will allow new growth to emerge at the site of the pruning, and on healthy areas below.
Here, a hard freeze is considered to be temps below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours or more. We experienced freezing temps for approximately 11 hours. At 6:30 that morning, my outdoor thermometer showed a reading of 25 degrees.
All free-standing tropical plants should be covered if there is a danger of a hard freeze. Be sure, however, to remove coverings as soon as possible after the sun is shining on the plants. It can get very warm underneath the coverings even if it is still cold outdoors.
Sometimes You Have to Prune These Rambling Beauties
My Fishers Bypass Prunners
I have had these pruners for several years. They work for me when needing to avoid the thorns on bougainvillea, and also when a branch that needs removing is too high for me to reach.
My Bougainvillea When First Planted
This Purple Bougainvillea is in a Yard Near My Home
When Pruning is Needed, Always Clip at a Joint
This one has plenty of space to grow. Mine is on a wall near my front door, so I can't allow it to drift out over the front walk. I remove the lowest branches that wander across the ground by clipping them at their joint with the main trunk. Whenever possible, I wind higher branches into the trellis, or behind other branches that are securely trellised. Any that grow out toward the walk that leads to our front door, I clip at the point where the branch leaves the main trunk, taking care not to scar the trunk.
Do not let anyone tell you that you can simply snip off the ends of the branches to encourage new growth. You will get new growth, but you will be snipping off the flower buds. Bougainvillea blooms only on the tips of new growth. As branches get older, little side shoots will emerge, and they will bloom on their tips, too. This is how larger plants appear to be covered in a solid mass of flowers.
Some Pretty Photos - Others, Not So MuchClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Destructive Caterpillar
Watch for Pests
Especially Caterpillars Like this One
This is what caterpillars did to my once-beautiful hot-pink bougainvillea. There is only one flower left on the entire plant, so I am not a happy gardener. This photo is of one of the pests who did this. These guys come out only at night. Sometimes they are so still they look like small sticks, or like the little brown stems left behind by spent blooms. Occasionally, they can be seen hanging from a tiny string of web, or on a leaf, boring into it. The ones I have seen range from about 1 to 3 inches long. Most are about an inch. The smallest ones are green in color. The largest ones are a greenish-brown. This one was a little over an inch long.
I took this guy in this Ziplock snack bag to my local master gardeners for expert advice. They said it was a caterpillar -- and NOT the kind that soon becomes a butterfly! I was told to get an organic product called Neem, and to spray my plant with it in the early morning or in the evening. The master gardeners I spoke with said they knew Home Depot and Sparr both carry Neem. I found it at Home Depot. I tried Ace Hardware first, as they are closer to my home; they did not have this product. Maybe they will get it soon, as they have had several requests for this. Neem comes in a highly concentrated form, in a tiny bottle. Mix it two tablespoons per gallon of water, then pour some into a spray bottle for easy use.
© 2014 MariaMontgomery