Bougainvillea a vine, bush or tree? Yes.

Bougainvillea a vine, bush or tree? Yes.

When most of the other flowering plants in your yard are gasping for air, the bougainvillea is just hitting its stride. They start smiling and blooming like crazy when there isn’t much water, when the sun is too hot and when you can barely walk barefoot on your concrete sidewalk.

When Admiral Louis de Bougainvillea crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1768 and discovered this striking vine, you can imagine he got a lot a pleasure out of naming it after himself. The plant is said to have originated in Brazil, Peru and Argentina but has grown to become one of the most popular of all the tropical plants. Depending on the species, you can consider the bougainvillea a vine, bush or tree.

You can grow them in containers on porches, patios or decks, alongside your pool or hanging down off of a balcony. One of the most beautiful sights in any hotel landscaping that I’ve ever seen was at the old (1970) Fiesta Americana hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Each and every balcony as high as you could see was draping with hot pink and bright orange bougainvillea flowers. The vines trailed down 10-15 floors. This hotel is popular again after a major renovation and I’m anxious to re-visit someday to check out that tropical paradise.

You don’t have to live in Mexico to have gorgeous bougainvillea, though. They just love our heat. Remember that these vines are heavy feeders. That means that they like constant (daily) fertilization with half strength water soluble blooming fertilizer. With full sun, heat and fertilization, you can have blooms from May through November. If it is not blooming, then you probably need more sun or more regular fertilization. They respond best to a little stress, so keep them slightly on the dry side. The soil can feel moist but not soggy. Water thoroughly, then allow them to become moderately dry between waterings. Their root system is small, so do water daily in our summer heat.

They like to be slightly root bound, so use a smallish container. They can be planted in the ground too, but put this gorgeous plant in an area with supreme drainage. A mild winter will mean that your “bougie” will loose blooms but will come back great next spring. They are almost totally insect free.

There are gorgeous options available. Colors range from deep purple, red, hot pink, pale pink, white, yellow and orange. More than 250 varieties are available. Choose between dwarf, semi-dwarf, thornless, giant, fast grower and doubles, among others. Have fun. You will love them all.


Joette Reger can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”