How To Grow and Care For Bougainvillea

Question: My Bougainvillea plants need some help. At the moment the plants are blooming but we will be going out of town, and my “potted bougainvillea” seem to love lots of water. Can I put saucers under them to try and keep them watered? My sprinkler system will water them every other day but I don’t know if that will be enough. I don’t want to lose them and where do they come from? Cindy, Charleston, SC

Answer: The Bougainvillea plant has become a very popular plant for spring and summer color making a great addition for a colorful patio or deck in the backyard. So let’s try and give a general overview of growing Bougainvillea, its care, blooming, light, water, soil, origin and more…

Bougainvillea vines, a native to the coast of Brazil are perhaps the most popular and one of the most widely grown of all tropical vines. In the 1760’s the French botanist, Philibert Commerson discovered the colorful vining plant and named it after his friend and captain, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a noted lawyer, mathematician, and explorer from Canada. Many refer and spell the plant name incorrectly as – bouganvilla. Most bougainvillea varieties have spiny thorns on cascading stems which end with colorful flower bracts of red, orange, purple and other shades to shield small white, inconspicuous flowers.
The showy plant can be used in a multitude of ways:

Video – Growing Bougainvillea in Pots

How To Grow Bougainvillea: Care & Cultural Requirements

When planting Bougainvillea it’s good to know they thrive in almost any potting soil and that are drought tolerant. However, the soil needs to be a well-drained soil and fertile. Any well-draining soil that works for other plants you grow beautiful plants.

Growers use a potting media like this that drains well but make sure you don’t let the plants dry out between waterings. If you want to be successful… and growing in pots, keep containers moist but also they need to be well drained. No sitting plants in standing water or you are inviting root rot.

DO NOT USE SAUCERS under your potted Bougainvillea. A healthy container-grown Bougainvillea will drink a lot of water during the warm times of the year. In cooler periods or when you bring your plants indoors for the winter, the water requirement will be much less.

SO how much water does Bougainvillea need for proper care and blooming. As always it depends on:

  • Soil type
  • Root system
  • Size of the plant
  • Air temperature

Don’t water just to water your plants. Inspect your plants regularly, and learn when they are close to wilting. Then give the plant a good, thorough soaking just before it reaches the wilt stage.
Remember during the summer heat plants will use up water quickly, so inspect often.


For the best results put your plants in full sun. If you want good blooming give them at least 5 hours a day of full sunlight as a minimum. More hours of direct sun is better. Less than 5 hours and the plant may not bloom very well. Your plants will thrive in shade or partial shade, but only have nice growth with little or no blooms.
Don’t expect your plants to flower indoors. If possible, keep your plants outdoors and give it the maximum sun exposure. Any flowering you may receive indoors is a bonus.


Bougainvilleas are hardy throughout the South but young growth will be damaged by frost. Optimum growing temperatures are warm days (70-85of) and cool nights(60-70of). Plants bougainvillea grow well in warm climates as one of the drought-tolerant plants.
A light frost will not kill the plant, but you can soon expect all the leaves and bracts to fall off. In this case, the plant will regrow if not subjected to more frosts for longer duration.


Mature plants can be heavy feeders. Here are some quick fertilizer tips.

  • High phosphorus with micronutrients, as well as additional iron and magnesium
  • Timed or slow-release fertilizer like this one are acceptable. Make sure you follow the fertilizer label
  • Plants grow best with small amounts of nutrients constantly available
  • Do not apply fertilizers to dry soil – Do not overfertilize – in this case less is better than more, also check out applying water-soluble fertilizer


Caterpillars, mites, aphids (we use this to get rid of aphids); Leaf spot if foliage and/or soil stays too wet, especially in cool weather. Contact your local nursery or garden center for treating the pest. Make sure you READ AND FOLLOW the label.

For more info on these recommended products, read our detailed review here.

Where and How to Use

  • Hanging baskets – although I find they dry out too quickly in baskets
  • 1 to 3 gallon pots either sheared (we like these pruners) as bush, staked, or as a trellis plant.
  • Trained as a Bougainvillea tree – standard
  • Summer annual up North.
  • In the South grown as groundcover, hedge, trellis, standard, or cascading planter plant.

What to Expect When It Arrives at the Garden Center
A growing bougainvillea isn’t fond of changes. Any shipping over 2 days and you may experience some leaf drop and possible total defoliation. Don’t worry, give your plants a good watering and they’ll come right back out in about 3 to 4 weeks and usually full of flowers.

Tips On Potted Bougainvillea Care

If you’ve ever wondered about adding Bougainvillea for some summer color dress maybe this picture will make you think twice. Bougainvillea tree or plant is found in many landscapes not only in south Florida but all across the southeast, California and the Mediterranean. Caring is not difficult when planted in the ground but growing bougainvillea in pots and containers does require care with a watchful eye. Don’t let them dry out!
The Bougainvillea is usually grown as bushes but standards are beginning to find their way in as a spring flowering addition.

The popular Bougainvillea plant derives its name from the paper-thin, brilliantly colored bracts, or scale-like leaves, that form perky geometric frames around the small flowers. A lax-stemmed, woody perennial in the South, the bougainvillea is a showy subject in Northern greenhouses and in containers in gardens, and for indoors in a large sunny window. It is even tolerant of seashore growing conditions. Originally, the dominant color was magenta-purple; but there are many exotic shades of salmon, orange (Bougainvillea x Buttiana), gold, and red.

Bougainvillea – Good Soil and Drainage

These plants are content with any good soil, as long as drainage is provided for. Do not allow them sit in puddles of water and make sure the drainage holes do not become plugged. Bougainvillea flowers best when they receive full sun, and in temperatures of no less than 60 degrees.
Summer and early fall is the season of active growth, when flower buds are set; generous feeding is helpful during that time. Flowering is reputedly in spring, but my vines – and others I have known – have flowered at intervals all during the year. Transplant or repot with as little root disturbance as possible. If the vine is frostbitten, simply cut it back to living wood.

Pruning Bougainvillea May Be Necessary

Prune your bougainvillea to keep the plant within bounds, pruning is necessary. After flowering, cut back the season’s growth severely, and remove all thin, weak, or ailing branches. The less dense the vine, the more outstandingly decorative.

Propagate by seeds, when available, or by spring stem cuttings rooted in heat and humidity. Among the colorful bougainvillea varieties offered are:

  • Bougainvillea glabra – The familiar magenta species. Its variety sanderiana is more generous with flowers. Another variety, harrisi, has gray-green foliage variegated with splashes of white. This little beauty flowered for me, in almost transparent lavender, when it was only four inches tall.
  • Bougainvillea spectabilis (braziliensis) – Hardiest species, with somewhat furry foliage and red-purple blooms.
  • Family: Nyctaginaceae
  • Common Name: Paper Flower

There’s no content to show here yet.

Visit a Botanical Garden For Unique Experiences.

More on Gardening Calendar