How to Grow Bougainvillea in Backyard? Tips on its Care

Bougainvillea is a household plant that bears beautiful and radiant flowers.

It is a woody, perennial, bushy plant that can reach a height of up to 20 feet.

The flowers come in a range of colors, as well as a large number of cultivars. The flowers have a similar texture and color to paper. 

Bougainvillea flowers

The stems mature from a mid-green color to a dull green-brown color. Bougainvillea is an evergreen plant that thrives in dry climates.

Bougainvilleas are known to originate in South America, and it is one of the most low-maintenance plants.

Bougainvilleas are popular landscape plants due to their vigorous growth and spectacular blooms.

They can be planted in large masses for ornamental purposes and serve as an excellent ground cover in large, hard-to-maintain areas.

Bougainvillea is used as a decorative plant, in hanging pots, in vases, and as bonsais.

How to Grow Bougainvillea

Propagation of Bougainvillea by Seeds

The vibrant flower-producing bougainvillea is a difficult set of plants to grow from their seeds.

The method of cutting and grafting of branches is a convenient and more efficient way of growing them.

This is because the extraction and sowing of seeds are slightly challenging.

The most demanding task is extracting the seeds from the flowers directly.

The flowers of bougainvillea produce seeds only in ideal conditions.

We must know about the bracts of the plant before we learn about its flowers.

They are a protective covering around the small white flower that looks like the petals but is a specific leaf with a papery feel.

These parts provide the attractive floral arrangement of the plant and, with the help of their highly colorful appearance, encourage pollinating insects to visit the flower.

Bracts are of various colors, whereas the flowers are only white.

The seeds can be obtained from the pods inside the bracts; once the flowers die, and the bracts dry up, the seeds are carefully picked from the insides of the bract pods.

The way to differentiate the fresh seeds from the old is by testing the strength required in removing them; as the younger seeds require little effort, the older ones are hard to extract.

Following the extraction of seeds, it is necessary to plant the seeds in small containers, which could be narrow at the bottom but must be wide at the top.

The roots of bougainvillea are weak and, therefore, should be moved smoothly out of the old container when they grow to larger sizes and should be moved into bigger pots or placed directly into the ground.

The pots need to be covered with transparent plastic bags and need to be placed at a warm corner of the house that does not receive direct sunlight.

The seeds are placed on a thin layer of sowing medium, lightly pressed into the medium, and watered every couple of days.

There is a wide variation in germination rates among seeds, with some of them germinating in a month.

Once the seedlings have five to six leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to bigger pots.

An easy method to transplant the seedlings is by overwatering the soil medium of the small pots; this will help in taking out the seedlings along with the whole medium.

We can then transfer each seedling in different pots or into the ground and fertilize them with the help of water.

Propagation of Bougainvilleas from Cuttings

The nurturing of seedlings till transplantation can take a great deal of time and energy until the desired results are obtained.

Therefore, a faster and easier method of breeding these plants is using branches of well-grown bougainvillea plants.

How to Grow Bougainvillea from stem cuttings
Bougainvillea stem

This method is called propagation by cuttings, and it results in a better and faster blooming of new flowers.

  • The first step is to select semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings.
  • The hardwood cuttings are the oldest branch/stem of the plant, which are woody and hard.
  • But semi-hardwood cuttings are the stems that are removed from the main plant and are relatively new but not soft. They can be half green and half brown, with mature leaves and flowers.
  • One should prefer semi-hardwood cuttings during high-temperature months.
  • On the other hand prefer hardwood cuttings during colder months.
  • The cuttings must be 5-6 inches in height, all leaves and flowers, as well as any stem extensions, should be removed.
  • This removal should be in such a way that the nodes are completely exposed as the new growth will occur from these nodal areas.
  • Each stem should have at least seven to eight nodes on it.
  • The bottom region of the stem, which is going to be placed inside the soil should be scrapped at a 45° angle.
  • Once the cuttings are prepared, the bottom part should be dipped in a rooting hormone. Instead, one can use honey or cinnamon powder too for the purpose.
  • For best results, the potting mix should be a combination of 4 parts of garden soil, 2parts vermicompost, coconut fibers, and sand each.
  • The bottom region is inserted 1-2 inches into the potting mix, and the mix should be pressed around the cutting to provide sturdy support.
  • Immediately after rooting the cuttings, water them and store in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

It takes approx. 1.5 to 3 months for the formation of roots.

Bougainvillea Growing Requirements

Before sowing the seeds or placing the cuttings, it is necessary to figure them out.

  • What kind of potting mix is best suited for its overall growth,
  • What is the best time of year to grow bougainvilleas, as well as
  • What season is best for them, and how much water do they need in what season.

The ideal soil should have decent drainage as the young seedlings or cuttings don’t thrive in an excessively moist environment and are susceptible to root rot.

It also needs to be slightly acidic, averaging around the pH of 5 to 6.

It must balance both the amount of water going to the plants and the amount of water that will accumulate without overloading either one.

Generally speaking, seeds and cuttings can begin their development after being planted in a mixture of rich garden soil and sieved sand.

In addition to this, coconut fibers should also be mixed with garden soil when applying the cuttings method.

Exposure to complete sunlight is the best-growing environment for bougainvillea, at least 5-6 hours a day.

The production of new stems and leaves requires high light intensity.

A low light environment and shady locations should be avoided, as they will only result in the growth of new stems and leaves but no flowers.

They can withstand hot, dry conditions, with temperatures over 35° Celsius.

The plant is best suited to temperatures between 20°C at night and 25 to 35°C during the day.

Bougainvillea thrives best with at least 25 inches of rain annually.

In short, the more sun and heat, the better is the overall development.

The bougainvillea is a drought-tolerant plant; therefore, watering should be adjusted accordingly.

They can be damaged if overwatered but should not be allowed to dry out completely.

A proper watering once every three to four weeks is sufficient for mature ground-planted bougainvillea.

When it gets warm outside, bougainvilleas drink a lot of water.

Water is used much less indoors during the winter months.

Ideally, the plants require water once a week soon after being potted up.

The same plant may require regular watering once its roots start developing.

The wilting of the leaves is a sign that the plants need water.

Plants that require frequent watering should be transferred to slightly larger pots.

Fertilizer Requirements

A bougainvillea plant, unless adequately fertilized, will not produce the impressive amount of flowers on all the stems and will not be able to reach its full potential.

Although it’s a low-maintenance plant, it does require a periodical fertilizer application.

Organic fertilizers are sufficient enough to fulfill the needs of the plant and are also preferred due to their ability to improve the soil conditions.

Plants should receive balanced amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

A very convenient method to fertilize is by using water-soluble fertilizers since they can be mixed together and applied during the time of watering.

The ideal way to increase plant growth is to give them small amounts of nutrients every day.

A mixture of 150-200 grams of cow manure, vermicompost, and mustard cake should be dissolved in one liter of water, stored for 24 hours, and applied to the plant’s surface.

Another alternative is to use 20 grams of mustard cake powder and 25 grams of bone meal manure; mustard cake can be substituted with neem cakes.

For faster results, tea fertilizer is diluted further with water and applied around the plant’s surface.

It is prepared by decomposing used and dried up tea leaves immersed in water inside a water bottle up to its neck, leaving a little air space on the top, which initiates the fermentation of the leaves, stored in a cool place for a week, then used.

Artificial fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPK) in the ratio of 19:19:19 is very useful for a balanced growth process.

The amount of nitrogen should be comparatively less to that of phosphorus when flowering is taken into consideration.

Two tablespoons of NPK need to be mixed in one liter of water and sprayed on the leaves. Be careful not to spray it on the buds and flowers.

For best results, it is necessary to apply organic or synthetic fertilizer every 20 to 25 days.

Transplanting or Repotting

Transplanting is most effective when done during their inactive seasons, when they are not actively growing or developing new leaves, flowers, etc.

Bougainvilleas, if transplanted in the growing season, may suffer from something called transplant shock.

This can result in severe consequences, as the plant might not grow properly and may stop flowering entirely that year.

Transplant shock is one of the negative effects of moving plants from one location to another.

In some cases, the plants are not able to acclimatize to the new environment, and the roots are not able to establish themselves in the soil.

This leads to reduced water absorption, making the plant susceptible to diseases and, in some cases, also leads to its death.

As the weather is excellent in the spring and there is plenty of sunlight to encourage their growth, this is an ideal time to transplant bougainvillea plants.

Bougainvillea plants stop flowering and producing new buds at maturity if they are not given room to grow, and therefore need to be placed in a bigger pot or re-potted.

A key indication that establishes bougainvillea plants needs re-potting is when the roots tend to come out of the bottom hole of the pot.

Bougainvilleas thrive when planted in pots. As the plants start to outgrow their containers, it is a signal that the plants require transferring to slightly bigger containers.

The roots of the plant are very delicate and can get severely damaged during this process.

Hence, it’s important to ensure that the plant’s roots and its surrounding soil should remain as intact as possible when removing the plant from the old pot.

It is best to avoid trimming roots, and if at all necessary, make sure that the thick roots are removed rather than the thin, thread-like roots.

The best way to re-pot is to break open the old pot and to transfer the whole plant system to the new bigger pot.

The new pot should have a hole at the bottom for proper drainage. The first step is to pour sand inside the pot.

After this, 30% of the pot should be filled with the potting mix.

Plants should be placed inside the pot gently, and the potting mix should be used to fill in the gaps around them.

The plant should be watered immediately and kept in the shade for 15 days.

Flowering

The beautiful, bright, and eye-catching bracts of the bougainvillea plant are the prime reason they are planted in lawns and terrace gardens.

Therefore, the regularity of blooming and the flowering frequency are the most crucial aspects in nurturing bougainvillea plants.

The blooming of Bougainvilleas varies according to their location.

In tropical and subtropical regions, they produce new flowers year-round. In temperate or colder areas, the leaves fall off, and they stop blooming during the winter season up until spring.

They bloom the best under dry, hot conditions, and overwatering can lead to diminished flower production.

Adequate sunlight is a must; bougainvilleas are incapable of blooming properly if stored in a shady area.

They flower the most when there is a slight water deficit, and therefore, flower growers hold back from watering until the leaves start to wilt.

Manures like vermicompost, goat-dung, and cow-dung work exceptionally well for these plants.

Bone-meal, along with mustard cake, works like a magic fertilizer for flowers.

All the above fertilizers should be dissolved in water and then poured into the soil, and watering after applying dry fertilizers is a necessary step.

Slow releasing fertilizers are a must, which means the fertilizer slowly dissolves in the soil and is present in the ground for a long time.

Pruning unwanted stems and dead flowers is mandatory, as the plants can then focus on the growth of new green stems and regenerate their flowers.

The topsoil of the plant should be manipulated from time to time as it leads to more excellent aeration and a proper mixture of nutrients.

Winter Care

Bougainvilleas thrive on warm temperatures.

They are native to South America and therefore are tropical plants.

They bloom during high-temperature seasons and hibernate during winters.

Frost or freezing temperatures can cause damage to them, and the severity of the damage depends on the level of temperature drop.

It can completely die if subjected to below freezing level temperatures for more than 4-5 hours.

The frost will permanently damage the leaves, green stems, and the bracts of the flowers.

The best way to take care of bougainvilleas in locations below freezing level winters is by pruning the plants and relocating them inside our residences until the temperature reaches at least 5℃.

Pruning is the removal of the diseased, dead, and overcrowded branches from the main stem.

This helps reduce the plant’s load during its inactive season and stimulates the growth of new branches.

They also tend to shed their leaves during winter, which is a natural phenomenon.

Water provided should be reduced and, water should be applied only if the soil completely dries off.

Pests and Diseases

Bougainvilleas are not easily affected by pests and diseases, yet sometimes they do succumb to them.

The most common pests affecting these plants are Aphids, Caterpillars, Leaf eaters, Scale insects, Thrips, Whitefly, and Snails.

Aphids, also called plant lice, are incredibly tiny insects that feed on the sap of the plants; these creatures have the shape of a pear.

Bougainvillea leaf

Mold growth due to exposed sap is another problem created by these bugs. The damaged leaves and vegetation should be chopped.

The aphids can be removed by spraying a solution of vegetable oil mixed with diluted liquid dishwashing gel.

Caterpillars that have green or brown color feed on the soft, young branches at night and camouflage during the day, making it hard to find the predator.

They are one inch in length. Spraying neem oil mixed with shampoo can be an excellent remedy to our caterpillar problems.

Leaf eaters such as moths and flies will cover the leaf entirely and force fresh young leaves of the plant to drop off, ultimately killing it.

Weeding and using specific pesticides is the only method to control leaf eaters.

Scale insects like parasites and mealybugs feed on the plant sap and can act as parasites; their external shell makes them immune to certain insecticides.

Their presence turns the leaves dark and produces a black powder.

Hand removal of these insects from the underside of the leaves and spraying a solution of insecticidal soap with organic oil in lukewarm water.

Pyrethrin is used to treat severe cases.

Thrips are microscopic, thin insects that cause the leaves to turn brown and disfigure the leaves.

Thrips can also be treated the same way as Scale insects.

Whiteflies thrive on the underside of the leaves; they feed on the watery juices of the plant and damage the water distribution system of the plants.

Yellow sticky traps and neem oil solutions are the best methods of treating whiteflies.

As snails feed on leaves, they can consume them in one go and reduce the plants’ growth.

Barricades can be used to stop the snails from reaching the plant. Dry chalk around the plants keeps snails away.

The insects and other small creatures that are a threat to the plant are easy to exterminate compared to diseases of the plant.

The diseases and physiological disorders are the results of insufficient supervision of the plant during their formative years.

The disorders most susceptible to bougainvilleas are Fungal & Bacterial Leaf spots, black sooty molds, leaf drop and leaf spots, root rot, and chlorosis.

Leaf spots of reddish-brown coloration appear on fresh leaves and make the branches fragile.

They are small, circular, dark-colored spots that are caused due to damaged plant tissues.

Damaged tissues begin to damage the remaining tissues as well.

A heavy downpour and moist air increase the occurrence of the spots.

The leaves further contaminate the bracts and lead to stunted, uneven growth.

Pruning the unnecessary branches and avoiding excess water accumulation can help in reducing this problem.

To avoid further transmission of disease, make sure to remove all infected leaves.

Fungicides during the budding season can be effective against the fungus.

Mold forms on the plant’s surface are black with splashes of grey; they form coverings on the leaves and stems.

They form on the exposed sap formed due to the sucking of Aphid insects.

The black molds can be treated by spraying insecticidal solutions, which softens the mold, and once it is softened, it can easily be washed off with water.

Plants suffer from leaf drop when there is excessive irrigation or lack of it, inadequate sunlight, or low temperatures.

Therefore, the bougainvilleas should have supervised watering, proper sunlight, and warm temperatures to facilitate the growth of leaves.

Lemon-colored spots appear on old leaves caused by Magnesium element deficiency or flooding the plant with water.

Proper care and limited water usage can be an excellent treatment to remove the spots.

Excessive water usage on the plants or the accumulation of water inside the pots for a prolonged time is the cause of root or stem rot.

Proper water management is the key to avoid the rotting of plant parts.

So always use a pot with a hole at the bottom for the passage of excess water.

The yellowing of leaves is called chlorosis. It is usually visible in plants that have magnesium or iron deficiency.

Using one or two tablespoons of Epsom salt in one liter of water and applying it to the soil and leaves can help turn the leaves green again.

References