Bougainvillea is a popular plant in warm, coastal regions like Orange County. Its climbing vines grow tall and lush, exploding with bright magenta blooms against glossy, emerald foliage, filling the scenery with sumptuous, jewel-toned color. Bougainvillea creates a spellbinding backdrop for photographs, outdoor events, and entertaining; it's perfect for growing along archways, patios, fences, facades, or along slopes. Here's how to care for this magnificent tropical plant, so you can encourage its incomparable blooms to reach their fullest potential.
The Basics of Bougainvillea Care
You might be surprised that a plant as big, dramatic, and fast-growing as this one is low-maintenance—but it's true! Bougainvillea requires minimal effort for a big reward of ultra-vibrant, showy blooms that can climb high with the right support! Its semi-evergreen foliage takes on a darker tone over winter, providing late-season interest after many of our other garden plants have dropped their leaves. A big part of keeping your bougainvillea is choosing an appropriate location, so we'll go over everything you need to keep your vines blooming beautifully.
Sunlight and Planting
Native to South America, bougainvillea loves the heat and is happy to soak up the sun all day. Full sun will result in bigger, brighter blooms, so try to plant it in a spot that receives at least eight hours of direct sun each day.
Bougainvillea is tolerant of poor soils and isn't particularly picky about pH levels. It's also quite salt-tolerant, so it's perfectly happy here on the coast! Ensure that your soil is loose and well-draining. Soggy soil and stagnant water can rot the roots and harm your plant.
The base of bougainvillea tends to be a bit woody, whereas the upper vines grow big and lush. For enhanced aesthetic appeal, we recommend growing thick, mounded plants around the base of your bougainvillea.
You can grow bougainvillea in containers—their spilling habit makes them a perfect addition to mixed arrangements in large containers—however, they won't grow as big this way. Its creeping habit also makes it a fabulous ground cover plant if you'd like to reduce your lawn and have more flowers instead.
Once established, bougainvillea is an incredibly drought-tolerant plant, so it's a fabulous choice for California gardens as we continue to limit our water usage. Water your perennial flower regularly for the first couple of months after planting, early in the morning to ensure it has more time to soak up that moisture before the sun heats the soil and dries it.
Once established, only occasional watering is necessary—however, we recommend watering the soil deeply so that the roots are thoroughly soaked; watering a little bit at a time won't do much good. During periods of extreme heat, you may have to increase the frequency of watering if your plant is looking tired.
Fertilizer and Pruning
While they are generally quite low-maintenance, bougainvilleas require regular fertilizing. These heavy feeders need lots of food to fuel their rapid growth! You can either apply an organic slow-release fertilizer twice per year—once in spring and again in summer—or dilute an organic water-soluble fertilizer to half-strength and apply it every two weeks from March until October.
You can lightly prune bougainvillea any time of year, so you won't have to worry about losing out on future blooms from incorrect timing. Tidy up the plant by trimming ends just above a branch node, and remove any dead material you find.
If you're planning on hard pruning, wait until the plant is semi-dormant in late fall or early spring. You can encourage young plants to grow thicker by pruning them closer to the base.
There are so many gorgeous varieties of bougainvillea for sale in Orange County here at Roger's Gardens! Whether you want a small dwarf variety, a super giant, or something in between, we'll be happy to show you all the fabulous cultivars you can grow here on the California coast.