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The Bougainvillea Plant

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Joyce Friels

Local Gardening

 

I’ve seen the bougainvillea plant cascading over walls, its bracts (blooms) beautiful in red, fuchsia, pink, creamy white and copper. It is a very showy and hardy plant. It is pest-free and disease resistant. When the bougainvillea is well taken care of, its re-wards show off in an abundance of color. It can be grown as a small pot plant or a sizeable tree, to spread itself up and over a wall.

It is a native to coastal Brazil and was discovered in 1768 by French naturalist Dr. Philbert Commergon. The plant is named after his close friend and ship’s admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. There are three species of bougainvillea and three groups of hybrids. Most have thorny stems and are considered a branching plant. The blooms are called bracts and come in different sizes and colors depending on the species.

The bougainvillea is a tropical plant and will not tolerate frost or freezing tem-peratures. In this area of Central Texas, I have seen it grown as a container plant or in a hanging basket. It is easier to maintain in these forms and will survive our winters if taken indoors during the winter months. It seems to grow best during spring and fall. It thrives in full sun. At least five hours per day of direct sunlight is its minimal require-ment for good bloom. It has an extremely fine root system and should be planted in well-drained soil. Avoid soil with high peat levels and water retention. The bougainvil-lea is a heavy feeder that requires regular monthly fertilization during blooming sea-son. It can be pruned or trimmed any time of the year. It has a bloom cycle followed by a resting period whether trimmed or not. It is recommended that any pruning or trim-ming be done after the bloom period. It blooms best when pot-bound so don’t re-pot it unless the root system has replaced all the soil in the container.

When the potted plant is brought indoors for the winter, it needs a cool and low light area. It will go into dormancy and drop its leaves. It should be watered once or twice a month during this period. When it is moved into high light at springtime it will start to grow again.

To be successful at growing this tropical plant follow these guidelines for the care and maintenance of the beautiful flowering bougainvillea: At least five hours of direct sunlight, preferably south sun. Allow soil to dry out between watering. Water only when soil is dry to touch 3-4 inches deep in the soil. If grown in containers feed every two weeks during spring and fall. It flowers best when stressed. Do not let excess wa-ter stand in draining dish. Pinch the soft tips off every month during active growth to encourage branching. With a clean pair of pruners, prune a bougainvillea in the winter after it has bloomed. It likes to be root bound so don’t repot often.

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