May 2023 Bougainvillea

As mentioned in the May QC Newsletter the Bougainvillea plant is quite easy to grow in our area. Let’s add a few more details on this beautiful plant.

Winter care – I would suggest planting bougainvillea in a pot so you can move it inside during our winters. Generally, 40 degrees is the lowest recommended temperature before you suffer damage to the plant. However, it turns out that they will survive into the 20s, if properly taken care of.

After a frost the foliage will turn brown and may fall off. The plant will look like a bunch of dead dried out stems, but the plant will come back depending on how cold it got. You can scratch one of the stems and see if the underlying wood is green.  The key is to protect the root system. Apply several inches of mulch to prevent the roots from freezing! If you do this your plant will probably come back. If you have left it out and you feel there is no hope – don’t give up until after the chance of the last frost has passed. DO NOT prune the bougainvillea until then as the pruning will force out new growth and you do not want this to be frost bitten. So be patient and wait until about April to do your first pruning and you should be well rewarded. The caveat to this is if the bougainvillea is in a pot, it probably will not make it unless you bury the pot in the ground to provide protection.

I had a bougainvillea from last year that I simply left outside during the winter and simply threw a piece of plastic over it when the temperature would get down to the mid-30s. It had bloomed until November, and it started blooming again in March. Bottom line – benign neglect works.

Repotting – What about repotting or transplanting to a larger pot? This I will not discuss as I found a great You Tube video that thoroughly discusses this issue. Take the time and follow this video for fertilizing, watering, and a lot more on the care of bougainvillea They do well with a crowded root system so don’t be too quick to repot. Be careful as bougainvillea has some really nice sharp thorns!

Fertilization – Look for a bougainvillea specific fertilizer: a 17-7-10 fertilizer with iron and other micronutrients. Iron is essential for the development of a bougainvillea. This fertilizer is available at local garden centers. Bougainvillea is a heavy feeder and requires more fertilization during flowering period. Simply follow the package directions.

Pruning – Can be done at any time of the year – except for winter care mentioned above. Prune hard to control size and selective prune to control shape. You can prune so that you have a hanging basket, a pot of gorgeous flowers, or a tree of  flowers. Again, be careful as bougainvillea has some really nice sharp thorns!

General care – Bougainvillea are drought tolerant and do not like “wet feet”. Let them dry until the leaves/flowers just start to wilt and then give them a good watering but do not let them sit in a puddle of water. Do not do frequent light watering as it weakens the plant.

Finally – Where do I find bougainvillea this year? I have found a few garden centers that did not have any as there was a partial crop failure this year – remember the three-day cold snap earlier this year? But check around and you will find them in several garden centers near us in a variety of colors.

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