5.4.11

Brilliant Bougainvilleas



I like Bougainvilleas a lot.....preferably on someone else's property. The plants are the epitome of colorful and tropical plants. But, ( and there is always a BUT), the plants need some specialized care, and like roses, come with some intimidating thorns. In all candor, Bougainvilleas are really quite easy to grow, and most people over-cultivate them, resulting in huge plants with few blooms. Without a doubt, the most frequent question I get is "why won't my Bougainvillea bloom ? I have had it for years...."). The question is easy to answer and easy to correct. I'll address that question a bit later.



how a Bougainvillea should be displayed !

'Maria'






'Raspberry Ice'





'Don Hatten'
'


growing in a desert or xeric garden, plenty of reflected light


This group of plants is one of the easiest of all to grow, yet one of the most misunderstood. In the subtropical parts of the country, these plants grow with abandon, and should be treated with both respect and careful neglect. In short, Bougainvilleas need rather little input from you to bloom well. Plant any member of this group in as much sunlight as possible; all day sunlight and a well-drained location are required for maximum success. The plants need occasional hard pruning while in active growth to maintain their shape, otherwise the vining types may grow to stupendous dimensions ( over 50 feet in a year).  Fertilize the plants with palm fertilizer or gardenia fertilizer, my own preference is 12-4-15 palm fertilizer, every 4 months, with a Spring additional fertilizing of Nutricote 13-13-13. Our South Florida climate has a rainy season from May to October, and not very much  rain at all from November to April: perfect for the wet-Summer / dry-winter regime Bougainvilleas need. Turn off the sprinklers completely once the plants are established.

The answer to the problem of lots of green growth and no blooms is too much water. I often see someone plant a Bougainvillea in the middle of a lush green lawn, then wonder why the Bougainvillea does not flower ! Bougainvilleas  are mostly desert growers, and need very little additional watering once established. Water these plants only when they are wilted. A moderate diet, quarterly pruning when in active growth, no water or fertilizer after late September = abundant blooms in the short day of the year.( We don't talk about "winter" very often in Miami; it's more of a concept than a reality.)

There are myriad varieties to suit every size range, from the naturally tree-forming B. arborea, a street tree of Brazil; to the diminutive dwarf forms like 'Maria', and 'Don Hatten'. Many Bougainvilleas are sold as sheared standard-tree forms, but this is a disservice to a plant that really prefers to spill over a rock wall or growing robustly on a heavy arbor or pergola. This is a great plant group for a large design space or where the blaze of color is needed. They can be grown successfully as patio plants, and are custom-fit for xeric gardens. With the specter of near-permanent watering restrictions looming on the horizon, you can still have a garden with a lot of color while saving water and resources. Just watch out for the spines, wear gloves, use tough love tactics on the plants, then watch the flower show. Don't fear the plants, just understand them better !   

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens





B. arborea at the American Orchid Society Garden, Delray Beach, FL
A thornless, summer-blooming species, and fragrant, too !





















     










8 comments:

  1. I like this flowers very much. When the sun light is fall on these flowers it become very nice. The grow lights also look very nice.

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  2. Thank you for your comment. Bougainvilleas are one of the most brilliant of all flower colors, and deserve more attention.

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

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  3. hi Graig,
    Thank you for all the good tips.
    I live in Australia, on the Gold Coast, the weather here is similar to Florida. I also love bougainvilleas and have a few of the dwarf type called Bambino, also a few regular ones in pots. I am just getting into gardening and most of my previous experience has been through "trial and error". I read many different articles on bougainvillaea and you are the only one that recommends pruning during the flowering period, all the others suggest pruning at the end of the flowering period.
    How much do you suggest pruning? I also read somewhere that Miracle-gro bloom booster it's a good product to use, what is your opinion?
    Thanks again for your suggestions, kind regards, nadir

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  4. Hi Nadir- thanks for the good feedback on the blog. I reviewed my article, and would like to clarify the idea of pruning the plants while in bloom. I actually suggested pruning the plant while in active growth, not while in bloom. Pruning plants in active growth encourages a lot of branch tips which lead to more flower heads. You can prune the plant anytime you want to, without harm to the plant, but my suggestion is to prune the plants after flowering, as the usual advice would suggest. Most of the " bloom booster" products have a higher phosphorous content, and work pretty well on redirecting a plant's energy into flowering and away from actrive leaf growth. There are a number of natural products that will do the same job, but the main idea is to reduce the nitrogen level, and increase phosphorous and potassium. The results are fewer leaves, and stronger roots and blooms. This idea works on many plants that are prone to rampant growth. The only downside to using increased P levels is that it tends to lock onto iron and managanese, and the plant looks "tired" or slightly yellow.Almost any liquid iron product can be sprayed onto the plant to keep it looking good without inducing a lot of extra green growth. You might check to see if there are any rose nurseries or garden centers in your area that might have organic rose fertrilizers. Many rose fertilizers have ample phosphorous in them, and Bougainvilleas really enjoy the organic ingredients.

    Good luck with your plant !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

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  5. Hello Craig Morell, thank you for this post! Now I know how beautiful are the bougainvilleas in Miami :-) Good job and cheers, Stephanie

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  8. Aloha, Sir,

    How do I get my bougainvillea to grow as the picture of the 'Don Hatten' does?

    Mahalo,

    Trish

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