Bougainvillea is the stuff of dreams—a showy vine covered with glamorous spots of colour—especially if you’re shovelling snow or bailing out floodwater. This South American vine goes hand in hand with sun-drenched courtyards and dusty desert sunsets; its colourful, frilly bracts shout Latin romance as clearly as a flamenco dancer’s skirts. Gardeners in colder climates must carefully plan their affair with this exotic dreamweaver: The liaison will commence in spring and end with the first chilly days of fall unless there’s a greenhouse involved. In warmer zones, though, bougainvillea is a vigorous evergreen climber—given enough time, it will cover your wall, your trellis, and maybe your roof with its bright-hot blooms.
Common name: Bougainvillea
Botanical name: Bougainvillea
Plant type: Evergreen or semi-evergreen vine or shrub
Zones: 9 to 11; grown as annual in colder zones
Height: 15 to 40 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Acidic, well-drained
· Moisture: Average to dry; drought-tolerant once established.
· Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
· Pruning: May need trimming to keep its shape; prune after flowering.
· Fertiliser: During the growing season, fertilise every two weeks.
· By cuttings or layering (bury a low branch in the ground, where it will develop a set of roots).
Pests and diseases
· Aphids, scales, whiteflies, spider mites
· Leaf spots
· The papery, brightly coloured “flowers” of bougainvillea are technically bracts—the actual flowers are on small upright stems in the centre of each bract.
· In climates where bougainvillea is hardy, train it along a trellis or over a pergola. In colder zones, plant it in containers or in a greenhouse.
· Many bougainvilleas have long, sharp thorns, so plant them away from high-traffic areas and be careful when pruning.
· If you grow a bougainvillea in a greenhouse or indoors, be sure to give it plenty of room.
· Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’, B. ‘Double Red’, and B. ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ (pictured) have bright red bracts.
· B. ‘Double White’ and B. glabra ‘Snow White’ have white bracts.
· B. ‘Blueberry Ice’ and B. ‘Raspberry Ice’ have variegated leaves.
· B. ‘California Gold’ has deep golden-yellow bracts.
All in the family
· Another familiar garden plant in Nyctaginaceae is the garden four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa). There are about 290 other species in the family, concentrated mainly in tropical and subtropical areas.
· Other Bougainvillea species popular in the garden include B. x buttiana and B. spectabilis.