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Bougainvillea Plants

purple bougainvillea image by Martin Garnham from

Are Bougainvillea Plants Poisonous?

Bougainvillea twigs have long thorns covered with a potentially irritating substance. Exposure to them may cause a painful skin rash. The University of California categorizes bougainvillea as a Class 4 toxic plant.

Bougainvillea twigs have long thorns covered with a potentially irritating substance. Exposure to them may cause a painful skin rash. The University of California categorizes bougainvillea as a Class 4 toxic plant.

Bougainvillea Soil Preparation

Remove all weeds from the planting area. If you must use a commercial herbicide to kill weeds, follow the label instructions regarding how long to wait after application prior to planting.

Dig into the soil to a depth of 6 inches using a spade or long-handled gardening fork. Turn and crush the soil and remove any rocks or other debris.

Amend the soil by mixing in a 3-inch layer of compost to a depth of 6 inches. Rake the soil until it is level and smooth and you are ready to plant the bougainvillea.

How to Shape Bougainvillea

Trim away the longest stems and branches by as much as half to shape the bougainvillea into a shrub. Remove these stems at any point along the stems with the pruning shears.

Clip away some of the underside of the bougainvillea to make it into a topiary shape, if you desire. Make the top of the bougainvillea rounded or square to continue the topiary shape.

Pinch back the soft stems as they grow during the growing season if you desire a bushy plant with lateral growth. Remove only the top ½ inch from the newest growth by pinching it off.


Prune a bougainvillea in late winter while the plant is not growing actively. Remember that whatever growth you trim away may be reducing blossoms for the upcoming growing season.


Wear gardening gloves to protect yourself from the sharp thorns on the branches of bougainvillea.

How to Grow Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea Fertilizer Directions

Sprinkle the slow-release granular fertilizer over the soil in early spring. Consult the fertilizer package for recommended amounts for the size of your growing area, and add the fertilizer over the soil carefully. Do not allow the fertilizer to touch the stems or the foliage of the bougainvillea. Work the fertilizer into the soil with the hand rake, and water the soil generously to help the granules soak into the soil.

Fertilize the bougainvillea with the water-soluble fertilizer twice a month during April, May and June. Mix the fertilizer with water according to package recommendations, and pour the fertilizer carefully over the soil.

Decrease the fertilizing frequency to once a month between July and September to enable the bougainvillea to increase blossom production.

Repeat the slow-release fertilizer application again in August using the same method you started with in March.

Suspend fertilization from October through February while the bougainvillea is dormant.

Types of Bougainvillea Plants

How to Train Bougainvillea

Choose three small bougainvillea plants that are only a few inches long and don't have many side branches.

Fill the pot with good quality potting soil. Put the stake in the center and tamp the surrounding soil to hold the stake in place.

Space the bougainvillea plant evenly around the stake, as close to the stake as possible. Water well.

Braid the stems of the plants around the stake at the center. Cut off any side branches, leaving the two closest to the end of each vine.

As the bougainvillea vines grow, cut off the side branches so that only the two at the end of the vine remain at any one time. Continue to braid the stems around the stake. When the vines reach the height you want (no higher than the top of the stake) pinch the growth tip of each vine, leaving at least three sets of leaves at the end the vines. This will cause them to branch out and create the "canopy" of your standard.

Bougainvillea Pest Control Products

How Tall Is a Bougainvillea Tree?

Also called Chinese flame tree, the bougainvillea goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata) grows at a moderate to fast rate to 20 or 30 feet, with a spreading, 15- to 20-foot-wide crown. It has large clusters of yellow, late summer flowers with pink seedpods. Its green leaves become yellow in autumn.

How to Re-Pot a Bougainvillea

Fill the new planting pot halfway with soil. Water the soil until it is saturated, and allow the pot to drain completely.

Remove the bougainvillea from its current pot by tipping it on its side and sliding it out. If the plant is stuck, rap sharply on the sides and bottom of the pot to loosen.

Place the bougainvillea’s rootball on the soil in the new pot. Add or remove soil so that it will sit at the same depth as it did in the old pot. Backfill with soil and water until the excess water runs out of the bottom of the pot.


Bougainvillea has thick, sharp thorns, so wear heavy gardening gloves when working on it.

Bougainvillea Plant Colors


Bougainvillea comes in a wide range of reds and pinks, including magenta, crimson, tomato, hot pink and light pink. Some of the red varieties are 'Crimson Red,' 'La Joya' and 'Tomato Red.' Pinks include 'Imperial Delight,' 'Helen Johnson' and 'Pink Pixie.'


From lilac to lavender to fuchsia, bougainvillea also comes in purples. Purple varieties include 'Vera Deep Purple' and 'Twilight Delight.' Violet varieties include 'Queen Violet' and 'Sao Paulo.' Lilac varieties include 'Formosa,' 'Easter Parade' and 'Texas King.' For fuchsia, there's 'Barbara Karst' and 'Miami Pink.'

Other Colors

Orange bougainvillea varieties include 'Afterglow' (salmon), 'Sundown Orange' (starts orange, then turns salmon-pink) and 'Hugh Evans' (coral orange). For a yellow variety, try 'Golden Glow,' 'Yellow Glory' or 'California Gold.' White varieties include 'Shubra,' 'Singapore White' and 'Java White.'

How to Trim Bougainvillea

Put on a pair of elbow-length gloves and use pruning shears to shape the bougainvillea to your preference. Trim away the branches from the tops and sides of the plant.

Cut off any discolored branches that you find. These dead limbs absorb space and nutrients.

Look inside the plant and remove any limbs that face inward or push up against each other. The removal of congested branches helps improve air flow.

Locate new stem growth and pinch off the top 1/2 inch from these younger limbs. Pinching off the tips encourages new appendages with vibrant flowers.

Continue to repeat steps 1 through 4 to maintain the form that you want and maximize bloom output.


For best results, wait until after the bougainvillea flowering cycle before trimming the plant.

How to Pinch Bougainvillea

Look for new growth, which will have pale green stems. Old growth stems turn woody with age.

Locate a growth shoot 1/2-inch down from the stem's tip, off to the side. Snip the developing shoot off the bougainvillea plant with your pruning shears. Alternately, grab the shoot with your thumb and forefinger and pinch it off.

Repeat this process along other new growth stems on your bougainvillea. Pinched plants develop more new growth, which results in more color.

Pinch the bougainvillea regularly, working in this manner. How much you pinch is up to you; there is no limit to how much pinching is acceptable, according to the Houston Chronicle.

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