Tropical Plant Profile: Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea, possibly the most spectacular of all flowering Tropical houseplants! Its long, arching and thorny branches have an upright-ish nature, and are tipped with papery flower bracts in some of the most vibrant shades you’ll see on an indoor Tropical! Bright pinks, purples, and even orange could be filling your homes right now!
Light, Light, and more Light!
Flowering Tropical houseplants, like Bougainvilleas, typically need a bit more attention than your average Pothos but they are well worth the effort! “Bougies”, as we affectionately call them, are sun lovers and need at least 4 hours of bright, direct sunlight every day. They’ll typically bloom during the spring and summer months when the days are longer and the sunlight is strongest – after all, it takes a lot of energy to look that good! A bright room is the ideal location for your Bougie to thrive, preferably with south or west facing windows to get as much energy to those flower-producing tips as possible.
Check Pots Often, Water Deeply when Needed
Bougainvilleas like to dry out slightly between deep waterings. The more sunlight your Bougie is soaking up, the faster its soil will dry out – be sure to check your pots daily and water as needed. And just like your other Tropicals, you want to water until you see liquid coming out of the pot’s drainage holes to ensure all those roots get a deep drink. Let the excess moisture drain away, and never let your plant sit in water. Bougies also love extra humidity, and would greatly appreciate a daily misting.
Boost Your Plant’s Health with Fertilizer
Like we said before, it takes a lot of energy to put out all those gorgeous blooms. Give your plants a nutrient boost with a flowering fertilizer every 4th watering; you can switch to an all-purpose fertilizer during their non-blooming seasons, if you choose to.
Growing Up, Out, and All Around
So we mentioned earlier that Bougainvilleas have an “upright-ish” growth habit, and it’s about as accurate a description as we can get. They’ll grow upright, that’s for sure, until a branch decides to veer off randomly and the others follow its lead. You can control the arching stems by tying them to vertical supports like bamboo stakes, or let them go whichever way they choose because the plant will be gorgeous no matter what! Smaller plants can be kept in hanging baskets, while larger Bougies will benefit with larger pots and a trellis or a tripod of bamboo stakes.
A Gentle Shake is All You Need!
Bougainvillea aren’t just gorgeous, they’re also super fun to clean! Just grasp one of the thicker branches (again, watch out for those thorns!) and give it a little shake; the faded flowers and older leaves will fall to the floor! You can also pick them off by hand, but shaking is much more fun.
Bougainvillea love the sun and would adore being outside for the summer! Just like other Tropicals, Bougies can be set outside once the temperature reaches (and remains at) 15°C day and night, usually around mid- to late June. To diminish leaf burn and overall stress, ease your Tropicals into living outdoors by slowing increasing their time outside and the intensity of sunlight: a few hours in the morning in a shady area on day 1, then a few hours in a brighter spot (again in the morning) on day 2, then all morning in sun on day 3, and so on. In about a week your Bougie should be soaking up all that summer sunshine and turning your outdoor space into a tropical paradise! Be sure to check your pots daily, as they’ll dry out much faster than they would indoors.
Falling Temps = Back Inside
Summer can’t last forever, especially here in southwestern Ontario, so your Bougie will have to come indoors before the temperature falls below 15°C. Labour Day is typically a good moving day, but you can push the date back so long as you keep an eye on the weather reports. Once they’re brought back inside you may notice their leaves going yellow or falling off at higher rates than before; this is completely normal as the plant acclimatizes from its summer location to its winter home. Help them along with lots light, frequent misting and humidity, and they’ll be back to their happy selves in a few weeks.
A Little Pruning After Blooming
These gorgeous Tropical houseplants only bloom on new growth, leaving the previous years’ woody branches to be covered in lush green foliage – and thorns, have we mentioned the thorns? Pruning is essential to keeping these beauties blooming during the long days of spring and summer: Once the plant is done flowering, trim the branches and stems back, leaving 1 or 2 leaves above where they were last pruned – this is where new branches will form. Bougainvilleas typically don’t grow much in fall or winter, but come spring time they should start showing some bright green growth!
Bougainvillea Basic Care
Light: Bright, direct light, at least 4 hours daily.
Water: Dry slightly then water thoroughly. Do not allow to sit in water.
Fertilizer: Feed with a flowering or all-purpose fertilizer every 4th watering.
Cleaning: Remove faded flowers and leaves as needed.
Pruning: Bougainvillea only flowers on new growth, typically during the longer days of spring and summer. After flowering, trim branches back but leave 1 or 2 leaves from where it was last trimmed – you should be able to see the where it was last cut.