Growing bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.) in containers allows gardeners in all regions to enjoy a splash of tropical color. Planting in pots provides an easy way to move plants indoors for winter as well as creating tight quarters for the roots, a condition that enhances this show-stopping, colorful, tropical plant’s blooming prowess.
You can plant bougainvillea in anything from traditional flowerpots to planter boxes, barrels or old laundry baskets as long as the container has drainage holes. If it doesn't or if it only has one hole, drill three to five 1/4-inch holes on the bottom of the pot to prevent soggy soil, which kills bougainvillea.
Size is another important factor, especially since bougainvillea blooms most profusely when it's grown in a compact space. Choose a pot with a diameter of at least 6 inches, although large cultivars do well in 5- to 10-gallon pots. A bougainvillea may thrive in the same container for several years. When you need to repot it, size up gradually and avoid disturbing the plant's delicate roots, which can cause plant shock.
Although you can grow any cultivar in a container, gardeners in cool climates should choose dwarf or compact cultivars that are easier and lighter to move indoors for winter than their larger counterparts. Compact varieties include Oo-La-La (Bougainvillea "Monka"), which grows up to 18 inches tall. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 10 and 11, and features brilliant magenta-colored bracts with green foliage.
Another option is Raspa Raspberry (Bougainvillea "Raspa Raspberry"), hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11. This cultivar grows 18 inches tall and wide and produces green foliage and eye-catching dark purple bracts.
Gently remove the bougainvillea from its nursery pot, being careful not to damage the fine root system. Plant it in a container filled with soilless potting mix that’s been combined with several inches of compost. Water the container thoroughly.
Place the container in a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight every day for maximum blooming. Add an arch, trellis or stake to support taller cultivars or to train the plant to grow in a specific shape or direction.
Water bougainvillea deeply, adding enough water so it drains from the holes at the bottom of the container. Allow the potting mix to dry out a bit before watering it again.
Virtually insect-free, bougainvillea requires minimal maintenance, although it does need regular fertilizing during the growing season. Mix a 12-4-18 formula made for hibiscus into the top layer of potting mix. (The dosage depends on the size of the container.) For example, a bougainvillea growing in a 10-inch container should get 1/4 cup of this potash-rich fertilizer.
Because bougainvillea blooms on new growth, only prune it after the plant is finished blooming. Use clean pruning tools treated with disinfectant spray or a five-minute soak in a solution made with equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water.
Unless you live in a warm area, you need to protect these tropical plants from chill damage by moving them to a cool, dark location and allowing them to fall dormant for the winter or by bringing them to a sunny area inside before nightly temperatures drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.
Enjoy your bougainvillea as houseplant by moving it to a spot with plenty of bright light and room temperatures that range from 60 to 70 F. (Ref 6) Prepare the bougainvillea about one week before moving it by gradually reducing its light exposure. Spray the plant, container and soil with insecticidal soap to avoid bringing pests inside. Water the bougainvillea as needed, but allow the soil to dry out between watering. Place a pan or dish of water nearby to maintain humidity levels.
- Grow Plants in Pots; DK Publishing
- Aggie Horticulture: Growing Bougainvilleas
- Texas Gardener: Hungry for Color
- LSU AgCenter: You Can Grow Spectacular Bougainvilleas
- BGI Fertilizer: Bougainvillea 101
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Indoor Plants - Moving Plants Indoors & Outdoors
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Disinfecting Pruning Tools
- Photo Credit fatchoi/iStock/Getty Images
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