Friday, December 2, 2022

Florida’s Kaleidoscope of Color: Bougainvillea



Native to Brazil, Bougainvillea is truly one of the showiest shrubs we have during the fall and winter months here in South Florida. Its spectacular color comes from its heart-shaped papery bracts. The tiny flower itself is usually white and located in the center of the colorful bract. A sprawling shrub with long thorny branches, Bougainvillea is commonly mistaken as a vine. Unfortunately, it lacks the tendrils that allow it to attach itself onto fixed objects. Bougainvilleas come in myriad colors including orange, pink, purple, red and white.

Bougainvilleas begin blooming after the rainy season; when the length of days and nights are almost equal. Once established, Bougainvillea require little to no water. In addition to being drought tolerant, it is also highly salt tolerant, which makes it a perfect plant for our many homes and communities on our many waterways. It’s shown to be a real winner on Marco Island. I have one in a sheltered spot that has been blooming continuously for three years – and with very little water.

It’s common in Naples to see Bougainvillea trained to hang above garages. Don’t get me wrong, I love this look. I just love it more when it’s allowed to grow and really spread up and out engulfing turf grass as it goes. For maximum Bougainvillea color, plant in wide open areas and allow it to spread naturally. Remember, less grass means less mowing and less watering.

Bougainvillea need minimal pruning. If a shoot goes wayward, go ahead and trim it. Just don’t turn your Bougainvillea into topiary. And please, don’t prune it into geometric balls or boxes. Bougainvillea should never resemble mushrooms, lollipops, or any assorted cartoon characters. Also, don’t plant Bougainvillea in confined spaces, because it will require constant trimming and will attack anything that gets within striking distance (walkways, etc.). To ensure maximum color, hand prune or skip pruning altogether. If a hard cut back is absolutely necessary, do it in spring.

Bougainvillea is practically pest free. However, there is a nocturnal caterpillar out there that can defoliate this shrub in no time. I recommend treating an infestation with Thuricide, a bacterial-based spray. When ingested by caterpillars, it causes loss of appetite and death soon after. Thankfully, it is harmless to butterflies, birds and humans.

Bougainvilleas do very well as container plants. As far as the container is concerned, the bigger the better. However, even root-bound Bougainvillea will thrive. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes. Use a potting soil that drains fast, because these plants seriously hate sitting in water. Place your container in full sun, or at minimum half day of sun, water sparingly and fertilize once a month. Bougainvilleas prefer harsh conditions and will bloom profusely under stress. If your Bougainvillea is not blooming, it’s probably not getting enough sun.

If you’re looking for lots of color without lots of yard work, plant Bougainvillea and sit back and enjoy the show. Hummingbirds and butterflies are also big fans.  KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!


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