How fast do Bougainvilleas grow?

Sharing is caring!

If you are new to raising Bougainvilleas then one of your first questions will naturally be ‘How fast do Bougainvilleas grow?”. As it turns out, it’s very fast indeed!

Bougainvillea vines, in ideal conditions, can grow as much as 36 inches per year! That means you’ll need to decide if you want to ‘keep them low’ or if you want to encourage them to climb to their fullest heights through the support of a proper trellis.

Today we’re going to talk a little more about these plants, their growth rate, and what you can do to help a juvenile Bougainvillea plant grow up to be a lush, vibrant adult. Along the way we’ll cover some fertilizing needs and also some tips for making your own, as well as cover some pests you’ll want to prepare for.

How fast do Bougainvilleas grow? Ultimately, that’s going to be up to you, and we’ll tell you the why of it!

How fast do Bougainvilleas grow – Understanding its needs

To understand what you need to know about Bougainvilleas, it’s important to know where they come from. These beautiful shrublike vines are native to eastern South America and you’ll find them in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina, where they do their best in areas with low rainfall and a bit of heat. 

In these native habitats, you’ll get flowers year-round, as they don’t have to contend with the kind of cold that we get in the United States. If you’re in Florida, then you may well get year-round blooming like Bougainvillea display in their native habitats, but for most of us the typical blooming times will fall between November and May.

The ideal soil for Bougainvilleas will be rich and loamy, as well as slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.0), but even a nice potting soil will do – the important thing is drainage. As these plants are used to thriving in the heat, they’re highly susceptible to overwatering and may develop root rot if that happens, so good drainage is going to be a must if you are raising these plants. 

They also need 6 hours of sunlight a day and oddly enough, 12 hours of darkness produces the most blooms – although that won’t help you a lot, unless you are raising them inside. Watering is best done as a deep-watering session every 3 to 4 weeks.

Aside from proper soil, sunlight ,watering, and drainage, it’s important to know that regular pruning will also be a good idea, as the blooms are going to occur predominantly in areas of new growth. The flowers that you see when it blooms are actually from bracts, which are basically colorful, modified leaves that will surround a centralized cluster of its true flowers (which are usually white). 

These bracts come in a number of colors, such as pink, orange, red, purple, yellow, and white, so it’s easy to see the appeal of having them in your garden – they really are quite stunning when they want to show off!

Finally, a bit of fertilizing to help them along is also important, although it won’t be needed in all locations. Let’s take a look at that aspect of Bougainvillea care and you can see what we mean!

Fertilizing your Bougainvillea

In their native tropical and subtropical climes, Bougainvillea plants grow up fast and healthy. The soil there is really quite amazing, but growing them in our own gardens we are going to need to put in a little extra care to ensure that they grow up to be their best.

The easiest way to do this is going to be a well-balanced fertilizer – typically a 10-10-10 or even a 20-20-20, but we really recommend starting with a 10-10-10 first. This Gardenera fertilizer is a good example and lets you start off with a lower, balanced ratio to see how your plants do with it first.

Note: If you have potted Bougainvilleas you’ll want to dilute it or simply purchase a 5-5-5.

For Bougainvilleas that are living in your garden (unpotted, specifically), the best times to fertilize will be once in early spring and then once again in midsummer, when your blooms are coming out ‘full force’.

For potted Bougainvillea, the diluted 5-5-5 fertilizer should be applied more regularly, since they are in a more controlled environment and won’t have access to any extra nutrients if you don’t provide them – for these, fertilize monthly starting in early spring and continue it throughout the summer.

In a pinch, you can use Hibiscus fertilizer, as their needs are similar and they tend to have a balanced NPK that fits well with Bougainvillea’s needs.

Whatever fertilizer you choose, just be sure to be very careful with the nitrogen level – too much nitrogen will get you more foliage growth, rather than more pretty blooms, so try to go as balanced as possible and ‘aim low’ until you can get some visual feedback on how your plants are doing.

Making homemade Bougainvillea fertilizer

If you prefer leaving as many chemicals as you can OUT of your garden, then you can certainly go with some natural options that will fertilize your Bougainvilleas nicely. We’ll take a look at some of the following ingredients and give you the scoop on each as far as fertilizing potential:

  • Banana peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Epsom salts
  • Grass clippings and food scraps
  • Manure

Banana peels

Chopped up banana peels can add phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, and you can also ferment them in water over the course of 2 weeks to make something called ‘compost tea’ – essentially ‘liquid, fermented bananas’ in a form less likely to attract pests since the soil will process it faster.

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds can help your Bougainvilleas by adding things like nitrogen, iron, calcium phosphorus, and a little extra acidity to your soil – but be sure to check the pH first. You want 5.5 to 6.0 pH ideally so be careful not to overdo it.

Egg shells

Crushed-up eggshells are a great addition to the soil, as they’ll feed your Bougainvillea phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. As an added bonus, snails and slugs don’t like them very much, so they tend to keep their distance.

Epsom salts

Small amounts of Epsom salt, every now and again, can help your Bougainvillea. The reason behind it is magnesium sulfate – which helps your Bougainvillea to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus. Just keep the amounts very small and infrequent so that you don’t overdo it.

Grass clippings and food scraps

Grass clippings can help to give you a nitrogen boost and if you add in some leftover veggies and fruits, then you can get an assortment of extra nutrients in the bargain – just keep in mind the pest factor. With the fruits and veg, it may be better to ferment them or simply wait until they compost.

Manure

Cow and chicken manure are both good options for Bougainvilleas – they’re inexpensive and chock full of nutrients that your plant can use, so be sure not to forget this basic fertilizer foundation.

With these ingredients (and perhaps some additions of your own), you should be able to create an excellent and chemical-free compost that will do your Bougainvillea plants right!

What pests do Bougainvilleas have to contend with?

Carpenter bee on a Bougainvillea (not a pest)
Carpenter bee on a Bougainvillea (not a pest)

While Bougainvillea are quite hardy, every plant has its own little list of pests that can give them problems. For Bougainvilleas, the insects below are the chief offenders and we’ll tell you a little about each in the sections below:

  • Aphids
  • Caterpillars
  • Mealybugs
  • Plant Scales
  • Scale Insects
  • Snails and slugs
  • Spider mites
  • Thrips

Aphids

Little, green, and with pear—shaped bodies and big mouths, Aphids like to bite in and take a drink of plant fluids from the leaves, stems, and other soft bits that they can sink their mouths into. In small amounts, they really can’t do much damage, but if you’ve got a little community of them then you’ll start to see your Bougainvillea’s leaves yellowing or curling. Also, the honeydew they expel promotes the growth of fungus!

A little neem oil can help in a pinch or you can use insecticidal soap to help control them – just be sure to wear gloves to avoid your Bougainvillea’s thorns or you might get an itchy rash!

Caterpillars

Bougainvilleas have a specific caterpillar that likes to target them, known as a Bougainvillea Looper. They measure in at around an inch in length, are brown or green in color, and they’re quite good at blending in. As they are nocturnal feeders, if you notice that your Bougainvillea is getting damaged and can see no sign of the culprits, then you might well have Loopers.

For Loopers, check your favorite nursery or online shop and look for Bacillus thuringiensis. A few strategic sprays of this are quite effective with these caterpillars in their larval stage.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are a type of scale insect (and we’ll tell you more on those in the next entry), but as they are common we wanted to give them a section of their own. They look like little cotton balls and like aphids, they like eating up juices from your Bougainvillea for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A little neem oil can help you to get rid of them if you notice a bunch of little, suspicious ‘cotton’ bits moving around on your plant.

Plant Scales

Scale insects are another common pest for Bougainvillea and they feed on sap to often devastating results. Typically, when you spot them, they will be one of two types – a ‘soft’ scale, which is about ¼ of an inch long and looks shiny and smooth, or an ‘armored’ scale, which has a 1/8 inch protective plate hiding its body. When you see them, it’s definitely trouble – the females of many scale species can reproduce without the male, so they can quickly grow in numbers and become problematic.

As far as controlling them, you can attack individual insects with a cotton swab that you’ve dipped in rubbing alcohol, but a neem oil soak really is your best strategy for getting rid of all of them. 

Snails and slugs

Snails and slugs can sneak up on your Bougainvillea and start eating it regularly—which can cause an appreciable amount of damage. Coffee grounds or crushed eggshells scattered around the base of your plant can do a pretty good job of keeping them away.

Spider mites

If you see tiny, telltale webs, then your Bougainvillea has been visited by Spider Mites who are there to eat up as much sap as they can. Insecticidal soap or neem oil can help you to get rid of them quickly, you’ll just need to keep an eye out for those webs as the mites themselves are quite tiny.

Thrips

Small, slender, and winged, Thrips love to eat sap and they multiply very quickly. We aren’t kidding about the ‘small’ bit – these bugs measure in at less than 1/20th of an inch, but they can do quite a lot of damage for such tiny things. Thankfully, insecticidal soap or neem oil will usually get rid of them quickly and if you have Ladybugs, they’ll also munch on the Thrips whenever they find them.

Good companion plants to fortify and protect your Bougainvillea 

Companion planting is another way to help your Bougainvillea to reach its full potential. That’s because the right companion plants can help to attract pollinators, improve soil, deter pests, and more! Below you will find some good companions for Bougainvillea and we’ll tell you why this is the case in the sections that follow:

  • Aloe
  • Coreopsis
  • Hibiscus 
  • Lantana
  • Lavender

Aloe

Aloes make for lovely little borders for your Bougainvillea and they both like dry conditions. Aside from looking good and not needing much to thrive, Aloes will also attract pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, but be sure to spread them out a little as they can also attract scale insects.

Coreopsis

Coreopsis will provide you with lovely yellow flowers that will compliment your Bougainvillea nicely, while also performing useful functions such as attracting birds, butterflies, and parasitic wasps to help you manage local pests!

Hibiscus 

Hibiscus comes in many colorful varieties, with flowers that are white, orange, red, peach, yellow, or blue, and it also brings some perks to the table as a companion plant for your Bougainvillea. Hibiscus helps to repel aphids, white flies, thrips, beetles, Leafminers, and caterpillars. It can also attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as well, so all in all it’s a beautiful and useful companion plant to have.

Lantana

Lantanas have beautiful clusters of multicolored flowers that will attract useful pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds – who can’t seem to get enough of it! It will also help to keep mosquitos away naturally, so that you’ll have a more comfortable time tending to your Bougainvilleas. 

Lavender

Lavender smells amazing and makes a good-looking companion plant for your Bougainvillea in the bargain. Not only that, however, but it also attracts useful pollinators and helps to repel pesky fleas, mosquitos, ticks, and moths!

FAQs

That’s just about all of the time that we have for today, but before we go, we’ve got a few frequently asked questions about growing Bougainvilleas to share with you. Let’s take a look!

What is the lifespan of a Bougainvillea?

Bougainvilleas are tough plants with an average lifespan of 50 years if you take good care of them. With that said, there are bonsai Bougainvilleas that are known to be 200+ years old – so take good care of your plant and you’ll be enjoying it for a very long time, indeed.

How do I make my bougainvillea bushy?

Regular pruning is the key to making your Bougainvillea bushier. Strategic cuts to open space for branch growth can help – just look for the large, obstructive branches to trim down and then your Bougainvillea will make use of available space to spread.

How many days does bougainvillea bloom?

While a lot depends on the type of Bougainvillea and where you live, in general you can expect your plant to bloom for a period of 3 to 5 weeks. If you live somewhere semi=tropical like Florida, then it might well bloom sporadically all year, but otherwise 3 to 5 weeks will be the standard.

Wrapping things up

 In today’s article we’ve answered the question ‘How fast do Bougainvilleas grow?’ and the answer is ‘up to 36 inches per year’. Of course, we are talking about ideal conditions, so you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got a good well-draining soil medium with proper draining, and fertilizer in the growing season will be ideal to ensure fast growth and maximize your blooms.

Trimming obstructive branches can help your Bougainvillea to spread wider as long as it’s getting 6 hours of sunlight today and you don’t overwater it, then you’ll be amazed at just how quickly it grows. We’d like to thank you for visiting us today and if you have some feedback or Bougainvillea tips to share, then we look forward to hearing it! Thanks again and we hope you have a great week!

More Bougainvillea guides

Leave a Comment