If you’ve just planted a juvenile Bougainvillea and it seems to be healthy, then there’s probably just one question on your mind. When does Bougainvillea bloom?
Well, the quick answer is that in USDA Zone 9 – 11, your Bougainvillea is an evergreen perennial, and so it will bloom throughout the year. Outside of these zones, however, your Bougainvillea should be considered an annual, and it will bloom anytime between May and December.
In this article, we’re going to talk about Bougainvillea blooming habits in a little more detail. We’ll cover important areas such as fertilization, pruning, what to do if your Bougainvillea is not blooming, and more! So, if you’re ready, then let’s talk about Bougainvilleas, blooms, and what you need to know!
Table of Contents
Bougainvillea blooming habits – A closer look
The first thing that you need to know about your Bougainvillea ‘blooming’ is that those colorful blooms aren’t really blooms at all! The Bougainvillea’s actual true flowers are actually very tiny, trumpet-shaped, and usually white or yellow.
The ‘Blooms’ that you see are actually a kind of ‘modified leaf’ which is known as a ‘bract’, and they occur on newly pinched or pruned growth (and we’ll talk more about that in the ‘pruning’ section). These bracts hide the actual flowers but as they say, ‘Nature provides’, so they will be lovely colors that can still draw the attention of pollinators.
With Bougainvilleas, that’s usually going to be white, red, purple, orange, yellow, or pink.
Now, we mentioned that they can bloom anytime between May and December, but to narrow it down a little more, your Bougainvilleas will bloom as close to spring as the temperature will allow – it needs to be warm.
In order to bloom, your plants will need to be getting at least 6 hours of full sunlight a day. They will also bloom MORE vigorously if they are also getting 12 hours of darkness, but you need to remember that they’re South America natives, so unless you are raising them indoors you shouldn’t need to worry about this factor.
Aside from sunlight, they prefer a loamy, ideally with an acidic pH of 5.5 – 6.0, and it needs to be well draining – this is VERY important. Bougainvillea can be easily overwatered, so instead of watering your plants multiple times a week, they’ll do better with a ‘deep watering’ every 3 to 4 weeks.
Note: If you get regular rain in your area, then you may not need to water your Bougainvillea at ALL once the vines are established. These plants do well in dry conditions, so use your best judgment and avoid the ‘deep watering’ if you already get regular rain.
Finally, there are other soil factors to be aware of – -such as having too much nitrogen in your fertilizer, which can lead to your plant producing more ‘standard leaves’ rather than blooming bracts, so let’s take a look at the fertilizer considerations so that you can help ensure that your Bougainvillea has everything it needs to really bring on the color!
Should you fertilize your Bougainvillea?
Your Bougainvillea is going to become a very heavy eater once the growing season arrives, and during this time it’s a good idea to fertilize it – but a lot will depend on your local soil. If the soil is already quite rich in nutrients, some gardeners will recommend not fertilizing it at all, but instead applying a 3 inch layer of compost in the spring.
If you are just starting with Bougainvillea plants, you can try this, or you can go with a nice, balanced fertilizer. A 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 fertilizer is recommended, and you might want to try the 5-5-5 first to see if that’s all your plant will need. Your first Bougainvilleas have a little bit of a ‘learning curve’ in this phase of their growth, so you’ll want to pay close attention to how they do with a little fertilizer and you can ‘upgrade’ slowly until you find the ‘sweet spot’.
The NPK of your fertilizer will be very important – here’s a quick overview of the ’why’ of it:
Nitrogen – Nitrogen is useful for Bougainvilleas but needs to be used in small amounts – too much will get you more of a ‘bushy’ Bougainvillea with very little in the way of blooms, so this is important to keep in mind when picking your fertilizer. You’ll see this reflected in some Bougainvillea-specific fertilizers like this BGI Bougain bag with an NPK of 6-8-10.
Phosphorus – Bougainvillea likes to have a lot of phosphorus in their fertilizers, as this helps to promote flowering and strong root growth. Starting balanced is a good idea, however, as too much Phosphorus will get you more growth, but less bloom.
Potassium – During the budding phase, potassium helps to encourage abundant blooms, but this is where you need to be the most careful. Too much potassium can affect your plant\s ability to absorb nutrients. This is just another good argument for a more ’balanced’ fertilizer starting with a lower NPK like 5-5-5 – it lets you gauge performance carefully and makes it easier not to overdo it.
As far as how often to fertilize your Bougainvillea, every other month during the blooming season – from spring to summer – is going to be best. You can use Hibiscus fertilizer instead of a commercial Bougainvillea brand as well, but if you do, then you should use it every 6 weeks instead of every 2 months.
Once you see how your plants do with this, then it’s really going to be a process of tweaking the NPK on your own until you find the ‘magic numbers’ for your location and soil quality.
Oh, and one more little fertilizer tip – chelated iron in small amounts can be useful for more colorful blooms, so look for that in your fertilizer as well or simply add a small amount manually at the beginning of spring for best results.
See our guide to learn how to choose the best fertilizer for your Bougainvilleas growth needs, the guide explains fertilizers in depth and also breaks down the best options.
How can you tell if you’ve overfertilized your Bougainvillea?
‘Too much of a good thing’ is not just a rule that applies to us – it definitely applies in your garden, too! There are a few telltale signs that can let you know that you need to hold-off on the fertilizer for a bit. Watch for these symptoms:
- If newly transplanted seedlings start to die or look sickly
- Your juvenile or adult Bougainvillea starts dropping leaves
- Yellowing and wilting of those leaves
- Browning on the edges of your plant’s leaves
Any of these signs may indicate overfertilization, so if you see them then try holding off a little or in an emergency, you might consider transplantation to a pot with some fresh, loamy soil at the 5.5 to 6.0 pH so that you can monitor it and nurse it back to health.
Pruning and pinching your Bougainvillea
Pruning and pinching are important for a vibrant, beautiful Bougainvillea – but you don’t want to overdo it. Regular pruning is good for dealing with dead or diseased portions of your plant and regular trimming is also fine, but should be done sparingly or just in early spring.
This is when your plant is its most resilient, but again, a little pruning throughout the year is also good for keeping your Bougainvillea looking it’s best – just remember it’s a wild plant and if are having trouble keeping it contained, a dwarf variety might be a better fit for your garden.
In early spring, you can use the pruning steps that we’ve listed below and you’ll want to also ‘pinch’ your Bougainvilleas right after they start blooming. The ‘pinching’ is what is going to give us new blooms, as the colorful bracts of the Bougainvillea appear on new growths.
It’s called ‘pinching’ because some gardeners just pinch the tips off of the new growths on the stem after the last node, to encourage growth there. You can actually pinch it, but you can also just snip that portion off.
We’ll tell you how and give you a link for a video so that you can see it being done and you’ll know exactly how to do the same in your garden with confidence!
How to prune your Bougainvillea – Step by Step
In this section, we’ll give you an overview on pruning basics, so that you can shape your Bougainvillea, encourage new growth, and remove diseased or dying portions of your plant so that the rest will be happy and healthy.
What you’ll need:
- Rubbing alcohol
- Clean scrap cloths
- The first thing you’ll want to do is ‘suit up’ in your protective gear. For some, this will just mean gloves, although long sleeves are also a good idea. Bougainvillea thorns can give you quite the itchy rash if you get scratched, so it never hurts to prepare before you prune.
- With one of your scrap cloths, you can dab some rubbing alcohol onto your shears to wipe them clean and disinfect before we get started.
- With your shears, you can start trimming any dead or diseased-looking portions of the plant – GET THESE FIRST – and when you are done, disinfect your shears again. We don’t want to touch any healthy branches until those shears are clean to avoid spreading disease to healthy parts of your plant.
- Next, you can prune for the shape. When you prune branches on your Bougainvillea, you’re going to get new ones, so if there are large branches that seem to be ‘boxing in’ your plant from spreading branches, you can cut these away now. Be sure to take steps back from your plant to get a good look at it while you are shaping and also, if you are trellising your Bougainvilia you can gently wrap the young shoots into the frame as your prune.
- General trimming is the next kind of pruning and if you just trim the tips at the end of the last node along the branch, then this will encourage new branch growth. This stage is the one when you’ll be stepping back the most – we’re only trimming tips to encourage growth and achieve pleasing shapes, so don’t cut complete branches at this point.
As blooms are going to occur on new growth, you’re going to want to do some ‘pinching’ to encourage this and help to maximize your blooms. All you will need are your gloves and garden shears and to ‘pinch’ your Bougainvillea, simply remove a few inches from the tip of each stem.
When something is easy, it’s a little suspicious to only see it in text, but don’t worry! You can see a great video from ehowgarden here so that you can actually see it done and pinch your Bougainvilleas with confidence.
Why are my Bougainvillea not blooming?
If your Bougainvillea is not blooming, then there are a few things that you will want to consider in order to determine the root cause. Below are some of the most common causes:
- Too much pruning – When you prune a Bougainvillea, it will respond by creating more of itself, and in the beginning this is a good way to build a little volume. Too much pruning, however, means that your plant will devote a lot more resources to all that growing and less to those pretty blooms.
- Not enough or no pinching – Those blooms are going to appear on new growth, so pinching in the early spring is really vital if you want to bring on the blooms.
- Overwatering – These South American natives like when their soil is well-draining and a little on the dry side. As a general rule, you should never water your Bougainvillea unless the top 2 inches of soil are dry. Basically, treat is like a succulent in that regard and if you have regular rain in your area during spring, you probably shouldn’t water it at all. These plants are very susceptible to root rot from overwatering, so this is very important to keep in mind.
- Fertilizer issues – If you’ve basically got very healthy, but also very green Bougainvillea with almost nary a bloom in sight, then you might have a fertilizer issue. Most commonly this will mean there’s a little too much nitrogen, so lay off the fertilizer a little bit and when you fertilize again, try something with a lower level of Nitrogen and see what happens.
It’s time for us to pack up our things and get going, but before we check out for the day, we’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions about Bougainvilleas and blooming to fill in any blanks that we might have missed along the way. Let’s take a look and then we’ll wrap things up properly!
How long do Bougainvilleas bloom for?
On average, when those blooms make an appearance you’ll have radiant color for approximately 3 to 5 weeks every year. The exception to this will be if you live in USDA zones 9 – 11, in which case your Bougainvillia will be blooming at various times all year round.
How do you make bougainvillea grow faster?
Funny enough, being almost neglectful is the best way to get a fast-growing and vibrant Bougainvillea. Deep watering every 3 to 4 weeks is usually all that it needs water-wise and as much full sun as it can get. Beyond this, pruning sparingly except for springtime and pinching after the first blooms should be all that you need to do to have a happy, healthy, and fast-growing bougainvillea.
How do I make my bougainvillea more colorful?
If you aren’t getting a whole lot of color, adding a little chelated iron right at the beginning of spring is usually your best bet, but there are other things you can consider. Take a good look at your leaves and if there are only a few of them, but a bit of color, then they might not be getting enough water. If you’ve got a whole bunch of leaves and no color, then they might be getting too much water or even too much nitrogen in their fertilizer.
It takes awhile to get the hang of your plant’s favorite ‘nutrient cocktail’, but you’ll get the hang of it – you’ll just need to be patient and tweak your recipe as you go.
Can a bougainvillea get too much sun?
No, full sun makes for a happy bougainvillea, although the ideal situation is full sun and short days, so that your plant can have about 12 hours at night to recuperate. Unless you’re raising your plants inside, however, you won’t be able to do this in most locations. So, just make sure that your plant is getting a minimum of 6 hours a day of sunlight at the very least and if it gets more, that’s perfectly fine!
In today’s article we’ve answered the question ‘When does Bougainvillea bloom?’ and the quick answer is ‘year ‘round in USDA zones 9 – 11 and otherwise, they’ll bloom between May and December’. Just remember to make sure that you’ve got a well-draining soil, a spot with 6 hours of full sunlight daily, and that you are careful about overwatering and most of the work for helping your blooms is done.
Beyond this, some judicious pruning in early spring and pinching just after the blooms start appearing will encourage new growth and new blooms. A little chelated iron will also help with color, but you can always wait and see if this is your first time raising Bougainvillea.
One of the joys of these plants is how much they give for so little – so just make sure they’ve got the basics and prepare to be amazed!
We’d like to thank you for visiting us today and if you have some Bougainvillea tips that you’d like to share, then please be sure to leave them in the comments for us and the other readers to enjoy. We hope that you have a great week and look forward to seeing you again soon!
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