Grow Bougainvillea for Tropical Color in Any Garden

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

Though it's a tropical plant, grow bougainvillea in areas where it is not hardy as an annual or in containers, where it thrives in full sun and well-draining soil.

Bougainvillea Care and Growing Tips

Ruby-throated hummingbird at bougainvillea plantCourtesy Debbie Huffman
Ruby-throated hummingbird at bougainvillea flowers
  • Scientific name: Bougainvillea spp.
  • Zones: 9 to 11 or Annual
  • Light needs: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Well-draining
  • Size: 2 to 40 feet tall, 6 to 40 feet wide
  • Attracts: Birds, bees, and butterflies

This thorny tropical beauty provides brilliant color year-round in the south, and all summer long up north. “These plants are incredibly showy because of the way they flower all along new shoots that can be trellised or left cascading,” explains Tracy Harrison, Nursery Production Planning Manager at Monrovia. “Some varieties even have colorful foliage as a backdrop to the vibrant colors of the bracts which makes the plant more eye-catching.”

The white or yellow flowers of this vibrant vine are themselves quite small, though they do attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The real stars of the show are the bracts, the colorful modified leaves that surround each flower. They provide the color, in shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange, or white, against a backdrop of green foliage that’s often almost completely hidden.

Is Bougainvillea an Annual or Perennial?

BougainvilleaCourtesy Cary Mathis
Bougainvillea in bloom

Bougainvillea loves sun, so plant it where it will receive at least 6 hours of direct light each day. It needs well-drained soil, and is very drought-hardy once established. Give it a fence or trellis to clamber up, or plant it where it can trail over a fence or railing.

This heat-loving native of the tropics can’t take freezing temperatures, but many gardeners grow it as an annual where it is not hardy. “Summers up north are plenty warm enough to grow bougainvillea, and most varieties grow fast enough to get the full cascading, running, or trellised effect they are known for,” Tracy promises. He notes that you can cover them with a light blanket in case of frost. “These are tough plants, and it would take a solid freeze to kill them completely.”

Check out the top 10 vines to grow for hummingbirds.

Bougainvillea as a Container Plant

White BougainvilleaAlbert Fertl/Getty Images
White flowering bougainvillea

Wondering whether you can grow this plant in pots? Tracy says, “Absolutely! Containers are one of the best options for bougainvillea. In fact, root bound plants tend to flower very well. Make sure to use a rich but well-draining soil media.”

This vine makes a lovely spiller in hanging pots. You can also use it as a thriller in combo arrangements by trimming the new growth to maintain an upright shape.

“Bougainvillea can take hard prunings, so don’t be afraid to keep these in bounds or refresh them by taking off large sections of shoots,” shares Tracy. “They will return and flower again. I’ve seen very old plants in containers grown like bonsai.”

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Bougainvillea Pests, Problems and Diseases

Bnbbyc17 Chris GuntherCourtesy Chris Gunther
Female hummingbird sitting on a thorny bougainvillea branch

It’s important to note that this is a very thorny plant, so wear heavy gloves and other protection when planting and pruning. Keep this plant away from young kids and pets who might get a little too close for comfort.

Thorns aside, this is a pretty easy-care choice, as long as you avoid overwatering. If the leaves begin to yellow, cut back on irrigation or find a way to improve soil drainage.

“Aphids can be an issue, but can easily be controlled with lightweight horticulture oils or soaps or by hand if you have only a few,” Tracy advises. “Just look for them on the most tender new growth.”

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Top Bougainvillea Varieties to Try

43863 Bougainvillea Burgundy Queen 777 Editf Mnc 5xBrandon Friend-Solis / Monrovia
Bougainvillea ‘Burgundy Queen’

Tracy recommends a brand-new variety he personally discovered, Monrovia’s Burgundy Queen. The new growth leaves are a showy, deep wine-red, while the bracts are an even more dramatic burgundy. Bengal Orange is another real show-stopper, with variegated foliage and bracts in shades of hot pink and orange.

For containers or hedges, Torch Glow‘s unique upright, stiff branches are the perfect fit. These branches are topped by reddish pink blooms and bracts, giving it a torch-like appearance. Dwarf variety Oo-La-La is another container or border gem.

Next, learn how to grow fragrant, tropical plumeria flowers.

About the Expert

Tracy Harrison is the Nursery Production Planning Manager at Monrovia’s Cairo, Georgia, nursery location. He studied horticulture at the University of Georgia, and has been a Monrovia Craftsman for 30 years. In 2014, Tracy discovered Burgundy Queen, a new variety of bougainvillea recently made available to home growers.