How to get the most out of bougainvillea

Bougainvillea is one of the most used ornamental plants in our gardens today. Its versatility is legendary. You can plant it as a vine to spread over a bare wall or a garden arch or constrain it into a container in an open patio.

It forms one of the best hedges at whatever height you desire and can also be miniaturised into a bosai piece or shaped into a topiary sculpture.

Her showy bracts produce some of the most brilliant colours you’ll ever see in nature.

Virtually disease and pest free, bougainvillea is also one of the easiest plants to install and maintain. Even the amateur gardener will look like a star planting bougainvillea.

Unfortunately, perhaps because it is so commonplace and easy going, we rarely explore the full potential of this garden masterpiece. Here are some ways to get the most out of bougainvillea.

Numerous applications

Contrary to common practice, bougainvillea are best applied as accent plants rather than for mass or background planting.

Because of their year-round spectacular show of colours and their ability to take different forms as in training, topiary and bonsai, it is unwise to relegate them to a subservient role.

Owing to the nearly inexhaustible list of varieties and cultivars of bougainvillea out there, the possibilities are endless. Vine varieties can be trained to rumble over ornate arches and trellises of diverse shapes and sizes.

They can also be grown in containers and propped up with ornate stalks to add verticality or screen a view.

Smaller varieties are perfect for accent pots around a sunny poolside or patio.

The larger shrubby varieties can be used to accentuate a flower bed or as a formal or informal hedge.

Bougainvillea is easy to propagate from cuttings. Just make a neat cut from the parent plant and stick it into a mound of rich, well moist soil and a new shoot will soon emerge from it.

Although regular watering at the early stages of growth is important, care should be taken not to over water.

Don’t trim

Many people are obsessed with shaving and trimming bougainvillea bushes. This practice actually does more harm than good. First, they deprive these great bloomers of their most important asset: colour. 

By shaving them regularly, their colourful bracts don’t get an opportunity to form. Instead of shaving and trimming, it is better to carefully prune off excess branches and train the few remaining ones to take whichever direction or form that is desired.

The writer is a landscape architect

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