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How to grow bougainvillea

Dr. S. S. Sindhu & Dr. B. C. Katiyar

Bougainvillea Society of India

Bougainvillea, a hardy shrub belongs to family Nyctagenaceae finds its origin from tropical and sub-tropical South American region and particularly Brazil. Its nomenclature was done by Commerson in the honour of French navigator Lois Antoine Bougainville. The earlier navigators took them to temperate European countries and then introduced in warmer parts of the world like Indian continent, African counties, Mediterranean region etc. The improvement of bougainvillea started by Agri-horticultural Society, Kolkata with the introduction of species Bougainvillea splendens from Europe in 1860.  It can be grown in any kind of climatic condition upto the altitude of 2300 MSL, except water logging condition. They are popular due to colourful bracts, bi-colour leaves and the most important; it flowers profusely during the summer when none are in flowering condition.  With the changing climatic condition, it is found suitable for number of places due to its hardy nature. Now, with the changes in urban lifestyle and growing trend in landscape horticulture, bougainvillea finds it correct places in villas, farmhouses, High rises, RWAs, Group housing societies etc.

Use in home gardens

Bougainvillea’s growth habit and beautiful showy bracts make it a popular plant for landscapes. It is used in mass plantings, as shrubs or bushes, and as ground cover on banks. Bougainvillea provides hedges, barriers, and slope coverings. For large, difficult-to-maintain areas, bougainvillea is an excellent ground cover. It can cover a whole hillside and can control weed growth. Dwarf cultivars make colourful ground covers. Bougainvillea can be trained as a “standard” a small flowering tree with a single trunk over arbors, into espaliers, onto walls, or to cascade down a slope. Bougainvillea is used as an accent plant, a specimen plant, in hanging baskets, in containers, and for bonsai. Give plants enough room to grow to maturity without being crowded. Most cultivars do well 6–9 feet apart. Smaller cultivars can be planted closer together, at 3–5 foot spacing. Bougainvillea should not be planted within 4 feet of walkways, as the thorns could cause problem to passersby. Flowering is promoted by short day lengths. In addition, cultural practices are important to ensure satisfactory flowering and avoid overwatering, overfertilizing with nitrogen, putting plants in heavy shade, and pruning too frequently.

Climatic requirement

Bougainvilleas are hardy plant and can be grown in any conditions in India. As it requires full sun to grow best and flower, it can be grown thought out the length and breadth of country. High light intensity is required for good flowering. Low light and shady areas are not suitable, as the plants will drop their bracts. Bougainvillea does best at elevations from 10 to 2500 feet. Bougainvillea can tolerate hot dry locations, with temperatures over 100°F. It does well in locations with a minimum of 65 °F at night and 75–95°F during the day. B. glabra can tolerate slightly cooler conditions (58–64°F) than B. spectabilis (64–68°F). Bougainvillea does best with at least 25 inches of rainfall per year.


Bougainvillea grows well in rich, well drained, acidic (pH 5.5–6.0) soil. It does not thrive in soil that is constantly wet. Proper soil pH is essential because it affects the availability of mineral elements. A soil pH above 6.0 increases the possibility of micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron. Bougainvillea is drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and wind resistant. Bougainvillea is very susceptible to girdling during a storm. The bark will rub off at ground level when stems whip in high-speed winds. The plant is slow to recover from this, compared to other shrubs. If girdling is severe, the entire plant will wilt a few days after a storm. It should not be planted in extremely windy, unprotected areas.


Bougainvillea tolerates drying and if possible irrigation should be adjusted to be a little on the dry side. They are sensitive to overwatering but should not be allowed to completely dry out. Overwatering should be avoided during flowering as it may results in to poor or lack of flowering and more vegetative growth.

Fertilizer application;

For best results, use organic fertilizer amendments or controlled-release fertilizers to moderate nitrogen release. At planting, amend the soil with a fertilizer high in phosphate. For long-term culture, topdressing with a controlled-release fertilizer is needed. Do not overfertilize. Too much fertilizer will promote vegetative growth and inhibit blooming. Bougainvillea needs regular fertilizing with formulations having NPK ratios of 1:1:1 or 2:1:2. Applications of soluble minor elements help prevent leaf chlorosis. Micronutrient applications can be half the recommended rate, twice a year.


Bougainvillea responds well to pruning. Unless they are pruned regularly, bougainvillea grows into a tangled mass of old and new growth, and overcrowding often leads to pests and diseases. To prevent overcrowding, cut out any unwanted shoots. Cut all lateral shoots back to within two or three buds of the main stems. These will bear the new flowers and bracts. Regular pruning is necessary to shape the plant and direct its growth because the shoots often grow vigorously. Flowers are borne on new growth, so pinching back and pruning is necessary to induce new growth. Pruning should be done after flowering has finished, as this encourages the new growth on which the next flush of flowers will occur. To reduce the size of plants, cut them back by about a third, removing all spindly and twiggy growth. Prune suckers from the plant’s base to encourage top growth. Dead wood should be removed as it appears. The long shoots can be trained in various shapes and heights— espalliers, arbors, twisted or braided trunks, or even large, fanciful animals.

Table 1. Cultivars/varieties suitable for cultivation



Bract color




Sparse foliage. Bracts turn a dusty rose color when old. Heavy bloomer.

Barbara Karst

Bright red

A popular cultivar that performs well. Moderate to vigorous growth. Leaves dull, dark green, broadly ovate with pointed tips, slightly wavy margins. A constant bloomer. Flowers white and conspicuous. Thorns medium and straight.


Dusty pink

Vigorous growth. Dark green furry leaves. Thorns large, slightly recurved.

California Gold

Gold, yellow

Nice vining habit. Large long-lasting rich gold bracts; can appear yellow in some environments.

Crimson Jewel

Crimson, pink, orange

Dwarf. Good container plant and ground cover.

Double Pink


Huge clusters of bright pink double bracts. Repeat bloomer.

Double Red

Deep red

Clusters of fluffy double bracts over nice green leaves.

Dr. David Barry (Singapore Pink,  Singapore Beauty)


Round shrubby vigorous cultivar with long elliptic leaves tapering to a pointed tip. Very large elliptic reflex bracts. Flowers prominent, cream. Thorns short, not prominent. Fine for containers.

Elizabeth Angus


Vigorous growing. Leaves dark green, glossy, and tapering. Young stems puberulent. Bracts large. Flowers yellowish, large, and conspicuous. Thorns stout, long, recurved.

Golden Glow (Millarii, Gold Queen, Hawaiian Gold)

Bright gold, pinkish-gold

Vigorous and erect. Leaves rounded and large. Bracts broadly ovate. Thorns medium and straight.

Golden Summers (Miss Oneuse)


Variegated yellow-gold and green foliage. Large bracts. Repeat bloomer. Thorns medium and slightly curved.

Helen Johnson (Temple Fire)


A dwarf compact bushy grower about three feet tall and wide. Branches opening slightly coppery freely. Leaves are small, broadly ovate, sharply pointed at apex; margins slightly wavy. Bracts sparse, broadly ovate, pointed apex. Thorns small, short, slender. Good for hanging baskets and as a ground cover.

Jamaica White(Apple Blossom,  Audrey Grey)

White with flush of pink

Medium grower. Leaves large, rounded, dark green, and smooth. Bracts medium size. Very pretty but rather shy flowering. Thorns medium

Jane Snook (Durban, President)


Compact, dense. Tends to be pendulous with some vigorous canes. Leaves long and light green with long petioles. Bracts large with ruffled edges. Flowers large and greenish-cream. Thorns medium and fine.

John Lattin

Iridescent pale lavender

Erect leggy grower. Leaves long, ovate, medium green, glossy, and pointed at tips. Bracts taper to a long point at apex. Flowers moderate in size, greenish-cream. Thorns long and curved.

Juanita Hatten

Bright red, dark pink

Moderate growth habit; branches freely. Foliage may be slightly variegated in shades of green. Attractive mid-green, ovate leaves with slightly wavy margins. Bracts ovate, medium to large. Tends to be ever blooming. Flowers prominent and creamy-white. Thorns moderate and only slightly recurved. Good for hanging baskets.

Killie Campbell

Copper, red, magenta

Large-growing, pendulous. Leaves dark green, long, ovate, margins wavy, tapering to long-pointed apex. Petiole long. Bracts large, thin textured, and ruffled. Flowers large, conspicuous. Thorns long, straight.

Lady Hudson (Princess Margaret Rose)

Pale pink

Long canes often bear of leaves especially when young. Leaves broadly ovate with long petioles, light green, and glabrous. Bracts small, ruffled.

Table 2. Classification as per purpose






Partha, Sanderiana, Dr. R.S. Pal, Mary Palmer, H.C. Buck, Thimma etc.


Pot plant

Begum Sikander, Mrs. H.C. Buck, Shubhra, Jaya Lakshmi, Formosa, Lady Richard, Happiness etc.



Chitra, Hawaii, Jubilee, Lady Mary Baring, Mary Palmer, Partha, Shubhra, President, Sensation etc.



Asia, Easter Parade, Glabra, Gokul, Jayalakshmi, Mahatma Gandhi, Orange King, Trinidad, Rose Queen etc.



Tomato Red, Thimma, Golden Glow, Zakariana, Shubhra, Begum Sikander etc.



Parthasarthi, New red, Lady Richard, Happiness, Perfecgtion, Purple Star, Formosa, Hawaiian, Cherry Blossom etc.


Arches and pergolas

Golden Glory, Scarlet Queen, Jennifer Fermie, Shweta, Shubhra, Walker, Yellow Queen, Singapore Dark Red, etc.


Hanging baskets

Blondie, Dr. R.R. Pal, Mrs. H.C. Buck Jawahar Lal Nehru, Shubhra, Mary Palmer, Tomato Red, etc.


Ground cover

Dr. H.B.Singh, Dr. R.R. Pal, Mrs. H.C. Buck, Shubhra, Splendars, etc.



Partha, Dream, Dr. R.R. Pal, Las Banos Beauty

Table 3. Classification as per colour

Sl. No.





Shubhra  Dr. B.P. Pal, Shweta




golden glory, golden Glow and Lady Mary Baring




 Lousie wathen, Camarillio Fiesta, Flame, Scarlet Queen, Srinivasa




Asia, Brilliant chandrabieri, Gopal, jayalaksmi, Mrs. H.C.Buck, Poultoni, Sonnet, Spring Festival.




 Lady Hudson of Ceylon, Pink Beauty, Sensation




 Begum Sikander, Chitra, Mary Palmer Special, Wazid Ali Shah




 Cherry Blossom, Los Banos Beauty, Mahara, rosevill’s Delight, Marietta


Variegated leaves


Archana, Partha sarthy, Rao, Surekha Thimma, Bhabha.


Bradley, S. (2005). The pruner’s bible: A step-by-step guide to pruning every plant in your garden. Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA.

Iredell, J. (1994). Growing bougainvilleas. Simon & Schuster Australia. East Roseville, NSW, Australia.

Kobayashi, K. D., McConnell, J. and Griffis, J. (2007). Bougainvillea. Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Guam, OF-38.

Sindhu, S. S., Saha, T. N. and Roy, B. K. (2007). Year round calendar for Bougainvilea and Varietal Selection, Indian Bougainvillea Annual, 21:12-14.

© Copyright by The Bougainvillea Society of India ,
Division of Floriculture & Landscaping, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi.