Bougainvillea is native to tropical and subtropical South America and is much loved and prized for its colourful bracts which resemble petals. In a warm greenhouse a mature bougainvillea can reach a height of 10 metres but, thankfully, in a large pot you can expect a height of about 2.5m.
For those growing this plant in their gardens in the UK, it might be wiser to grow it permanently indoors, rather than chance it with the 'great British summer'. If you get everything just right, you may find it will flower for most of the year, just needing an occasional snip to control its growth and tidy up old stems. If you're slightly late to the game - bear this advice in mind for next year.
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Can I grow bougainvillea in my garden?
Most of us don’t have a greenhouse large enough to grow a 10m specimen, but we can all successfully grow these beautiful plants in containers with a little protection from the worst winter weather.
Most are very happy in a frost-free conservatory during the winter and can be placed outside in summer.
Bougainvilleas need good light levels but avoid exposing them to intense sunlight during the heat of the day; in winter they need a minimum temperature of 10C. In warmer conditions, bougainvilleas are evergreen but in the majority of cases in the UK, where conditions are cooler, they drop their leaves and need to be kept on the dry side during winter in order to survive. Cold and wet are not good bedfellows for plants – a dry plant is far more likely to survive a hard winter than one with saturated ground or soil.
When choosing a pot, avoid plunging a bougainvillea into a very large container straight away – they dislike being overpotted. They are far happier when repotted each spring, being moved on to a slightly larger container each time. When it comes to compost, use a John Innes No.3 and water well in summer but reduce the watering from the start of October and then give absolutely minimal water until March.
From March onwards, once repotted and growth begins, feed with a nitrogen-based fertiliser until the bracts start to appear, then switch to a balanced seaweed feed until flowering has finished. Revert to the nitrogen feed until early autumn. Look to feed your bougainvillea once a week – incorporate them into your Friday feeding regime.
As a climber, bougainvillas need some support, perhaps in the form of an obelisk; throughout the growing season, tie in new growth to the support. After flowering, long extension growths can be cut back to 2.5cm from their origin.
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