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Q.  I have a bougainvilla. It’s potted in a large clay pot on my balcony. It faces the South and I live in Marina del Rey. I watered it once a week… about 1/4 a gallon. I slowed the watering down, sped it up. Moved it to a bigger pot. Nothing I have done seems to improve its health… what do you suggest?
A. I have seen gorgeous bougainvilleas growing in lava-filled pots in Hawaii and mighty few really spectacular ones in California, but I have a photo of one that was growing in an 18-inch patio with a small trellis behind the plant that was stuck down into the pot. The plant was in full sun. The owners told me they watered weekly and every other week fed it with Miracle Grow according to package directions.
Based on this, I suggest growing in a sheltered sunny location and fertilizing regularly. Water once a week by applying enough water so that water drains out the bottom of the pot; this flushes salts away. (1/4 gallon, or 1 qt., is probably not enough to permit this to happen and will result in a build-up of salts.) Fertilize every two weeks in summer with Miracle Grow and since the plant is not doing well and now it’s winter begin now but fertilize only once a month until February, then increase to every 2 weeks. Mix 1 Tablespoon Miracle Grow into 1 gallon of water and water with it. I usually don’t suggest this fertilizer and it is not an organic fertilizer, but it works for bougainvillea in pots. (Sometimes we bend the rules to make
life easier for apartment dwellers.) South-facing should be good unless there is shade cast by heavy railings or by some object. But if your plant is in cold wind this can effect its condition. Potted bougainvilleas prefer a sheltered location in full sun. However, unless the plant is shaded I think your main problem is that you are not watering and fertilizing enough.
One final caveat: make sure your plant is not sitting in a puddle. Bougainvilleas do not like wet feet.

Q.  I have a bougainvilla. It’s potted in a large clay pot on my balcony. It faces the South and I live in Marina del Rey. I watered it once a week… about 1/4 a gallon. I slowed the watering down, sped it up. Moved it to a bigger pot. Nothing I have done seems to improve its health… what do you suggest?

A. I have seen gorgeous bougainvilleas growing in lava-filled pots in Hawaii and mighty few really spectacular ones in California, but I have a photo of one that was growing in an 18-inch patio with a small trellis behind the plant that was stuck down into the pot. The plant was in full sun. The owners told me they watered weekly and every other week fed it with Miracle Grow according to package directions.

Based on this, I suggest growing in a sheltered sunny location and fertilizing regularly. Water once a week by applying enough water so that water drains out the bottom of the pot; this flushes salts away. (1/4 gallon, or 1 qt., is probably not enough to permit this to happen and will result in a build-up of salts.) Fertilize every two weeks in summer with Miracle Grow and since the plant is not doing well and now it’s winter begin now but fertilize only once a month until February, then increase to every 2 weeks. Mix 1 Tablespoon Miracle Grow into 1 gallon of water and water with it. I usually don’t suggest this fertilizer and it is not an organic fertilizer, but it works for bougainvillea in pots. (Sometimes we bend the rules to make

life easier for apartment dwellers.) South-facing should be good unless there is shade cast by heavy railings or by some object. But if your plant is in cold wind this can effect its condition. Potted bougainvilleas prefer a sheltered location in full sun. However, unless the plant is shaded I think your main problem is that you are not watering and fertilizing enough.

One final caveat: make sure your plant is not sitting in a puddle. Bougainvilleas do not like wet feet.

A word about exposure:

If your south-facing porch is under another balcony or under an overhang it will have full sun in winter, full shade in summer, an ideal situation for people, but not for plants like bougainvillea that need full sun. Try to put it in full sun.

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10 Responses to “Success with Potted Bougainvillea”

  1. Katherine September 2, 2012

    I recently potted a bougainvillea in a very large pot and would like to know if I can fill it in with small succulents or if this large pot will be too big for the succulents’ roots? Thank you

    Reply
    • You can plant succulents in the pot if you want but soon the bougainvillea will fill the space and the succulents will be hidden from view. Also bougainvilleas are prickly so you won’t be able to tend the succulents easily. Nonetheless, go ahead and plant them if that is what you would like to do. Gardening after all is all about having a good time.

      Reply
  2. b taura April 11, 2012

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN; I HAVE A POTTED BOUGAINVILLEA PLANT WHICH I ACCIDENTLY GAVE IT TO MUCH WATER. I WAS SITTING IN WATER FOR ABOUT A DAY. WILL IT COME BACK TO ITS NORMAL WAY OF GROWING OR WILL IT DIE FROM ROOT ROT? THANK YOU.

    Reply
    • In order to answer this question I would need a crystal ball, which I don’t have on hand right now. But I will hazard a guess: One day with roots in water most likely will not sound the death knell for this bougainvillea. If this happens many times, goodbye plant.

      Reply
  3. Irwin Kaston October 7, 2010

    I have a bougainvillea plant that is planted in the ground, not in a pot. The plant gets partial sun. I am using a fertilizer that is 12 or 17 – 6 -8 every 6 weeks. It has since lost it’s flowers, but after fertilizing, the leaves seem to perk up. I live in Boca Raton, Florida & I have been depending on the rain to keep the plant moist. Should it be watered frequently & not depend on rain? I would like to know when I can expect to see buds & then flowers on this plant. Also, any information you can provide me with to successfully grow this plant will be appreciated.
    Thank you for your response.

    Reply
    • Bougainvilleas are not shade plants, nor are they plants for partial shade. Bougainvilleas need full sun. However, if you can get a bougainvillea that is growing in a shady spot to climb up high enough that the top of the plant is in full sun, then it might bloom well despite the roots being in the shade, but this process may take as much as 20 years. I can give you an example of this. Twenty years ago I planted a bougainvillea next to the asphalt road that goes past my house. Unfortunately, this was on the north side of my property and although the site where I planted this bougainvillea was in full sun when I planted it, it was soon in almost full shade to the north of a tree. About 5 years after it was planted it covered a pergola next to where it grew. Every summer when the pergola was in full sun and when sun baked onto the asphalt paving and go it hot, the bougainvillea bloomed. This lasted about ten years. Then even the pergola was in shade so the bougainvillea stopped blooming. Now however, 20 years later, this bougainvillea has grown 30 or 40 feet into the tree. At last it is blooming. It just began to bloom again this year, but only the parts that are in full sun on top of the tree are blooming. As it grows more it will bloom more on top of the tree but now down by the road. No amount of fertilizer could fix this.

      I always tell people if they want a bougainvillea to bloom they need to put it in the hottest and sunniest place they have, next to a south-facing patio or asphalt road where the roots can be warmed by the sun is ideal. The sun baking on the road will radiate at the bougainvillea and make it more likely to bloom. Another example is this: A friend of mine heard me say that you should plant a bougainvillea next to a sunny patio. She planted a bougainvillea next to her patio but her neighbor got all the flowers and she got none. She asked me why and I knew the answer even without going to look. “You planted your bougainvillea on the north side of the wall and your neighbor’s patio is on the south side. Right?” “Oh yes, she said that is exactly right!” In this case the neighbor had all the sun so the bougainvillea was over there giving all its bloom to the neighbor and my friend got no blooms whatsoever on her side of the wall.

      There is another factor to take into consideration also. Some bougainvilleas are shrubs. They will always stay small. Others are huge, tall, climbing plants. You cannot get a bougainvillea to grow tall if it is a shrub and not a true climbing plant. If you want a tall bougainvillea you need to find out when you buy it which variety it is and learn its growth habit.

      The best way to begin growing a bougainvillea is to start with a 5 gallon size, not a one-gallon size and be careful when planting. These plants often get killed at planting time because the top of the vine can easily break off when young at soil level, just above the roots. But once they are in the ground they will grow strong and thick and then it’s not a danger. So stake them when they are young. Another important thing to remember is that indeed, as you have been doing, you need to fertilize and water the plant for the first 2 or 3 years to get it going. The main fertilizer that bougainvilleas need is nitrogen. This helps them to grow and they bloom on new wood, not on old wood. Once they get started growing then pruning can help stimulate growth. Cutting off wood that has bloomed will stimulate new growth to grow which in turn will then bloom.

      When first planting you should water a bougainvillea by hand 3 times a week for the first 2 weeks, then twice a week for two weeks, then once a week deeply for the first year. I am not sure how much rainfall you have had in Boca Raton since you planted your bougainvillea, but if it is not at least one inch a week, that is not enough for a young bougainvillea. Once a bougainvillea is three years old it will need less water, but if foliage wilts, water deeply. Eventually the roots will go very deep into the ground and then often they need no water whatsoever since they will find an underground source of water. Here in Southern California we sometimes see old Bougainvillea brasiliensis or Bougainvillea ‘San Diego’ that are surviving in vacant lots with no water whatsoever, but that is a rare sight.

      Reply
      • Thank you, very helpful! I have a bougainvillea in shade behind a fence waiting for it to grow above to reach full sun. But 20 years is too long. I’ll grow it to that height in full sun FIRST thanks to your advice! (:

        Reply
  4. Judy Wiggins February 11, 2010

    Re. bougainvillea:
    I have seen that sometimes it takes at least a full year for them to really take hold.
    If they are newly planted or young, patience and nurturing have paid off for me.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your comment. Your point about patience is a good one. The roots of bougainvillea are fragile when young, and the crown of the plant may break during planting. It often takes these plants time to recover from the trauma of being planted. But once a bougainvillea is fully established in the ground, it may eventually send those fragile-seeming roots twenty-five feet or more down into the ground to find water. I have often seen venerable bougainvillea specimens thriving in vacant lots and surviving on groundwater alone in areas where summers are hot and dry and there is often no rainfall for six or eight months of the year.

      Reply