Bougainvillea Care: How to Grow Bougainvillea in Pots

How to water bougainvillea in pots

Bougainvillea grow very well in pots due to their favorable drainage conditions and with the right care can grow and flower for many years.

Plant bougainvillea in clay, terracotta, or ceramic pots that are at least 12 inches across, and use a potting mix that is 80% compost to 20% grit to ensure good drainage. Place the bougainvillea in full sun and water the pot with a good soak once a week during Spring and Summer and once every 2 to 3 weeks in Winter.

Conditions:How to Care for Potted Bougainvillea:
Pot Size:Plant bougainvillea in pots that are at least 12 inches across.
Pot Material:Clay, terracotta, and ceramic pots are better than plastic or metal pots and containers.
Potting Mix:Mix 80% compost or potting soil with 20% grit or perlite for optimal soil conditions.
Watering:Typically water with a good soak once per week in Spring and Summer and once every 2 or 3 weeks in Fall and Winter.
Sunlight:Flowers are best in full sun (at least 6 hours of sun per day).
Fertilizer:For best results, fertilize with an all-purpose feed at half strength in the Spring, once per month until the middle of July.
Winter Care:Bring potted bougainvillea indoors when the night temperature is lower than 50°F (10°C) at night and place in sunny Window in cold climates.
Pruning:Deadhead faded flowers throughout the year. Cut back hard in early Spring to stimulate new growth.
Flowering:Flowers all year round in hot climates with mild Winters and during Spring and Summer in cooler climates.

Keep reading to learn how to grow bougainvillea successfully in both Summer and Winter in different climates and how to promote more flowers throughout the year…

Best Pots and Containers for Bougainvillea

The best pot or container for bougainvillea is a clay, terracotta, or unglazed ceramic pot that measures around 12 inches across with the same depth. The pot must have drainage holes in the base of the pot to allow excess water to drain away.

The reason clay, terracotta, and ceramic pots are best for bougainvillea is because they remain cooler than plastic and metal pots when in full sun and they have a porous structure which helps the soil dry evenly after watering or rainfall.

Bougainvillea requires the soil to dry out between bouts of watering as it has adapted to drought conditions.

Plastic pots can sometimes prevent the soil from drying evenly as they are impermeable and they conduct more heat which can cause the roots, unnecessary heat stress when bougainvillea are in full sun.

Choose a pot that is around 12 inches across and the same proportional depth as this size pot as enough capacity for soil which contains nutrients and allows the roots enough room to develop and uptake the moisture they require.

Bougainvilleas flower better in a pot that is proportional to the size of the plant which slightly restricts the roots as this causes stress which promotes flowering (bougainvillea requires some adversity to stimulate flowering).

If the pot is too large, the bougainvillea redirects its energy into growing roots and your bougainvillea displays fewer flowers.

Choose a pot that has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to drain and if you are in a climate of high humidity or rainfall, it is best practice to place your bougainvillea pot on feet (bricks or stones work well) to elevate the pot an inch off the ground.

This prevents water from collecting underneath the pot and allows greater airflow to dry out the soil at the bottom of the pot to reduce the risk of root rot.

Planting Bougainvilleas in Pots

Plant bougainvillea in pots with a 1-inch layer of gravel at the base of the pot to promote good drainage. Bougainvillea grows best in a potting mix that is around 80% multipurpose compost to 20% horticultural grit. This potting mix ensures the optimal drainage conditions for bougainvillea to maintain the right balance of moisture.

Bougainvillea grows in its native South America, in soil that drains efficiently and bougainvilleas do not tolerate consistently damp soil as this promotes the conditions for root rot and fungal disease.

A gritty soil mix provides the aerated, porous, soil structure that allows excess water to drain away from the roots which effectively recreates the soil conditions of the bougainvillea’s native soil.

If you plant them straight into potting soil or compost without any gravel, sand, or perlite then the potting medium may retain too much water your your bougainvillea.

When planting your bougainvillea do not compress the soil too firmly as this pushes out air and makes the potting medium less porous which can cause it to retain too much moisture for a plant that prefers dyers soil.

Always water your bougainvillea in well with a good soak after planting or repotting as this can help to mitigate transplant shock.

In climates with higher humidity or rainfall, the importance of a well draining gritty soil mix increases as bougainvillea prefers the soil to dry out somewhat between bouts of watering.

The best soil mix for bougainvillea with the right watering schedule is crucial to achieving the optimal balance of moisture for bougainvilleas to grow and display flowers.

Watering Bougainvillea in Pots

Water bougainvillea thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot to ensure moisture reaches the roots. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Typically water potted bougainvillea once a week in the Spring and Summer and every 2 or 3 weeks in the Fall and Winter to achieve the optimal balance of moisture.

Conditions:How Often to Water Bougainvillea:
Spring and Summer:Water once every 7 days. If the soil is still moist after rainfall, delay watering until the soil feels dry.
Fall and Winter:Water once every 2-3 weeks. Ensure the soil is somewhat dry before watering.

Bougainvillea thrive in dryer, gritty soils in their native habitat and grow in a climate that typically has a deluge of rainfall followed by hot and dry conditions.

Therefore to keep your potted bougainvillea healthy and free of fungal disease it is important to replicate this cycle of watering by giving the bougainvillea a really good drink and then allowing the potting soil to dry out before watering again.

One of the most common reasons for bougainvillea dying is because they are overwatered so that the soil is consistently damp.

If the soil is saturated and does not dry efficiently, then this promotes the conditions for fungal disease and root rot.

How Often to Watering in Spring and Summer:

As long as your bougainvillea is in the right pot (clay, terracotta, or ceramic) and a good size the typical bougainvillea requires a good soak once every 7 days in Spring and Summer.

However if there has been significant rainfall, delay watering until the soil is dryer.

If you are unsure whether you should water your bougainvillea test the potting soil to a finger depth to detect the level of soil moisture. It can also be useful to feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes at the base to see whether the soil is damp or not.

If the soil feels moist then delay watering for a few days until the soil feels as though it is just drying out as this is the perfect time for watering.

It should be noted that watering too often can reduce flowering as bougainvillea often requires some drought stress to stimulate the development of flowers (more on this further down).

How Often to Water Bougainvillea in Fall and Winter:

Bougainvillea requires a lot less water in Fall and Winter as it enters a state of dormancy with fewer hours of daylight and in response to cooler temperatures. As a general rule, water potted bougainvillea once every 2 or 3 weeks in Winter with a good soak.

If the potting soil is moist from rainfall then there is no need to water your bougainvilleas as it prefers dryer soil.

Bear in mind that bougainvillea is not cold hardy and should be brought indoors before the temperature goes below 50°F (10°C), yet it should still be watered once every 2 or 3 weeks with a good soak.

(Read my article, on how to water bougainvillea in pots to learn more about watering and to avoid common mistakes).

Place Potted Bougainvillea in Full Sun

Bougainvilleas are flowering vines that grow best in full sun which promotes growth and stimulates flowering. Place your potted bougainvillea in at least 6 hours of direct sunlight so it can display the most flowers possible.

Bougainvillea can grow in fewer hours of light but this results in lots of foliage with fewer flowers.

Bougainvillea has adapted to grow in full sunlight in its native South American environment which also helps to increase evaporation after rainfall and allows the soil to dry out efficiently, which contributes to the dryer soil conditions in which bougainvillea thrive.

How to Fertilize Bougainvillea

The most important soil characteristic when growing bougainvillea is that the soil is well-draining rather than overly fertile. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil bougainvillea grows more leaves and fewer flowers. Fertilizer can help energize potted bougainvilleas that have exhausted the available nutrients.

In my experience, bougainvillea flowers well in their first year of potting as they can attain all the nutrients they require from the new potting soil or compost.

After a few years in the same pot, the amount of flowers and the health of the foliage can reduce as the bougainvilleas roots have essentially used up the available nutrients in the pot. It is at this point that fertilizing your potted bougainvillea can stimulate and support the growth of flowers, foliage, and vines.

I have seen the best results when using a half-strength liquid all-purpose fertilizer in the Spring (after the threat of cold weather and frost has passed) feeding once per week until the middle of July.

It is important to stop feeding in the Summer as fertilizer can stimulate softer lush growth which is particularly susceptible to damage from cold snaps.

Too much fertilizer also creates soft growth that is far more likely to be susceptible to damage from aphids.

The potted bougainvillea in this photo has been fed once per week with miracle-gro fertilizer, but only at half-strength (as it has been in a pot for a while) to ensure it has all the nutrients it requires for flowering and growth.

How to water bougainvillea in pots
Potted bougainvillea in flower.

I should note the bougainvillea flowered well for the first 2-3 years without any fertilizer as it was in good compost, in a pot that slightly restricts the roots (which promotes flowering), and in full sunlight.

How to Increase Bougainvillea Blooms

The key to increasing flowering is to plant bougainvillea in a pot that slightly restricts the roots, in full sunlight and avoid overwatering. Bougainvillea flowers best when its roots are somewhat pot-bound and when watered infrequently. Creating mild stress to your bougainvillea promotes flowering.

Conditions:How to Increase Bougainvillea Flowerings:
Dryer soil:Bougainvilleas flowers best with some drought stress. Allow the soil to dry before watering again.
High Intensity of Sun:Locate bougainvillea pots in a location with morning and afternoon sun.
Warm Temperatures:Bougainvillea prefers temperatures over 65°F at night if not warmer to flower more.
Size of Pots:Pots should be in proportion to the plant if not slightly restrict the roots.
Day lengths shorter than nights:Bougainvillea is a short-day plant that prefers at least 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness to flower.
Faded Flowers:Pinching or pruning off faded flowers regularly helps to stimulate new flowers.
Pruning:Prune bougainvillea in early Spring to stimulate new growth which supports the flowers.

The reason ‘stress’ to the bougainvillea promotes flowering is because if the plant is under some duress then it is incentive to prioritize reproduction which is done of course through displaying flowers for pollinators.

If the plant has lots of moisture, a large pot for the roots to grow, and lots of nutrients in the form of fertilizers then the bougainvillea tends to redirect its energy into growing and developing its root system, vine, and foliage rather than prioritize the growth of its bracts and flowers.

(Bracts are specialized leaves that may appear to look like flowers).

Bougainvillea is also a short-day plant which means that it flowers its best when the day lengths are shorter than the nights (so less than 12 hours of light).

If the period of darkness is interrupted during the night (think about turning on outdoor lights or street lights) then most bougainvillea cultivars do not flower to the same extent.

The solution here is to find a location without any artificial light that could illuminate your bougainvillea during its 12 hours of darkness or find a way to shade it at night to promote flowering.

Also note that bougainvillea flowers on new growth so it responds well to pruning in the early Spring which stimulates the new growth that displays the flowers and bracts.

(Read my article, why is my bougainvillea not blooming? to learn why your bougainvillea does not display flowers and how to solve the problem).

How to Care for Bougainvillea in Winter

Bougainvillea does not tolerate the cold and should be brought indoors during Winter if your climate experiences night temperatures lower than 50°F (10°C) at night. Water bougainvillea less frequently around once every 2 or 3 weeks but always water with a good soak.

Bougainvillea is capable of flowering year-round if the temperatures are warm enough, however, they often only grow and flower significantly in Spring and Summer in cooler climates.

In Winter bougainvillea often loses its leaves either due to the cold or the shock at the change in conditions when it is brought indoors for the Winter.

Whilst this is alarming, the leaves often grow back when it has adjusted to their new conditions and when the temperatures warm up again in Spring.

(Read my article, why is my bougainvillea losing its leaves? for how to save it).

Always place your bougainvillea in full sun even in Winter, as this can prevent the plant dropping its leaves and make sure it is in a room free of draughts from air conditioning or air currents from sources of heat. The more stable the temperature the better for your bougainvillea.

Do not feed bougainvillea in Winter as new growth is susceptible to damage from cold. Bougainvillea enters a state of dormancy over Winter in cooler climates with lower light intensity and fewer hours of light.

This significantly reduces the demand for water, so only water your bougainvillea once every 2 or 3 weeks during Winter.

If you are in a climate with mild Winters and you can leave your bougainvillea pots outdoors, then your bougainvillea is unlikely to need much watering during Winter months as it can often attain enough water from rainfall.

(Read my article, why is my bougainvillea dying? if you are having any problems).

Pruning and Training Potted Bougainvillea

As bougainvillea is a flowering vine it does require some support and training with a stake, once it reaches a certain size to ensure it can grow tall in the sun and to prevent it from drooping.

Training bougainvillea is often as simple as using a bamboo cane to stake in the soil and tying the vine in place with string or cable ties.

You can of course train bougainvilleas to fence or trellis depending on your circumstances, but with a bamboo cane your bougainvillea pot can be fully mobile for when you need to bring it in in the Winter.

Many cultivars of bougainvillea are capable of supporting themselves without canes or trellis which work great for pots as long as you keep the pruned to a compact size.

Prune the new growth back significantly with a sharp pair of pruners in early Spring to keep your potted bougainvillea compact and promote new flowers forming.

Here is a YouTube video with a close-up of how to prune your potted bougainvillea:

Key Takeaways:

  • Bougainvillea grows best in clay or terracotta pots that are 12 inches across, with a gritty potting mix of 80% compost and 20% grit. Water once per week in Spring and Summer and once every 2 or 3 weeks in Fall and Winter. Bring bougainvillea pots indoors when night temperatures are below 50°F (10°C).
  • Clay, terracotta, and ceramic pots are the best choice for growing bougainvillea. Clay and terracotta pots are and allow the soil to dry evenly after watering and they also do not heat up in the sun as quickly as metal or plastic pots which helps to resist heat stress in Summer.
  • Watering potted bougainvillea thoroughly, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot. Water once a week during Spring and Summer to support active growth and once every 2 to 3 weeks in Winter when growth slows down. Always allow the soil to dry before watering again.
  • Plant bougainvillea in a potting mix that is 80% compost or potting soil and 20% grit or perlite to create the optimal drainage conditions and aerated potting medium for bougainvilleas to grow well and flower more and to avoid root rot.
  • Place your bougainvillea pot in an area of full sun to promote flowering. If the bougainvillea is in too much shade it grows lots of foliage and fewer flowers. Place potted bougainvillea in a sunny window during Winter to prevent it from losing as many leaves and to protect it from cold weather.
  • Use a half-strength liquid fertilizer to feed bougainvillea in pots from the start of Spring until mid-July to support growth and displays of flowers.
  • Bougainvillea are not cold hardy in Winter and should be brought indoors when the temperature at night is below 50°F (10°C). Place bougainvillea pots in a sunny window in Winter to prevent them from dropping leaves, water once every 2 or 3 weeks, and do not feed until the following Spring.
  • Give bougainvillea a hard prune at the start of Spring to encourage new growth which promotes more flowers and bougainvillea flowers on new growth. Prune back any faded flowers throughout the year to stimulate the growth of more flowers.
  • To encourage flowering, place bougainvillea in full sun, and allow the soil to dry out after watering. Plant bougainvillea in pots that slightly restrict the roots and shield bougainvillea from light at night. Bougainvillea are short-day plants that require more hours of darkness than light to flower their best.

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