How to Water Bougainvillea in Pots

How to water bougainvillea in pots

The best advice I ever received regarding watering potted bougainvillea is to water them the same way you would water Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary.

Whilst bougainvillea is native to the Mediterranean region, it is extensively grown there and loves the same conditions.

Bougainvillea are native to hot climates and grow well with a good soak, which allows the soil to dry somewhat, as this replicates the typical watering cycle in their native environment.

Water potted bougainvillea every 7-14 days with thorough watering during Spring and Summer. Allow the soil to dry out before watering bougainvillea again. Water bougainvillea once every 2 or 3 weeks in Winter, ensuring that the soil has dried out before watering. If the soil is still moist, delay watering until it feels dryer.

Conditions:How Often to Water Bougainvillea:
How often to bougainvillea in Spring and Summer:Water Bougainvillea with a thorough watering once a week if there is hot weather and no significant rainfall. If it has rained or there has been overcast cooler weather water bougainvillea every 2 weeks.
How often to water bougainvillea in Fall and Winter:Water once every 2 or 3 weeks in Winter and allow the oil to dry out between each watering. If the soil still feels moist at the base of the pot delay watering for another week to avoid root rot.

We must acknowledge that bougainvillea should be planted in well-draining soil and pots with drainage holes in the base for the watering guidelines to be accurate and so the bougainvillea is healthy.

Keep reading for my best method for watering bougainvillea in pots and containers and how to avoid root rot from overwatering…

How to Water Bougainvillea in a Pot- Best Method for Watering

The best way to water bougainvillea in pots is to water thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot and then allow the soil to dry before watering again. Watering the pot generously ensures that water has infiltrated the soil to reach the bougainvillea’s roots.

The reason I am emphasizing the need to water thoroughly so much is because the most common mistake I see people make is to water their bougainvillea too lightly.

I find people hear (or read) the advice that bougainvillea “do not need much water” and misinterpret this advice to mean that bougainvillea does not need a great quantity of water, whereas the advice pertains more to the frequency of watering and not how much.

What I do is water with a really generous soak so that water runs from the base of the pot, then allow the soil to dry out somewhat to promote good development (and promote flowering) as the roots are stimulated to grow deep in the soil to access the moisture they require.

This is also one of the key reasons why it is import to plant bougainvillea in pots and container with drainage holes in the base as water emerging from the bottom of the pot is an excellent indicator that you have used enough water fro your bougainvillea to meet its moisture requirements.

If you water too lightly, then only the surface of the soil becomes moistened, which promotes shallow root growth and results in an overall less hardy and resilient bougainvillea that is more vulnerable to drought.

Pro Tip: I recommend placing your bougainvillea pot on ‘feet’ (I use some decorative stones) to promote good drainage, as this elevation off the floor ensures that excess water does not simply sit there and pool under your pot.

How Often to Water Bougainvillea in Pots

Water bougainvilleas in pots once a week, allowing the soil to dry out somewhat between bouts of watering. Bougainvilleas are drought-resistant and require the soil to dry around the roots before watering again. In my experience, watering bougainvilleas more than once a week promotes root rot.

If there has been significant rainfall during the week and the soil is still moist to a finger’s depth, then I recommend that you delay watering for another week.

As we discussed, bougainvillea grows in hot tropical climates in areas of Brazil that are relatively similar climatically to the Mediterranean region of Europe.

Therefore, bougainvilleas thrive on the same sort of watering cycle as Mediterranean herbs such as potted lavender, rosemary, sage, or thyme, so I would personally water them in the same water cycle (this is what I do and my bougainvillea thrive).

When it comes to how often to water bougainvillea, I must emphasize that the risk of harm from overwatering is far greater than underwatering due to bougainvillea’s natural tolerance of drought-like conditions, so my advice is always water once per week in Spring and Summer with a good soak and then allow the soil to dry before watering again.

So if in doubt of when to water, wait a day or so before watering as it is much easier to revive a bougainvillea suffering from dehydration than from overwatering.

It should be noted that several factors can influence how often you water your bougainvillea, so some adjustment to your watering schedule is often needed to suit your particular climate and conditions, such as the size of the pot and the material of the pot.

Ideally plant your bougainvillea in a pot that is at least 12 inches across and made from clay, ceramic or terracotta.

A pot of around 12 inches across and the same proportional depth can contain more soil and, therefore, can retain more moisture, which is important.

If your pot is smaller than 12 inches, then what I find happens is that the pot dries out too quickly in full sun (which promotes flowering) during the Spring and Summer before the roots can uptake the moisture they need.

We have to remember that our bougainvillea are sitting in full sun all day in the Summer.

Clay, ceramic and terracotta pots are better then plastic, or metal pots as the do not conduct as much heat throughout the day which means the soil does not dry out too quickly.

Bougainvillea in plastic or metal pots or containers should be watered more often to account for how quickly the pots heat up and dry out the soil. In my opinion I do not like plastic or metal pots for growing bougainvillea for this reason.

If you notice your bougainvillea wilting and the soil is dry to the touch at both the surface at the base of the pot (feel the soil at the base of the pot through the drainage hole underneath the pot), then increase how often you water the bougainvillea, which should alleviate the wilting appearance. In my experience, this is very rarely a problem. However, it can happen during heat waves in hotter countries.

If the bougainvillea is wilting but the soil feels moist, then this is often an indication that you are watering too often, and you should let the soil dry out before watering again.

(Read my article, why is my bougainvillea dying?)

How Often to Water Bougainvillea in Pots in Winter (Indoors or Outdoors)

Water your bougainvillea once every 2 to 3 weeks in the Fall and Winter. Bougainvillea’s demand for water is much lower during Winter, and the risk of root rot is much higher, so allow the soil to dry out properly between bouts of watering.

With less light and lower temperature, your bougainvillea goes into a more dormant state over winter and the demand for moisture decreases.

We need to remember that bougainvillea is a tropical plant and does not tolerate temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C) at night, and even at this temperature, it is likely to drop its leaves (the leaves can regrow in Spring as long as it is protected from the cold, read my article why is my bougainvillea losing its leaves and how to save it)

Bougainvillea dying
This is my bougainvillea in its full splendor in Summer! And here it is as Winter is approaching and it goes into a dormant state.

Therefore, what I do is bring my bougainvillea indoors (Whenever the temperature is forecast to go below 50°F (10°C)) and place it in my sunniest window away from sources of heat or draughty areas.

Whether your bougainvillea is indoors or outdoors, I found (through some trial and error) that the optimal balance is to water once every 2 or 3 weeks as this meets its watering requirements in Winter yet also avoids root rot.

Whilst bougainvillea requires less frequent watering during Fall and Winter, it is still important to water thoroughly so that excess water emerges from the base of the pot. As we discussed, watering too lightly means the moisture does not reach the roots where it is required.

It is critical not to water bougainvillea too often in Winter as cold, damp soil promotes the conditions for root rot, which is a common reason for bougainvillea dying over Winter.

(Read my article, why is my bougainvillea not blooming?)

Use a Pot with a Drainage Hole in the Base

You must plant bougainvillea in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape after a bout of watering.

As we talked about, bougainvillea prefers the soil around the roots to dry out somewhat between bouts of watering, which is why good drainage at the base of your pot is so important.

It is also important to emphasize that you should not use a saucer or tray underneath your bougainvillea pot. This causes excess water to collect at the base of the pot, keeping the soil moist and promoting root rot.

I would even recommend placing a 1-inch layer of gravel at the bottom of your bougainvillea pot before planting to prevent compacted soil from slowing down drainage.

This prevents water from collecting underneath the pot, allowing it to drain more efficiently. It also improves airflow at the base of the pot, which can help the soil dry out between bouts of watering, particularly in high-humidity or rainfall climates.

(Read my article on how to grow bougainvillea in pots).

Key Takeaways:

  • Bougainvillea in pots should be watered once a week in Spring and Summer and once every 2 or 3 weeks in Fall and Winter. Allow the soil to dry out between bouts of watering, as bougainvillea is drought-resistant and does not tolerate damp soil. Water bougainvillea with a good soak rather than a light watering.
  • Plant bougainvillea in pots that are at least 12 inches across and made from ceramic, clay, or terracotta rather than plastic or metal. A 12-inch pot contains more soil, so it does not dry out too quickly for the bougainvillea roots to uptake moisture in Summer. Ceramic, clay, or terracotta pots stay cooler than metal and plastic pots in full sun.
  • Always plant bougainvillea in well-draining soil and pots with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape after watering, ensuring the optimal balance of moisture and drainage for bougainvillea and reducing the risk of root rot.

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