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Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea

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Zone
Zones 5, 6, 12-17, 19, 21-29, H1, H2
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Bougainvillea hybrid

Nyctaginaceae
Evergreen, Ground covers, Shrubs, Vines

Native to tropical and subtropical South America. Reliably hardy in Zones 22–24, H1, H2, yet widely and satisfyingly grown in areas of minimum frost: Zones 12–17, 19, 21. Use has extended into Zones 5 and 6, thanks to low-growing shrubby types that can be purchased in full bloom and grown in containers. These are used on patios as summer annuals and moved to a protected area over winter. Where frosts are routine (as in Zones 12, 14, 19, 21), vines need a protected warm wall or warmest spot in garden. If vines get by the first winter or two, they will be big enough to take most winter damage and recover. In any case, young plants bloom so readily, replacement is not a real deterrent.

Bougainvillea’s vibrant colors come not from the inconspicuous true flowers but from the large, paper, petal-like bracts that surround them. Bloom reaches its peak in summer, but in mildest-winter regions flowers may appear from spring through fall, and even into winter. The double kinds can look messy, because they hold faded blooms for a long time. White- and yellow-flowered varieties need light shade in the hottest climates.

Vining bougainvilleas are fast, vigorous growers, reaching 15–30 ft. depending on the variety. Long, needlelike thorns arm stiff stems that are moderately to densely clothed in medium green, 2 1/2-in., heart-shaped leaves. Vines are superb on walls and sturdy fences, trellises, and arbors. Because they have no means of attachment (though the thorns help them scramble through shrubs and trees), you must tie stems to the support while the basic structure is establishing.

In areas that typically have frosts, plant in early spring after danger of frost has passed. Roots do not knit soil together in a firm root ball, and they are highly sensitive to disturbance. To minimize shock when planting, cut off the container bottom and set both plant and container in the planting hole. Slide the container up over the plant, filling in with soil as you go. Don’t worry about damaging the plant as you do so; stems are pliant, with little horizontal growth. 

Fertilize when the growing season begins and again in early summer. Water regularly in spring, moderately during bloom period.

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