Nothing adds drama to a backyard like a colorful, flowering vine climbing up a structure.

Credit: Roger Foley

Vines provide shade and vertical accents in our gardens. Bougainvilleas are among the most colorful with their vibrant, papery bracts. These bracts are the showy part of the plant, while the true flowers are tiny. Magenta, bright pink, purple, white, and rosy red bougainvilleas are bloom best in late summer and fall.

Plant in a sunny spot in spring, after the last frost. Provide well-drained, slightly acid soil; alkaline soil can cause chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins). 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 container bottom; then set both plant and container in planting hole. Gently slide container up over the plant, filling in with soil as you go. Don't worry about damaging upper part of plant as you do so; stems are pliant, with little horizontal growth. Fasten shoots to a sturdy support so they won't whip in wind. Strong gusts can shred leaves against sharp thorns along stems.

Feeding & Watering
Fertilize when growing season begins and again in early summer; a 6-8-10 fertilizer high in micronutrients is best. Established plants are quite drought tolerant and need little watering, except if growing in pots. Water thoroughly when foliage wilts, making sure excess water can drain away quickly. Avoid frequent, light watering.

Don't be afraid to prune to shape or rejuvenate the plant. Pinch off spent blooms to keep new ones coming. Heavy pruning is best done after the blooming period. Nip back long stems during the growing season to produce more flowering wood. Shrubby forms and heavily pruned plants make good self-supporting container plants for terrace or patio. Without support and with occasional corrective pruning, bougainvillea becomes a broad, sprawling shrub; a bank or ground cover; or an attractive choice for hanging baskets.