The Q&A Archives: Caring For Bougainvillea

Question: We recently purchased a house with a very large Bougainvillea in the backyard (growing along the side of the house). It doesn't look like it has been pruned (or cared for) in years and has lots of thorny branches sticking out -- some of which appear dead. Do you have any recommendations for pruning Bougainvillea? When is the best time of year to do this? What precautions should we take? My husband and I are novice gardeners and don't want to kill it.

Thanks! Linley

Answer: Renovating an overgrown vining shrub doesn't have to be complicated. First of all, bougainvillea are fast, vigorous growers, reaching 15'-30' (depending on variety). They need a strong support system and all bougainvilleas respond well to heavy pruning. Do your major pruning as early as possible in spring, before new growth begins in earnest. During the growing season you can prune as needed to direct growth. Begin by cutting away the old, dead wood, pulling it out from the mass of vines. Once that's finished, cut back some of the older, thicker vines to encourage new growth. Cut them down to a point where you want new stems to emerge. Finally, tip prune some of the remaining vines to encourage new shoots. Try not to remove more than about one-third of the live plant material in any one pruning session and your plant will be less likely to go into shock. You can lightly prune your plant all summer to eventually get the size under control. Good luck with your new home!

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