The Q&A Archives: Bougainvillea

Question: I received a Barbara Karst Bougainvillea for Mother's Day. I am confused. The front of the card attached to the plant says growing season fall to spring and the back says Summer to fall? Does one mean grows and the other blooms?

Answer: The plant tag does sound a bit confusing! Bougainvilleas grow and bloom in a 6 week cycle. It grows, then it blooms, then it rests. When it has finished resting, it will grow and then bloom and then rest again. Bougainvillea flourishes in warm winter areas such as Hawaii and southern California, but will not winter over in your gardening region. For that reason, you'll want to keep it in its current container. (If it's a plastic nursery container you can simply disguise it by popping it into a decorative container, nursery pot and all.) While you can take the plant indoors during the winter months, it won't perform well unless you can provide greenhouse-like conditions (bright light, warmth and humidity). Without a greenhouse you can still keep your bougainvillea alive during the winter months but it's likely to lose its leaves. If this happens, the plant should leaf out again in the spring. You can fertilize your bougainvillea on a weekly basis with a quarter-strength dilution of liquid fertilizer to keep it growing strong. Instead of hard pruning, simply pinch out the growing tips of the shoots. This will encourage the formation of new flowering shoots. Bougainvillea does not like to have its roots disturbed so repot only when absolutely necessary (every 3-4 years). Best wishes with your bougainvillea!

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