Bougainvillea on outside staircase
Photo: Dan Culbert

Bougainvillea is a tropical vining shrub that comes in a wide array of bright and fanciful colors.

The “flowers” are actually modified leaves, called bracts, that are long-lasting and bright. The colorful bracts outshine the plant’s true (but tiny) flower, much like a poinsettia. They appear periodically throughout most of the year, but are especially plentiful in the winter, when the splashes of color are a welcome sight. Bougainvillea blooms in fuschia, red, white, yellow, and orange.

Bougainvilleas require full sun and actually perform better when their soil is left a little dry, making this a perfect plant for the drought-tolerant landscape. It needs to be protected from frost and freeze.


It can be pruned into a shrub-like form, trained to grow over fences and trellises, and even used for espliers. Dwarf varieties can be planted on top of a wall or in hanging baskets, where they will create cascades of color.

The best time to prune bougainvillea is in late winter or early spring after it flowers, or at the start of the rainy season. If you wait until late summer or early fall, your plant may produce fewer flowers during the following winter.

It’s a good idea to wear heavy gloves, since many cultivars have sharp thorns. Use a pair of pruning shears to cut back any errant branches, and work to give your plant a pleasing shape.

You can even use the smaller cuttings to propagate new plants. If you do, then you’ll be able to share beautiful bougainvilleas with all your gardening friends.

Why Won’t My Bougainvillea Bloom?

What happens if your bougainvillea won’t bloom? Sun is a critical part of the equation. The more sun your vine gets, the more blooms it will put out. Without some direct sun, it just won’t flower.

Water is another key factor. Bougainvillea is native to arid climates, so check that your irrigation system isn’t applying more water than the plant needs.

If you’re pruning too often, you could be cutting off new blooms as well. Finally, go easy on the fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will encourage your plant to produce leaves instead of blooms.

So try neglecting your bougainvillea instead of babying it. You should be rewarded with beautiful blooms!

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