Bougainvilleas captivate in many parts of the world where the weather is kind and they scramble and scrabble their way to become huge masses of colourful blooms. Brits on holiday can only stop and stare – and wish they could grow these glorious plants.
Well, they can – as long as they have somewhere warm and cosy for bougainvillea to while away the colder winter months. In summer, it’s quite possible to pop a containerised plant outdoors where the sun always shines. It should bloom happily before coming back indoors for a winter break.
Alternatively, get a heated conservatory and grow a plant inside all year round. B. glabra, in particular, should be more than content to bask indoors, clambering up carefully-positioned wires or trellis.
Bougainvilleas thrive in full sun – it encourages them to flower – and they don’t bloom quite as well indoors as they do out, but it’s possible to encourage them to produce masses of blooms by increasing the humidity just before they start to flower – and like many plants, they bloom better when pot-bound.
They will thrive in almost any soil as long as it’s well-drained and fertile. But you’ll have to water regularly, so forget about summer holidays as you (or a very accommodating neighbour) will have to stay at home to provide constant care .
When repotting (every three years should suffice unless the plant has a growing spurt) remember that a bougainvillea has a very delicate root system. It’s easily damaged, so handle with care.
Feeding is essential – for best results, give a high-nitrogen feed when the plant comes into growth, followed by a high-potash feed when the buds appear. Feed less in winter; perhaps once a month.
You can prune lightly after each flush of flowers and give the plant a proper going-over in February. As indoor houseplants, they can be kept small by adopting bonsai techniques. If overwatered, bougainvillea will not flower and may wilt, or even die from root decay.
Bougainvillea can be propagated via tip cuttings; be aware that the sap can cause skin irritation and unfriendly barbs can tear the skin, so wear gloves.
You won’t ever grow a bougainvillea quite like the ones you see flourishing luxuriantly all over the place in warmer climes further south, but, with luck, you could have a plant providing an eye-catching show.