Thorny Bougainvillea- The One & Only Climbing Beauty

Cheer Up Your Garden With Some Bougainvillea Colour! Expert advice on growing this cheerful climbing shrub called the Bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea, the flowering vine of colourful beauty! Did you know that the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville discovered this bright plant, now called the Bougainvillea, during his voyages in South America in 1768? Excerpt: One of the few plants making a splash at this time of the year is the beautiful Bougainvillea cultivars! Many Bougainvillea plants with vibrant colored flowers are available these days.

What different Bougainvillea flower colors are available?

Most likely, one of the main factors that persuade a person to plant a Bougainvillea is the stunning vibrant colored flowers that these plants produce. There is a large variety of Bougainvillea colors available. The Bougainvillea’s flower colors vary from white to pale orange, yellow, different shades of pink, deep magenta, and even purple. Furthermore, it is not only the flowers that differ in color but also the Bougainvillea plant’s leaves. Some cultivars have variegated leaves. What is a variegated leaf? The answer is actually quite simple. A leaf that has more than one color is called a variegated leaf. These leaves show the presence of different color pigments in addition to the green pigment chlorophyll.

Are Bougainvillea flowers real flowers?

Interestingly, the brightly coloured ‘petals’ are not petals of the flower at all, but instead are bracts (modified leaves) that surround the inconspicuous little white-tipped flower inside! These bracts are what attracted old Louis to bring this plant back to Europe, and there are now more than 300 different coloured varieties available!

Growing Bougainvillea plants.

This blog aims to teach you more about growing these cheerful climbing Bougainvillea plants, so bright and bold.

At Cape Contours Landscape Design, we often include them in our garden designs, especially useful for screening a wall or making a splash of colour through an inside window. They really are so bright and bold, and they are hugely popular as ornamental plants.

Which area is best for Bougainvillea plants?

Bougainvilleas are best suited to Tropical and Subtropical climates. However, they also grow well in the Western Cape, which is a winter rainfall area. Unfortunately, they might not survive in very cold frost prone gardens. Bougainvilleas prefer full sun, so avoid planting them in a shady area.

Can you grow your Bougainvillea plant in a pot?

Most certainly, you can! Bougainvilleas do great in pots. When planting in a pot, you will have to add a simple V-shaped trellis for support. A potted Bougainvillea can add splashes of colour in areas with a lot of paving or not much other garden interest.

Can you use a Bougainvillea plant as a hedge?

Yes, you can. Thanks to their sharp thorns, they can be used as security hedges. It might take some time and lots of pruning and shaping to get it into shape. Fortunately, once you manage to get it into a hedge-like shape, you only need to do some maintenance pruning and shaping from time to time.

What kind of plant is the Bougainvillea?

Bougainvillea creeping plant
Brightly coloured Bougainvillea adds beauty to any garden

The Bougainvillea is, in fact, a thorny climbing vine, and so ideally, it needs cables, a trellis or a pergola to scramble up. These woody vines hook themselves onto their own branches to create additional support. The Bougainvillea vine has long sharp thorns, and it scrambles quite quickly. The top of the vine can get quite heavy if it has outgrown its support trellis. In fact, your Bougainvillea can be heavily pruned back after the colourful bracts have all dropped.

When is the best time to prune your Bougainvillea?

In South Africa, the best time to prune your Bougainvillea plant will be in late winter. As we already mentioned, remember only to prune and shape after the flowers have all dropped. You should cut away approximately two-thirds of the length of the branches. Moreover, it is vital to remove all water shoots from the base of the plant. This plant can grow fast, and if you don’t prune it often, it will quickly become untidy. Please remember, Bougainvillea thorns can cause a nasty injury, so be careful when you prune and shape your Bougainvillea plant!

The fallen bracts are beautiful when they dry and turn paler colours. These paler-coloured bracts look absolutely lovely when you add them to potpourri or use them as natural confetti at a wedding.

Of course, you can also add the fallen bracts and leaves to your compost bin to make your own compost. We recommend that you consider making your own compost. Apart from saving money, there are numerous other benefits linked to making your own compost. Luckily for you, we have written a blog that explains how to make compost at home. Moreover, we mention all the benefits of making compost instead of buying it. Furthermore, we also link to the Western Cape government’s website, where they explain how Capetonians can get a free compost bin!

Is it difficult to grow a Bougainvillea plant?

Certainly not! Growing Bougainvillea is relatively easy, although they sometimes stubbornly refuse to flower once you get them home from the nursery! Ensure you plant yours in free-draining soil and in full sun.

How do you make your Bougainvillea plant flower more?

The answer is quite simple. Do not overwater them! This is the key to helping them flower. Overwatering causes a lot of bushy green leaf growth and very little flowering of the bracts.

They also like crowded roots, and it’s been suggested that you leave them in the plant pots and make a few holes in the sides and bottoms to allow the roots to grow through. This apparently also helps promote flowering. Fertiliser applied every few weeks will promote healthy growth.

Finally, remember to look out for pests and diseases. You need to check your Bougainvillea for aphids, scale, mealybugs and root rot.

Bougainvillea flowers
Bougainvillea Magnifica is a pretty pink with dependable evergreen leaves

Once your Bougainvillea has stopped producing its cheerfully coloured flowers, it is time for pruning. In fact, pruning them back hard after flowering will encourage new growth and flowering. Remove any suckers that have sprouted from the base of the plant during pruning to eliminate competition for nutrients. You can fertilise them in summer at the same time as the rest of the garden, on a 6-weekly basis.

Bougainvillea ‘Lilac Queen’ makes a great addition to a blue and purple colour scheme.

There are a lot of beautiful cultivars available here in the Cape at our retail and wholesale plant nurseries. What are some of the Bougainvillea cultivars you can find in South Africa? We have listed a few different ones below.

  1. ‘Bougainvillea ‘Brilliance’
  2. ‘Crimson Jewel’
  3. ‘Dauphine’
  4. ‘David Lemmer’
  5. ‘Golden McLean’
  6. ‘Lilac Queen’
  7. ‘Magnifica’
  8. ‘Red Glory’
  9. ‘Rubyana’
  10. ‘Temple Fire’
  11. ‘Vera Blakeman’

This versatile plant, with its vibrant colours, is a summer showstopper. Not only is it an evergreen plant, but it is also drought-tolerant. If you are keen on saving water and you are a water-wise gardener, this is definitely a must-have plant.



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We plan, install and maintain award-winning landscapes for our commercial clients and project partners. Clients who wish to add function, value and inspiration to their outdoor spaces and properties.

Our roots are in Cape Town, but our footprint stretches deep into southern Africa.


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Let’s plan your landscaping project together!

We plan, install and maintain award-winning landscapes for our commercial clients and project partners. Clients who wish to add function, value and inspiration to their outdoor spaces and properties.

Our roots are in Cape Town, but our footprint stretches deep into southern Africa.