If you are looking for a patio or house plant that is just a bit different or exotic, try a Bougainvillea. They have small with flowers and large colorful bracts that cover the ends of the plant for months at a time.
Bract colors vary from bright pinks, purples, and reds to an occasional white. All have inconspicuous white flowers.
Bougainvillea are native to the coast of Brazil but thrive in warm sunny locations through out the world.
Locally they can be placed on a hot patio in the summer and brought in when the nights begin to cool.
There are a number of different varieties of Bougainvilleas available from a compact shrub to the most common variety Bougainvillea glabra; a vine that can reach 10 ft (3m) in height.
Newer varieties offer variegated leaves which insures the plant stand out even when it isn’t in bloom. Bougainvillea plants thrive indoors in sunny windows as they need at least 5 hours of direct sunlight a day to flower.
Plants will grow in less sunlight but they are less likely to flower. Typical house temperatures are adequate for this plant but do not allow the temperatures to drop below 60°F (12°C) at night.
Plants thrive in a well drained potting soil. Water when the top inch (3cm) of soil is dry. Bougainvillea should never be overwatered and it is best to empty the saucer after watering.
Bougainvilleas do best when they are slightly root bound. Repot when the root mass is totally white. Remove the plant from the original pot and disturb the roots before placing it into a pot that is one size larger than the original one.
Potting soil has a minimal amount of nutrients which means that plants should be fertilized regularly, more so during their growing season. A basic fertilizer such as 20-20-20 that contains micronutrients works well. Be sure to follow the directions on the package.
Bougainvillea are woody plants and this becomes more evident as the plant ages. Shrubby plants rarely need to be pruned but this is not the case for vines. Vines should be cut back in late winter or early spring.
Pruning back within an inch (3 cm) of the main stem will keep the plant manageable and encourage new growth and flowers.
Training the vines on the trellis will also keep the plants manageable.
New plants can be started by taking soft tissue cuttings from new growth in the spring. Using a sharp knife remove approximately 3 inches (8cm) of new growth from the plant.
Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and place it in a moist pot of sterilized soil. Cover the container in plastic and place it in a warm area in indirect sunlight. Check the pot regularly to insure that the soil is moist but not wet enough to cause the cutting to rot. If the container is too wet let moisture escape by removing the plastic. Water when needed.
The cutting should develop roots in about eight weeks but occasionally it will take longer.
Some will consider Bougainvilleas a fussy plant this is because it has a tendency to loose its leaves when conditions are not to its liking. Expect leaf drop if the plant is too dry, too wet, doesn’t have enough light or has been moved.
While leaf drop is messy, it doesn’t mean that that plant will die. A new set of leaves usually appears within a week or two.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at email@example.com.