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Insignificant flowers are surrounded by bracts of blazing colourBougainvillea reminds one of holidays on the KZN coast or dreams of tropical islands. The expression WOW, is what comes to mind when one sees them in full flower, the solid mass of colour is simply that spectacular. Originally from South America bougainvillea are sprawling climbers and shrubs with formidable thorns on mature plants. They are suited to a somewhat arid, subtropical to tropical climate, being semi-hardy to frost when young. When in flower, their insignificant flowers are surrounded by bracts of blazing colour in bright purples, pinks, oranges and all the shades in between. Those with darker flowers are a as rule of thumb a little hardier than the pastel colours.

Bougainvillea bursts forth with colourful flowers from spring to autumn making them a great addition to the garden and along boundary walls. Bougainvillea are easily trimmed and trained to make a striking container plant, be used for large topiaries or pruned into more formal hedges or focal plants. They naturally bloom in the spring and seem to bloom better in drier years. Bougainvillea need to be trimmed to maintain their shape. Flowering on new wood along their long branches aggressive pruning of new growth may reduce the show. The best approach is to prune in late January to February, after the growing season is complete, so it will bloom from next season’s new growth.

Where to plant them:

In full flower Boug’s make a WOW statement

Give bougainvillea plants well-drained soil. Water sparingly. Bougainvillea plants weaken with too much watering, ending up with all leaf growth in place of flowers. Clay soil hold on to too much water for them, particularly a problem for young plants. Adding stones rocks or gravel into the hole when planting will help with drainage. Bougainvillea actually favours poor quality soil so at planting don’t add compost only bone meal. Choose the right spot, facing due north. Bougainvillea is a sun-lover and it will flower best in a full sun position. Heat is not an issue for bougainvillea in fact the harsher the sun exposure the better. Variegated varieties can be more difficult to grow than the standard green ones. You will likely encounter one of two problems with your bougainvillea, lack of blooms or too-rapid growth. If the plant is not blooming, cut back on watering for a few weeks and if it still does not flower feed it with Magnesium Sulphate.

Darker colour Boug’s are hardier than pastel coloured ones.Because they flower on new growth it is recommended to fertilise regularly. Feed the plant a fertiliser high in phosphate such as 2:3:4 and water this in well around the roots. If the plant is growing too vigorously, however, cut back on the fertiliser. Train your bougainvillea. Bougainvillea plants need support to cover a wall or fence. Create rows of wire or string against the surface that you want covered. Tuck the bougainvillea branches behind these guidance supports at regular intervals. Keep a close eye on growth and adjust as necessary until the bougainvillea starts covering the wall or other surface.

The older the branch, the bigger the thorns making an ignored vine a great choice for a sunny back fence to discourage unwanted visitors.

Growing tip: If your bougainvillea does not flower, let it dry out to almost wilting and then feed it with Magnesium Sulphate and water well. This should stimulate flowers within a few weeks!