Bright Summer Color
July 15th, 2006
Bougainvilleas are drought resistant, free from pests and disease, romantic, glowingly colorful, and easy to grow- but not easy to plant or get started. Use them as large ground covers on banks and have them pouring over walls, roofs, fences, and arbors. Be aware, they are frost tender and you may lose the plant this winter. But what else can give you such a magnificent display of color for such a small cost? Here is the best way to plant them.
-Choose plants with the color, eventual size, and growth habits you desire in mind. Some are vines and some are shrubs. Some are more vigorous than others. Five gallon sizes make a faster start in the ground than 1 gallons.
-Choose a spot in full sun, preferably where the root run-the area where the roots grow- is also hit by full sun. Light shade can work, but you will not have as much bloom.
-Dig a hole twice as wide as the container and the same depth as the container. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole, and work in 2 or 3 cupfuls of bone meal. (If the soil is heavy also work in crystalline gypsum.) Cover this with enough soil that, when you set in the plant, the top of the root ball will be 1″ higher than the surrounding ground. Add rose and flower Nutri-Paks around the sides of the root ball.
-Bougainvilleas are fragile when young and often killed when they are planted because their roots and crown are broken. Cut the sides of the container and gently lower it carefully into the hole while supporting the roots with your hands. Backfill with native soil blended 50% with a planting mix such as Red Star Mix & Mulch. Never pull the plant out of the container by the trunk. You will almost invariably damage or kill the plant.
-Press the soil down around the plant with your hands (not too hard). The top of the root ball should be 1″ above the surrounding ground. Add compost to fill in the top area so that it is even with the surrounding soil. Take care to only add 1/8″ to 1/4″ of compost next to the trunk.
-Make a watering basin, and water deeply right away. Then in fast-draining soils, for the next 2 months water daily. Thereafter. In clay soils you should water enough to keep the root ball damp but not soggy for the first six weeks to eight weeks.
Thereafter water deeply after the ground dries out. Bougainvilleas are drought resistant not because they don’t need water but because their roots go deeply into the ground until they find an underground water source. When young they take all the water they can get, as long as drainage is adequate. Feed them once a month each year between April and August with a high phosphate fertilizer such as Red Star Rose-Gro (4-12-4).
-After three to five years you can stop fertilizing in summer, stop watering in winter, and reduce the frequency of summer watering to once a week (Container-grown vines will always need regular fertilizer and water.)
So don’t worry, if your bougainvillea dies this winter, Plant Another Next Spring. You can’t find more color for your buck.