The Color of Summer - The Bend Magazine

The Color of Summer

Bougainvillea hearts heat

By: Justin Butts  Photo by: Rachel Benavides

Many plants wilt, shrivel, and die in the burning heat of a South Texas summer. But one heat-loving plant stands above all others for its stunning summer blooms: the beautiful bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea can’t get too much sun or heat. More sun equals more blooms for bougainvillea; and the hotter the weather, the brighter its colors. Well-established, mature bougainvillea are very drought tolerant. A spell of hot, dry weather actually increases the flowers on the plant.
Bougainvillea have gorgeous flowers, but they also have sharp thorns. If you have a backyard fence that you want no one ever to climb, plant bougainvillea every six feet along the base of the fence. The massive, thorny vines will take over the fence and even spill to the other side.
Anyone who tries to jump that fence will be captured in your bougainvillea hedge or filleted trying to get out! 
That also means that a bougainvillea planted in a high traffic area is likely to catch you or your guests on its thorns. That dainty little potted plant from the nursery, if well-tended, will grow into a massive vining spread, so make sure to locate bougainvillea away from paths, doorways, and places where kids play.
Give your bougainvillea a sturdy structure if you want it to climb. Once a bougainvillea reaches its full height, spread, and weight, you will not easily be able to access the support or trellis to reinforce or repair it. Prune bougainvillea each March to achieve any shape – even a small tree.

Need To Know Basis

Growing Up
Bougainvillea require at least eight hours full sun per day to fully flower. Protect from north wind to prevent freeze damage. Grows to 10’ tall with spread of 15’. Space at least 6’ apart. Any soil; must have good drainage. Water every two weeks until established, then deeply water once per month. No fertilizer; nitrogen inhibits blooms. Add 2 pounds compost and 2 cups wood ash at base of plant each spring.

Bougainvillea flower from spring into winter in colors of red, yellow, white, orange, pink, or purple. Bougainvillea can be planted as a hedge, for ground cover, in pots, or as climbing vines. Full-grown vines require strong support or trellis. Prune in March to desired shape. All varieties have sharp thorns. To “trick” plant into blooming, hold back water to concentrate sugars in the leaves, which triggers blooms, then water as normal.

Local Recs

No other plant says summer in South Texas better than Bougainvillea. It can be planted in a big clay pot or in the ground. We love them for their brilliant color and free form. We place bougainvillea in designs where there is plenty of room to spread, good drainage and full sun. They are great cascading over walls or anchoring the corner of a sunny backyard. – Sally Gill  @gills.corpus

Fun Facts

The richly colored red or purple blooms on bougainvillea are not actually flowers; they are called bracts. The tiny yellow or white flowers in the center of the colorful bracts are the true flowers. Bracts evolved their bright colors and welcoming shapes to attract pollinators, such as bees and hummingbirds, to the miniscule yellow flowers. Bougainvillea plant breeders have ingeniously developed many colors of bracts to sell more plants – including, after many years of effort, blue!