We know that spring has sprung (so early this year) when all the colorful annuals and perennials start arriving wave upon wave at Rainbow Gardens. But when bougainvillea show up and start strutting their stuff, it’s like they are the peacocks amongst a bunch of pigeons. Don’t get me wrong, there is color all over the nursery right now, and more color to come. But when you see a grouping of bougainvillea, or walk underneath a row of them in hanging baskets, they are truly stunning and you definitely get dazzled by the brilliance of their colors. Let’s celebrate bougainvillea today!

Hot Pink Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea: Color and Fertilizer

Interestingly enough, the bold color that attracts us to bougainvillea is not coming from the flowers of the plant at all. The colorful papery structures on bougainvillea are called bracts. The actual flowers are small and white, and are surrounded by the bracts which are responsible for the plant’s vibrant color display. Look for gorgeous hues of magenta, cotton candy pink, yellow, deep orange, white, bicolor, red, and hot pink.


To keep that color blazing for a long time, offer a monthly dose of fertilizer during the months of February through September. Stop fertilizing in October so you don’t risk pushing new growth that could get damaged in winter weather. Choose a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (20-20-20).

Mixed colors of bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea: Planting Requirements

Bougainvillea can be sensitive to cold temperatures, so it’s best to plant them after the last frost. While they can tolerate temperatures as low as 30-35°F (-1 to 2°C) for a short period of time, long exposure to freezing temperatures can damage or kill the plant. In general, under 32°F is putting them in the danger zone.


When planting bougainvillea in San Antonio, Texas, it’s important to choose a location with full sun exposure, well-draining soil, and protection from harsh winds.

  • Full sun means at least 6-8 hours of sunshine; less than that and you will have a beautiful green plant, but little if any phosphorescent color.
  • Bougainvillea do best when watered deeply and regularly, but be careful not to over-water as this can lead to root rot, hence the need for well-draining soil along with holes in the bottoms of pots if planting in containers.
  • Winds can cause stress on tender new shoots, that while flexible can still bend and break. Leaves and bracts may fall leaving your bougainvillea looking rather ‘naked’.
Close up flower bracts

Bougainvillea: Potting and Pruning

If planting bougainvillea in containers, don’t be so quick to repot them. They actually prefer to be somewhat rootbound. Check their root system in their nursery pot. If roots still have a way to go before encircling the base, you might want to leave them in there and drop the nursery pot into a decorative pot. It’s still generally recommended to repot them every 2-3 years to ensure proper growth and health. Just be ready for a period of adjusting to it’s new environment once repotted (temporary wilt, leaf drop).


All pruning (especially hard pruning) should be done late winter/early February. Sometimes they need to be cut back to the ground (if we’ve had a severe winter freeze). If we haven’t had a killing freeze, bougainvillea will still benefit from pruning lanky shoots by about 1/3, and removing limbs that are crossing over and rubbing against each other. BEWARE the thick, long thorns! They are no joke. Wear thick gloves and shoes with thick soles. Trust me on this one. It’s easy to step on a discarded limb. I’ve had thorn go up the sole of my tennis shoes before, ouch!


Interested in bougainvillea now? Well come get ’em! We have some beautiful selections at Rainbow Gardens right now, and more to come.

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy