If you’re looking for a tough, water-wise plant that’ll give you loads of summer colour, you can’t go wrong with bougainvilleas
Bougainvilleas originated in South America and the colourful flowers are actually not flowers at all, but bracts. The real flowers, tiny white ones, are hidden in the centre of the bracts.
Choosing the right one
There are loads of different varieties and a wide range of colours. Before you buy one, first decide how you want to use it – in a container, as a colour accent, to cover a bank or scramble over a wall. If you have a small garden then choose one of the dwarf varieties that only grow up to one and half metres high. They’re very colourful and look good in pots.
Bougainvilleas are ideal for growing against a boundary wall as they make an excellent security barrier. If you’ve ever pruned one, you’ll know how vicious the thorns can be.
Bougainvilleas love the heat and grow best in full sun. When planting, get them off to a good start by digging a large hole and adding a cup of superphosphate or bone meal to the bottom of the planting hole and loads of compost to the top soil. They much prefer sandy, well-draining soil to clay.
Watering and fertilising
To encourage them to produce colourful bracts, give them a potash-rich fertiliser like 3.1.5 or 2.3.4 after each flush. But don’t overfeed or you’ll get loads of leaves as opposed to colour.
Experts recommend that plants grown in summer rainfall areas be kept on the dry side in winter and early spring to encourage a good summer flush. But they do need some watering and the important thing is not to let plants dry out completely.
As they’re tropical plants, they’re not frost hardy so plant them against a heat retaining, north-facing wall and where they are protected from cold winds. If your area is really cold, then plant them in containers that can be moved to sheltered spot in winter.
The golden rule with bougainvilleas is not to let them get out of hand. Trim them regularly as they can take over very quickly and then you’ll need professional help to cut them back. And always wear long sleeves and gloves when pruning them.
Picking for the vase
If you want to use them in flower arrangements, remove all the leaves and thorns and crush the ends of the stems. Place the ends in a jug of boiling water to which a tablespoon of vinegar has been added. Leave them in the water for a couple of minutes. Then recut the stems just before arranging.