The bountiful rich colors of bougainvilleas we see this season are the result of three things: culture, weather and pruning. This magnificent show of color is a near record, brought on by the warm, dry winter weather and last year’s rainy summer. With a few simple steps, you can make your own bougainvilleas reach these high standards of quality, too.

First, starting now, fertilize your plants with a fertilizer that’s specifically made for this type of plant (or with a high-quality palm fertilizer). Repeat this step in August. The plants will grow robustly with such fertilizing. You should take advantage of this vigor by pruning the plants heavily after each fertilization to foster more branch tips, which leads to more flowers. Cut the plants back by at least one-third of their height and width at each pruning. Stop fertilizing and pruning in late October, and make sure the plants don’t get watered (unless they wilt).

If possible, turn off the irrigation near the plants so that they go into winter with very little water and fertilizer – especially after mid-November. The plants should flower to their best potential with a little “tough love,” simulating the natural conditions of a rainy summer and a dry winter. Give the plants as much direct sunshine as possible and don’t over-cultivate them in the pleasant weather of November to April. The brilliance of your bougainvilleas will really show off. 


Craig Morell is the head horticulturist for Pinecrest Gardens. You can follow his blog “Ask the Plant Guy” at