How to Grow Crazy Sexy Bougainvillea in Las Vegas

bougainvillea, how to grow bougainvillea, how to protect bougainvillea from the cold

 

Ah, bougainvillea. People seem to either love this plant or hate it, and their feelings are usually based on whether or not they’ve ever had to take care of one before. They are, after all, gorgeous when they’re in bloom, putting on a brilliant and eye-catching display of color all summer long. Trouble is, once they’re established, bougainvilleas can grow like a weed, sprawling out 15’ or more over the course of a season and requiring frequent trimming in order to keep the vine in check. Oh, and did I mention the thorns?

 

bougainvillea, how to grow bougainvillea, how to protect bougainvillea from the cold

Because bougainvillea grows freely along the side of the highways in Southern California, a lot of people assume that it should do just as well here in Vegas. After all, we’re only a few hours away by car, right?

It’s important to realize, however, that there’s a decent little mountain range between us and Southern California, so our climate is substantially different than that of San Diego or L.A., where people put on a jacket and scarf when the temperature dips below 60°F.

Ok, to be fair, I’ve seen that done here, too.

Nonetheless, Las Vegas does get colder than Southern California, and bougainvilleas have an intense dislike for the cold. These plants have an especially sensitive root system, which means that until they’re well-established, there’s a good chance that they’ll be damaged by a hard frost. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be grown here, but it does mean that you’ll want to plant them in the right spot and take a little extra care for the first couple of winters they’re a part of your garden. So let’s get into the specifics of how to grow bougainvillea in Las Vegas.

 

Where to plant a bougainvillea:

A lot of people don’t realize that bougainvillea can take about as much sun as you can throw at them. In fact, it really needs at least a good half-day of sun in order to bloom, and most varieties will do just fine with a blast of all day Mojave sunlight beating down on them. The only exceptions to this rule are those varieties that bloom in lighter colors or that have variegated leaves. They’ll do best in an area that gets a lot of morning sun and that’s shaded in the afternoon.

As previously mentioned, what no type of bougainvillea likes is cold weather, which means that a south-facing wall with all day sun exposure in the wintertime is really the optimal place for them. You might not think it would matter, since the plant will be dormant and look fairly well dead, but that wall will reflect the warmth from the sun onto the ground in front of it, right about where the roots of your bougainvillea are located. A wall will also act as a shield for the plant against the prevailing cold north winds of the winter months, protecting the roots even further.

The next best place for a bougainvillea would be on a west-facing wall. If you don’t have these conditions in your garden, you may want to think about planting in a container, so that you can move it inside for the winter. Bougainvilleas will do just fine in a pot, given that it has good drainage and plenty of room for its roots to grow.

 

When to plant a bougainvillea:

The best time for planting a bougainvillea in Las Vegas is in the spring, after the last chance of frost, which falls in the middle of March. Get it in well before we start to get really hot in late May, so it can ease into the scorching heat of the summer sun. Remember too that the earlier in the season you plant, the more established your bougainvillea will be when the cold hits.

 

bougainvillea, how to grow bougainvillea, how to protect bougainvillea from the cold

 

How to encourage established roots:

The sensitive root system of bougainvillea should be treated with care, both during planting and afterwards. If you’re planting in the ground, be sure to dig the hole wide and then amend the local soil with a richer planting mix. You’ll want to add in a good starter fertilizer too, since the soil here is effectively nutrient-free. For pots, use a well-drained potting soil with a built-in starter fertilizer to get your plant established.

In order to disrupt the roots as little as possible, use a box cutter to slice away the bottom of the plastic container that the bougainvillea comes in. Place it in the hole, and then gently slide the rest of the container up over the plant. Fill in using the amended soil and fertilizer mixture, being careful that you aren’t disturbing the roots as you go.

Once you’ve got the plant in the ground or pot, it’s a good idea to apply a transplant shock preventer. This will help to soothe the roots and mitigate stress on the plant, in much the same way that a strong vodka tonic works on some people I know.

The way you water your bougainvillea will have a big impact on its health and can be a major factor in whether or not it comes back after the winter. It’s important that you water deeply and infrequently, allowing the top layer of soil to dry out between drinks. These plants are, by nature, fairly drought-tolerant, and they won’t like having the top layer of soil wet all the time. Watering a little bit all the time will also encourage surface roots, which can mean death for a cold-tender plant in Las Vegas. Send the water down deep and the roots will follow, eventually making it to a point in the soil where the temperature is consistent year-round.

 

How to protect a bougainvillea from the cold:

Most people assume they’ll need to wrap their whole plant in burlap when the cold weather hits, but that’s actually not the way to protect a bougainvillea from the cold. Instead, just head out in October and wrap some burlap around the base of the plant in order to protect the roots.

Bear in mind that you’ll only need to do this for the first couple of winters, since once it’s properly established, the roots will be stronger and deep enough for the plant to take care of itself.

 

How to get an established bougainvillea that comes back year after year:

Now, I have to tell you the number one mistake that I see people make every single spring when it comes to bougainvillea (and a lot of other heat-loving plants, for that matter). After they’ve gone to all the trouble of planting their bougainvillea with such care, watering it precisely so, and protecting it from the winter cold, what do they do to kill it in less than a day?

They rip it out of the ground in April and bring it back into the nursery for a replacement.

And then we have the following conversation:

“It’s dead. The cold killed it. It’s not coming back,” they say, holding an uprooted wad of sticks in their hand.

“It wouldn’t have come back yet. It’s not hot enough,” I reply, sweating from the heat.

“It’s 90° out! How is that possibly not hot enough??”  (Yes, we often get to 90° in April in Vegas. Which, to be fair, does seem hot, if you’re not a bougainvillea).

bougainvillea, how to grow bougainvillea, how to protect bougainvillea from the cold

These plants will not come back in April, or possibly even May, for the first couple of years. They want it hot, and I mean, really, really hot, before they’ll even think about waking up from their winter sleep. One thing that you have to be aware of when you’re gardening in the desert is that while the daytime temperatures may be hitting the upper 80°’s and lower 90°’s, the nighttime temps are probably still somewhere in the upper 50°’s and 60°’s. That’s jacket weather for these plants. Remember, they’re from L.A.

After all the hard work you’ve put into getting your bougainvillea settled in, all you really need to do is be patient with it in the springtime. Oh, sure, hit it with some fertilizer in late April or early May, but otherwise, just sit back and wait. When it does start to come back, probably in late May or early June, it’ll start from the base. At first it might look like you’re going to have a pathetic little shrub all summer long. And then, all of the sudden, when the 110° heat kicks in, that vine will take off like nobody’s business and you’ll have one of the prettiest, thorniest weeds that you ever did see.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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35 Comments

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  • I wish I could go back in time and discover your blog BEFORE I killed two bougainvillea plants! Homicide…It won’t happen again. I appreciate your knowledge, candour and humor. Great job. I will visit often to stay educated and informed. I am a modestly knowledgeable gardener who has been entrusted with the care and maintenance of the land around a commercial business. I am paid to pick and choose what is planted and I am grateful for the opportunity. Thanks again

    • Nice! I’m glad to hear that you’re making it a point to get to know your plant material. I’m sorry for the late response but if you have a minute, I’d love to know if you had a Bougainvillea make it through last winter. It was a mild one 🙂

  • I have a 16×6 area in back yard that will not grow grass. I want to put in planter boxes and grow herbs vegetables and cutting flowers. Any suggestions on what and when for Las Vegas. From Colorado and California and miss my garden. Area gets afternoon sun. Thank you so much for any suggestions

    • Hi Deborah,
      Thank you for the question and your patience. This is actually a great time to plant some winter veggies in Vegas and afternoon sun should be just perfect for this season. Put in some lettuce, cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower now and keep in mind that strawberries go through the year here, though they do prefer some afternoon shade in the summer months. Also, welcome to Vegas! Please keep in mind that you can have a beautiful garden here too, it just takes some getting to know what you’re working with. And ask away!

  • We’re new to Las Vegas and planted a bougainvillea in late Sept which I now know is the wrong time of year. My question is, beside protecting the roots and area around the base of the bougainvillea for winter, should I be cutting back my five foot plant to about 12 to 18 inches ??? Recommended by a landscaper.

    • Hi Bill, welcome to Vegas! There’s no need to cut it back so drastically, especially it’s first year in. If you want to cut it back a bit to get stray limbs out of the way though, it should be just fine. Be patient with it next spring and if it comes back, it’ll start at the very base of the plant. It will eventually stop growing at the point where any cold damage occurred and you can cut it there. That way you’re not cutting back live tissue unnecessarily. Bear in mind that once an established Bougainvillea is a pretty tough plant so you can (and will likely need to) cut it back in the spring. Good luck!

  • Hello! I recently purchased a Bougainvillea (4/19/18) and just need some good guidance. Your article had some really good points for our Vegas weather!! So thank you!
    Can I send you some pics so you can guide me on which direction I should take for this little one? I love these plants so much and I want it to survive! I will be planting in a pot so any recommendations would be appreciated also!

    Thanks for your time!

  • I just had one survive our muild winter in it’s pot, and while this is a wonderful surprise, I’m not sure what I should do (soil wise) to keep it happy. I’m afraid to re-pot it or remove any old potting soil to refresh it with new soil because the root system is so fragile. How long can it stay in the pot with just fertilizer?

    • Hi Wendy, congrats on your Bougainvillea making it through the winter! The good news is you really don’t have to do much for it from here out. They’re not fussy about soil and they’re actually pretty drought tolerant so just don’t over love it to death. Depending on the size of the pot you have it in it could stay in there for its lifetime. If that’s the plan the pot should be large enough to fit at least a 15g plant and bigger would be even better. If you do need to move it to a larger pot just be very careful about disrupting the root system. I’ve even gently cracked an old container into pieces to avoid having to rip out a plant that was bound up in it. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  • Could bougainvilleas be planted in the summer? Or is it best to wait until Spring? You really do possess the “gift”, steady on Martian Gardener….

    • Hey thanks, BK. You can definitely plant a Bougainvillea in the heat and I’d say the sooner the better. If you can’t get it in before the end of September it’s probably best to hold off until the middle of spring though. If you do get it in this summer be sure to mulch up around the roots this winter and don’t give up on it flushing back out before June. Patience makes a good gardener 🙂

  • I just bought 5 bougainvilleas, Moon valley is going to plant them on the first of Sep, now I am afraid it’s too late to plant them due to winter is coming soon, should I hold off till the following March or it’s ok to plant them on Sep?

    Thank u for ur help!

    • Hi Elisabeth,
      You should be okay with putting them in in September. Just be sure to protect the roots this winter and be patient next spring. You may not see leaves on it before late May if it’s in a shady spot. Good luck!

  • Hi Elisabeth,

    I just notice that a small white (maybe gray) bug is eating the leafs on my bougainvillea. Some of the leafs have holes where eaten, while other show white marks of discoloration. Would a soap and water spray work or do I need to buy something commercially?
    Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
    Bill LV

    • Hi Bill,
      Bougainvillea tend to be pretty pest and disease-resistant in my experience, though you may see minimal damage from a few insects. If they’re eating the leaves, it’s probably a caterpillar, in which case you’ll want to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacteria that kills caterpillars without harming beneficial insects. If there’s a half-moon pattern cut from the edge of the leaf it’s a leafcutter bee and she’s beneficial to your garden so no treatment is the best treatment. I hope this helps!

  • Wonderful resource. Thank you.

    I have a west-facing entry patio that’s about 12×15. It’s covered with a trellace that allows good light on the north side of the patio all day and then full sun at the entrance of the patio from the west after 1pm. It’s partially shaded along the southern side for the most part except in high summer when it may get more of the afternoon sun. There’s a 4ft wall on the west end shading the ground just inside the patio.

    I’d like to plant bougainvillea just inside the patio entrance on the west end – on the north side so the plant will enjoy the most sunny spot.

    Questions:

    Will the plant suffer if it’s roots are in the shade (watered infrequently and deeply)? I figured this would help in the winter.

    I’d like the plant to grow up in this hottest location and cover the trellace of the patio eventually where it would get full sun all day. My concern was for the root in the shade.

    Also, do you have a recommendation for a fragrant jasmine that will climb and how must light do they like.

    Many thanks!! Catherine

    • Hi Catherine,
      The Bougainvillea will probably be okay in that spot but I’d definitely mulch around the base for the winter. You may have to be extra patient in the late spring/early summer too, especially for the first couple of years. More sunlight and warmer soil are the plants indicators it’s time to wake up so it may not happen until early June when it’s young. The other thing I should mention is that the plant may be pretty bare at the base if it’s not getting much sunlight there, which is true of most vines.
      As for jasmine, there are couple that come to mind that do well in Vegas. You can do Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambuc) in a spot with some shade or filtered light and a rich, amended soil. It’ll take sun but not a real blast of reflected heat. There’s also star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which is a reliable bloomer with a long flowering season and a very fragrant flower, even though it’s not a true jasmine. It looks best with a little shade too but will take more sun than the Arabian jasmine. You’ll still want to amend the soil though. Good luck!

  • I love all the good advice you have! I have a one year old bougainvillea, planted in a raised garden, that is doing well, actually still flowering. However it is not where it should be, nor where I want it. How can I safely transplant it?
    Thank you,
    Valerie

    • Hi Valerie,
      Congrats on your Bougainvillea. If you want to move it, do it this spring in late March or early April and do everything you can to avoid disrupting the root system. That means you should dig deep and wide to take it up and then be as gentle as possible putting it into its new spot. Bougainvilleas are tough plants but they do have a sensitive root system so the less they’re moved the better. Also, woody plants like that don’t always love being transplanted once they’ve started to get established so there’s still a chance it might not survive the transition even if you do everything right. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you both!

  • Can’t say enough Thank You! Bougainvillea is my favorite plant in the universe. We have bougainvillea everywhere in my hometown (southern China). I just moved to Vegas and ready to plant a few. Wondering where I can get them. Any nursery in town have them in this season?

    Thank U!

    • Welcome to town! The nurseries should start bringing in Bougainvillea plants within the next few weeks. I’d check Star, Lowe’s and Home Depot for a variety of colors. Good luck, my new fellow Martian 🙂

  • Hey! So glad I found this blog. Moved from Florida and am very lost and frustrated with Vegas gardening. I’m planting a bougainvilla in a planter and hoping to stake it to get it to grow up towards a wall. How large can I expect a boug to grow within a planter only? Also, is partial shade in Vegas too little sun for a boug? Folks at Lowe’s told me that “full sun” in Vegas will kill my boug but I’m still prone to think it needs more than my shady wall. . . Thoughts? Thanks a bunch in advance! This blog rocks!

    • Hi Smithy, Welcome to Vegas!
      The size of the Bougainvillea will depend on what variety you plant. Remember they do have a sensitive root system so it’d be a good idea to start with a container that’s a little large so you won’t have to transplant it again too soon. The folks at Lowe’s straight up lied to you. Full sun here is great for a Bougainvillea but I’ve seen them do just fine with some shade. Remember that you can increase the light in that area with a mirror or one of those reflective gazing balls. Let me know how it goes. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Hi! We have two bougainvillea plants on our property (love them!) one is on a south facing wall but is shaded some of the day by the house and the other is on a north facing wall so when we look out our office window we see the plant instead of the plain, boring wall :-). Anyway….the one on the south facing wall has lots of blooms but no leaves and the one on the north facing wall is very leafy with few blooms. Thoughts?? Of course we’d love the perfect combo of leaves and blooms. Thank you for any advice!

    • Hi Anne,
      The plant on the south side has been getting a lot more sun than the one on the north wall so it’s blooming first but it’ll catch up. Bougies just want to bloom for you so hang on to your britches lady because it’s about to knock your socks off with it’s beauty and then your britches’ll be the only thing preserving your modesty. Happy gardening 🙂

  • I bought a sad little bougainvillea at the store 2 weeks ago and it was in pretty good shape. I know ideally you don’t want to buy this late, but being a gardener from the PNW, we LOVE plants, I couldn’t resist helping a plant out. My problem is I think I may have some kind of bug chomping away at it , my established pomegranate tree leaves, and a few others in the yard. It is virtually demolished and sad. I wondered if you had any recommendations on how to save it my potted friend, what wall facing should it be in, since it hasn’t been in my yard long, and should I use a different soil them an organic gardening soil?
    I appreciate any and all help, this is my first year in my home and I would love to do it right.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Apryl, I hope it isn’t too late to save your little Bougie. It’s perfectly fine to plant it at this time of year, you’ll just need to make sure it’s getting adequate water through the heat. Although it’s really hard to diagnose what’s going on with plants without pictures, I’ll offer what I can. the only thing I can think of that might be chomping on all those leaves is a leafcutter bee, which makes little half-moon cuts to the leaves of certain plants in spring and summer. They’re beneficial insects and generally damaging to the plants they cut from so there’s no need to treat for them. I hope this helps 🙂

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