Bougainvillea perform their best in containers

Published 5:40 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

By Eddie Smith
MSU Extension Service

If you’re considering adding some vibrant color to your landscape, bougainvillea might be the perfect choice.

Mississippi’s climate can be quite different from the tropical regions where bougainvillea is native, but with a little care and attention, you can successfully grow these stunning plants.
You can grow bougainvillea in containers as a climbing vine, shrub or small tree.

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Because bougainvilleas are not cold hardy in most of Mississippi, it is best to keep them in containers and bring them inside during the winter.

I have grown several bougainvillea plants over the years in hanging baskets on my front porch. Their colorful and papery bracts, which are often mistaken for flowers, come in shades of pink, purple, red, orange, white or yellow. The colors are really attractive, even from afar.

Two years ago, I went on an awesome trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. I soaked in all the stunning sights from smoking volcanoes to sandy beaches, but what really caught my eye was the beautiful bougainvillea plants and other tropical plants.

In Hawaii, bougainvillea plants can get up to 40 feet tall. Unfortunately, it is often too cold in most of Mississippi to plant these in the ground so they can reach their full potential.

Bougainvillea thrives in warm climates and prefers full sun exposure. In Mississippi, they should be treated as an annual if planted in the ground. When planting bougainvillea, choose a container with well-drained soil to prevent root rot.

While bougainvillea is relatively drought-tolerant once established, regular watering promotes healthy growth and flowering. Overwatering can lead to root problems, so it’s essential to strike a balance.

These plants are heavy feeders and respond best to a water-soluble fertilizer applied at least once a week during summer and fall. With a lot of light and constant feeding, these plants will bloom for many months of the year.

Pruning is crucial for maintaining the plant’s shape and promoting flowering.

Be cautious when handling the plant, as the sharp thorns can give you a nasty poke. Prune after each flowering cycle to remove spent blooms and encourage new growth. Regular pruning also helps control the size of the plant and keeps it from getting unruly.

If growing your bougainvillea as a climbing vine in a container, provide a sturdy support structure such as a trellis. As the plant grows, gently guide branches along the support system, securing them with soft ties as needed. Regularly check the ties to prevent girdling or damage to stems.

During the winter, protect your plant from freezing temperatures. One way to do this is to place it in a room with a sunny window where it will continue to thrive.

I recommend bougainvillea as a stunning addition to gardens and landscapes, providing a burst of color and beauty with minimal maintenance needs. You can enjoy the plant year-round when you provide the right growing conditions and regular pruning.

Whether grown as a climbing vine, shrub or tree, bougainvillea is sure to brighten an indoor or outdoor space with its dazzling display of vibrant bracts.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Eddie Smith is a gardening specialist and Pearl River County coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He is also host of the popular Southern Gardening television program. Locate Southern Gardening products online at]