Harmattan blossoms: Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea are currently the most cultivated climbing decorative plants for their beautiful blooms. The bougainvillea brings lots of color to the garden. More than 15 species, heavily hybridized, over 300 different varieties, some quite subtle, while some varieties are really showy! Bougainvillea have to be one of the most gorgeous versatile, easiest to grow blooming plants.
Characterised by developing woody trunk over the years many people have managed to make beautiful bonsai with these plants. They are used a lot for the decoration of fences, walls, gardens, parks etc. What makes bougainvillea’s so attractive is not just its bold beautiful vining blooms, but their tolerance to near drought (low water) and salts conditions. This makes them terrific choices for hot climates and warm coastal areas. Another strength is the versatility of the plant, they take a lot of handling and pruning to shape or train to grow so easily in or on about any type of support. Lots of colors, shapes and sizes make it a befitting landscape plant for our climate and environment.
Because bougainvillea needs to be pruned and respond well, it can be trained to grow in a variety of shapes and sizes, as the plant is so resilient. It’s those beautiful vines that can be shaped around entryways or displayed on trellises and arbors; and the riot of colors on walls or fence lines that most of us appreciate when seeing bougainvillea. Other gardeners and landscapers love to grow in pots shaped into a ‘bush’ form; in hanging baskets either trained to branch or vine out, over arches for a romantic atmosphere, or it can even be used as a hedge, as it’s thorny branches can act as a protective barrier, although it looks good in and out of itself. They can be shaped as topiaries. Commonly grown as vine-type climbers or creepers, the tree form is becoming more and more popular.
Bougainvillea makes great bonsai plants. It is one the popular choice for a bonsai. They can easily be trained using a bonsai dish or other shallow dish. They look like small blooming trees. The sheer profusion of blooms or bracts on the bougainvillea finish off the amazing look of the plant which comes in a wide variety of beautiful colors and hues from light pink to dark pink, red, light and dark orange, yellow, peachy salmon, burgundy, purple fuchsia, white, pink and orange mix; pink and white mix, white and pink mix (rare), pink and yellow mix (rare), and now blue!. Bougainvillea come not only in a variety of blossom colors. The most stunning is the variegated in white or cream and green leaves which makes a dramatic backdrop for the bright spectacular blossoms. The magnificent blooms of bougainvillea, in the end, are what make it such a desirable flower; whether it is grown in the ground or in containers.
Where to plant Bougainvillea.
There are two basic requirements for where to plant bougainvillea for best results; in a sunny spots and warm temperatures-they are sun lovers and will grow best in full sun position. In well-drained soil and relatively hot and dry conditions, some gardeners even add some gravel around the plant to allow for better drainage. Bougainvillea don’t like too much watering. Water sparingly, too much watering, you’ll end up with all leaf growth and no flowers, or the plant will be water logged and rot. They are better suited to drier and warm temps- they need heat. That’s why at this time of the year during harmattan season; you can hardly walk two blocks with out a bougainvillea sighting. They are not fussy about soil type but it must drain freely. A mixture of loam and organic compost worked into native soil is what they like. If you’re planting bougainvillea in containers, make sure to choose one with plenty of drainage holes, since bougainvillea hate to have ‘wet feet’
Bougainvilleas are tough as can be but are real babies when it comes to their roots, Bougainvillea have thin fibrous root system, making them extremely sensitive to being mishandled in any way. Don’t touch or fool around with the roots in anyway or you could destroy the plant. You can hold them on the bottom of the plant, but don’t do anything more than that.
Propagation is easiest from stem cuttings. The soft woodcuttings from a healthy bougainvillea should be at least 1/8-inch thick and include 3 to 5 nodes (nodes are small protrusions on a plant stem). The cutting should be taken from a plant that has a minimum of about 3 months growth. Any sooner and it will be too young and much later, it would be a tough, gnarled piece that may not do well somewhere in the 3- month to 5-month growth should suffices to get best results. Plant your bougainvillea at least 12 inches apart. These plants have vigorous growth, and their thorns will make pruning difficult if they are too close. Unless you want a different type, once you get your first bougainvillea established there is no reason to have to acquire another one, as they are easily propagated via cutting. If you are planting a number of cuttings, simply repeat the process for each cutting. Snip leaves off completely from cuttings. Now put the cutting in a container with potting mix in it. Be sure to have some sand as part of the mixture, if you are able to, as this protects the cutting. Some gardeners use sand exclusively to propagate cuttings. Now poke a hole in the mix and place your cutting in it. Go about 2 inches deep. Firm up the soil around the cutting and then water it. Be sure all your containers or flats have good drainage.
Place plastic bags over the pots to increase the humidity make it faster, which should help the cutting to be successfully established. Place cuttings somewhere warm but out of full sun under a tree or something that filters the sun. In about 2 to 3 weeks you should see the cuttings beginning to grow. Do nothing at this time, just continue to water as needed and watch them until they establish themselves. Once they are ready, you can plant them where and how you wish, remember the fibrous root system is fragile, so handle them with care.
Growing in containers
As with growing Bougainvillea in the ground, a similar environment is needed in a pot or container for best results. Bougainvillea grown in containers must have good conditions to thrive, which means they should have a mix that includes sand and some compost. Some gravel in the mix so good drainage is ensured, as the major enemy of bougainvillea is too much water. They are especially susceptible to that in containers, if they don’t have good drainage. Placement of bougainvillea grown in containers must be in full sun.
They need pruning as they are vigorous growers. A healthy bougainvillea can grow several feet upwards of 100 feet. Speaking of prolific, these plants always require some pruning care from the gardener in order to force better blooming performance or trimming after each flowering cycles, which tend to run every 2 months. Be sure to wear gloves and sleeves protector when pruning- the majority of bougainvillea have long sharp thorns. Blood has been shed| Bougainvillea bloom on new wood. More pinching means more color
Uses in the landscape
Bougainvillea are very versatile. Use them as a vine, ground cover, hedge or tree. In containers, hanging baskets, in bonsai and topiary. There is not much greater of a scene in the flower world than to see a thriving bougainvillea trained and stretched along a wall, fence or arbor for all to enjoy.
Pests and Disease
There are few problems associated with the bougainvillea, with insect damage rare, as are diseases. Again, almost the entire game with bougainvillea is being sure not to over water the plant. Bougainvillea is one of the best options for terrific color and drought resistance in our tropical world; That is why planting in good drainage area is important in case of heavy rains. Also because it’s resistant to salt, it thrives wonderfully in the coastal regions. Bougainvillea is an immensely showy floriferous hardy plant, virtually peat free and disease resistant. It rewards its owner with an abundance of color and vitality when it is well looked after. So plant in area conducive to it’s needs, water it carefully, and then depending on what you want the plant to produce for you, prune it back after it blooms. Do that and they ‘ll keep producing and you’ll have fantastic ornamental flower to show off to family and friends so they can appreciate them as well.
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