Gardening: Bougainvillea in bloom

Eileen Ward

When the bougainvillea is in bloom, everyone wants to know what the beautiful flowering plants seen all over the island are. This plant is without a doubt one of our most bright and colorful tropical plants.

Bougainvillea in bloom

While they will flower somewhat all year, the height of the flowering season is now through late spring. The flowering will slow dramatically when the rainy weather begins in June. If you decide to include a bougainvillea into your landscape, be prepared to suffer unsightly bougainvilleas in December and January due to the cold weather.

Unfortunately, a lot of our bougainvillea suffered severe damage in Hurricane Irma. Now would be the time to prune it back to green wood to see if it will regrow. If your bougainvillea does not recover by flushing new growth it probably will not and it would be best to replace it.

They are big thorny plants with a dense, spreading habit of growth. Its common height is 10' to 12' but the bougainvillea can sometimes reach 40' to 50' in height. The dwarf variety will reach only 3' to 4' in height. If you are not careful when pruning this shrub you will carry the scars for life.

File: A lone rider in Tour de Marco enjoys the beauty of Marco Island in the estates area, with lots of colorful bougainvillea along the roadside.

The bright flowers make the hard work of caring for the plant worthwhile. Actually it is the bract surrounding the flower that furnishes the brilliant color. Colors range from red to white, peach, purple or crimson. Afterglow comes in varying shades of yellow, orange and salmon. It is especially striking when many colors are planted together in a group planting.

Bougainvillea does well in any soil type. It blooms best in full sun and when on the dry side. It is a very drought tolerant plant. It can be killed to the ground during a freeze but will usually regrow with the onset of warmer weather.

Bougainvillea is an aggressive grower with a naturally informal character. It is lovely beyond compare when allowed to scramble over an arbor or a wall. It can withstand heavy trimming but it does flower on new growth and blooming may be slowed when pruned in hedge form. The best choices for a hedge are the Elizabeth Angus or New River variety.

The most persistent and damaging pest of the bougainvillea is the bougainvillea caterpillar. It is about one inch long and is green in color. It eats the leaves giving the plant a tattered look. When you touch the plant, the caterpillars drop unobserved to the ground leaving most people wondering what is eating their bougainvillea plants. The brown moth which lays the eggs from which the caterpillars develop is about 1 1/4 inches in length. The moth is busy laying eggs during the warmer months. Chemical controls include Thuricide, Dipel, or Sevin. Dipel and Thuricide are a more natural control using bacillus thuringiensis, which will control only caterpillars and will not harm the beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps.

Following are some varieties and their colors: Barbara Karst (red); California Gold (gold); Elizabeth Angus (large purple); Helen Johnson (dwarf red); James Walker (magenta pink); Miami Pink (pink); Ms. Alice (white); New River (dark purple); Pink Pixie (dwarf pink); Raspberry Ice (red); Rosenka (dwarf gold/pink); Silhouette (light purple); Sundown Orange (orange); Surprise (single pink); Viki (pink and white).

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.