My heart whispers: buy a bougainvillea

Chelsea Van Rijn
Chelsea Van Rijn Sarah Harvey

BOUGAINVILLEA. This one word causes shivers down my spine. I have vivid nightmares of this plant from my last house where three plants were slowly overtaking the house. A weekend of trimming, swearing when thorns dug in, a month of infected spots where the thorns had dug in and years of weedkilling the stump in vain in an attempt to kill these plants has made me scared of ever planting one again.

Yet as I drive through the fiveways near Ipswich Girls Grammar School my planting heart sings to me and silently whispers buy a bougainvillea. The bougainvilleas that are planted here, in Queens Park, are just amazing. Congratulations must go to the Queens Park Team for keeping this bougainvillea hedge looking remarkable - an entrance to Ipswich City we can be proud of!

So why did my bougainvilleas look so terrible and thorny yet the ones at the fiveways look amazing. Two different types of bougainvilleas?

Not really. While there are many different bougainvilleas the bougainvilleas at the fiveways look great for one simple reason - they are trimmed but not over cared for.

Bougainvilleas love a free-draining soil and do not like having excess water around their roots. Positioned in full hot sun will give the best results. They can tolerate frosts once established but need protection when young.

I find it is best to fertilise bougainvilleas with a small amount of Organic Link after winter and regularly with either granular Sulphate of Potash or a liquid fertiliser called 'Silica and Potash'. This helps promote the colourful flowers and not green growth.

While established bougainvilleas are almost impossible to kill, in the early stage in a pot they have very small sensitive root systems and it is very important to be gentle when potting them or planting them. Support the stem with your hand and gently invert the pot, tapping it off to expose the roots. When planting out, the roots of bougainvilleas should never be teased out.

Bougainvilleas and thorns are synomous with each other. Thorns are usually on the old growth. To help prevent thorns forming on the new growth try not to over water and trim after flowering as it is believed that thorns can appear when the flower buds drop off. If a bougainvillea is consistently trimmed after flowering you can not only prevent thorns growing but also encourage new flowers.

There are dwarf bougainvilleas and normal bougainvilleas, I find they both can grow quite large or can be kept small. I find the dwarf ones are just slower growing.

Bougainvilleas are seemingly free of pests and diseases and are ideal as screening plants or feature plants. They look great in pots too. As Bougainvilleas love being pruned they can easily be trained into a bonsai or look great as a topariry. Southbank Parklands have trained them very successfully into a living roof for their walkways.

They are versatile and drought tolerant, and with regular pruning they make an ideal choice for warm climate gardens. I may just in the future contemplate a bougainvillea hedge for my formal garden's maze!

Topics:  chelsea van rijn gardening opinion

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