Bougainvillea spectabilis, commonly known as bougainvillea, is one of the most common, and spectacular, plants in cultivated landscapes throughout Southern California. A shrub or vine, depending on the species type and cultivation practice, bougainvillea is well known for its strikingly colorful bracts (often confused for flowers). Once established, their drought tolerant qualities make them an excellent choice for the water wise garden.


Depending on whom you ask, bougainvillea has up to a couple dozen different species within its genus. These range in bract flower, size, growth habit, and care needs. Bougainvillea spectabilis is perhaps the most common in California. Their native climate is somewhat mixed, from tropical to arid (much like Southern California) making them an excellent choice for our gardens. Their water needs are low once established, but they do best with periodic irrigation.


The true flower of bougainvillea is small and usually white or cream. They are inconspicuous. Bougainvillea has what are called bracts, which are specialized leaves. These bracts come is a variety of eye-catching colors (red, white, purple, yellow, orange, pink, magenta) and are commonly mistaken for flowers.


The striking bracts (often mistaken for flowers) of bougainvillea come in many different colors. If you look closely you can see the true flowers of bougainvillea – the small white dots.



Landscape Planting – Bougainvillea spectabilis Basics 


Botanical Name: Bougainvillea spectabilis

Common Name: Bougainvillea

Type: perennial vine and shrub

Native Range: Brazil, Argentina, Peru

Size: 15 to 40 feet tall, 15 to 40 feet wide – some species and cultivars are significantly smaller

Bloom Time: Spring, summer, fall

Bloom Color: White and cream

Bract Color: Red, white, purple, yellow, orange, pink, magenta

Sun: Full sun

Growth Rate: Moderate to fast

Water & Soil: Low water needs once established. They prefer well draining soil, with moderate moisture, however they can endure drought and low water conditions

Maintenance: Depending on species and cultivar, bougainvillea needs periodic trimming. Fast growing, vining, and large species will need periodic heavy trimming to contain their size. These thorny plants can be labor intensive to trim.

Suggested Use: Hedges, vines, group planting



Bougainvillea thorns make them somewhat tricking to prune. One needs thick pruning gloves.


For landscape planting, bougainvillea grows best in full sun. With full bright sun you will find the colors of your bougainvillea more brilliant. They can grow in partial shade, however they will become leggy with thin foliage. Our landscape designers at Creative Concepts Landscape will be happy to look over your property and determine areas that are optimal for these types of plants.


Our designers can take a look at your property and see if bougainvillea’s needs can be met. We create a design plan for all of our consultations to determine what plants and needs match each individual property. Bougainvillea makes an excellent addition to colorful gardens, with their eye-catching arrays of deeply vibrant bracts. Their dark green, sprawling branches and leaves can be incorporated into many different design types. Creative Concepts Landscape will help to determine the best location on your property, or create the conditions to promote a healthy, beautiful garden.


Bougainvillea has low water requirements once established. Their irrigation can be turned off for long periods of time if there is sufficient rainwater. They have drought tolerant abilities, however, to look their best, they will need occasional supplemental water. Creative Concepts Landscape has installed many irrigation systems (drip and sprinkler), and we would be happy to take a look at your property to come up with a design that could meet aloe’s needs.


Bougainvillea prefers well-draining soils, which much of the soil in Southern California has. They can grow without too trouble in nutrient poor soils, however they do best with occasional nutrient fertilizers, in which case they will produce more flowers. Creative Concepts Landscape will determine what conditions would be best for aloe in your landscape and make the necessary additions or changes.



The orangish-yellow bracts of bougainvillea. One of the many color varieties these plants offer.


Pruning & Maintenance 


Bougainvillea has maintenance needs. It’s possible to leave them alone, mostly, however you might not care for the results. Larger and vining species need periodic pruning to manage their size, unless you want them to dominate an entire area. Pruning should be done in fall after the growing season. This way they will sprout new, often colorful growth in spring.  Pruning before fall will remove some, if not most, of the color that bougainvillea is prized for. Smaller species and varieties will also need occasional trimming to maintain their shape/size. Bougainvillea is thorny. Whomever does your maintenance will need thick pruning gloves to handle these plants. Vining bougainvillea, which is most species, will need to be trained to maintain and control their growth pattern.


These plants are drought tolerant, although they look their best with occasional irrigation. Providing supplemental water for these plants, especially while they are becoming established in the landscape, is often the highest maintenance requirement. Creative Concepts Landscape has been installing irrigation systems for over twenty years. We will be happy to schedule a consultation and come up with an irrigation system plan and install it. Creative Concepts landscape also repairs and refurbishes existing irrigation systems, so they are in optimal, efficient condition.


Creative Concepts Landscape has options for maintenance schedules. Many of our clients have us maintain their property weekly or two times a month, however we also offer periodic cleanups. These cleanups range from four times a year, twice a year, and sometimes once a year. We will be happy to talk with you and determine a maintenance/cleanup schedule that fits your property needs.


Some bougainvillea have multiple colors within the same plant and can even change their colors over time.


Landscape Uses 


Bougainvillea have such striking colors, that they can fit within many different landscape aesthetics, from cottage gardens (certain smaller species) to Mediterranean gardens. Their vining qualities make them excellent against walls for an established look, or large shrubs can be used as formidable, yet beautiful, hedges. Creative Concepts Landscape gets many requests for garden installations, of which aloes can be a beautiful addition. Our team of designers and technicians has decades of experience designing and installing gardens.


Creative Concepts Landscape creates a landscape plan and design for your specific property characteristics along with your wants. Our highly experienced designers will be able to see what plant types and layout will complement your landscape’s existing features to come up with a planting design plan.


There are multiple species and varieties of bougainvillea that can fit well in various locations of the landscape. These compact bougainvillea make for a more manageable, yet still absolutely eye-catching, landscape plant.



Thank you for joining us again in this week’s horticultural adventures. Please come back next Wednesday for out next blog post, and as always, contact us for all your landscape needs!


By Daniel Williams

Client Liaison for Creative Concepts Landscape