The vibrant color of bougainvillea adds a welcome splash of color to southwestern landscapes, and despite their lush green appearance, they thrive in hot, dry climates with little fuss. There are several different species of bougainvillea with Bougainvillea glabra, B. peruviana, and B. spectabilis being the most common.
Native to South America, this drought-tolerant plant comes available as shrubs, vines, as well as pruned up into trees. All bougainvillea have thorns. This tropical plant is grown in Zone 9 and 10 gardens and is frost tender, meaning that it will suffer damage when temperatures dip below freezing.
Their requirements are minimal – plant them in a sunny spot and water deeply and allow them to dry out in between irrigation. In fact, bougainvillea shrubs are one of the best choices for a hot, west-facing wall with hot reflected heat where many other plants struggle to survive.
Though magenta is the most common color, there are more than 300 different varieties of bougainvillea, many available in a variety of colors, including magenta, red, orange, white, and even golden yellow. It’s interesting to note that the colorful parts of this plant aren’t actually flowers, but bracts, which are specialized leaves that surround the tiny flower. The real flower is small and cream colored and is located in the middle of the bracts.
To be honest, many people have a love/hate relationship with this tropical beauty – they love the color and lush foliage but hate the mess that their fallen bracts cause, so this isn’t a plant that belongs next to a pool or courtyard where its debris can collect. However, you can still enjoy their beauty while minimizing the mess. One way to do this is to plant them in a container as they do exceptionally well in pots and stay smaller, thereby producing less litter.
‘Torch Glow’ is a unique type of bougainvillea with artfully arranged branches with the color localized at the tips. They produce less debris than other varieties.
While bougainvilleas are easy to grow, caterpillars can sometimes be a problem. The damage shows up as ragged leaves, and it’s rare to see the caterpillars, which are very small. Typically, the damage is minor and doesn’t harm the plant, however. More severe infestations can be treated with the organic pesticide BT (Bacillus thurengiensis).
To maximize their colorful impact, plant bougainvillea in full sun in a high-profile area. Bougainvillea will grow in light shade but will produce fewer flowers with more of their attractive foliage on display.
Did you know that up to 70 percent of water use is outdoors? That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. You can learn more about Saguaros and other plants on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page. Visit our page on Choosing and Planting Low Water-Use Plants for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly. Also, be sure to read through all of our featured Plant of the Month blogs!
From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. This article originally appeared on June 4, 2018 by Noelle Johnson, and is being reprinted with permission from Southwest Gardening, Fun with plants in a dry climate, which is a blog written by four gardening experts from the Southwest. Learn about their contributors, books, product reviews, and speaking/consulting services at www.swgardening.com.