We tend to associate the bright and beautiful perennial Bougainvillea plant with exotic tropical climes, but with due care and consideration they can be grown successfully in the UK.
With some effort and the right knowledge of their needs you can enjoy those vibrant bougainvillea blooming bracts even in the wettest, coldest parts of the country if you grow them in pots and keep them indoors during the winter.
Where to plant Bougainvillea in the UK
The first thing to be aware of is that bougainvillea thrive in full sun, and prefer temperatures of 10 degrees or more at night and up to 38 degrees in the daytime. Frost is a definite no-no!
The way to get around this in our chilly climate is to plant them in containers and grow them in a conservatory or greenhouse, putting them outdoors in a south facing spot during the height of summer. If you live in the extreme south west of Cornwall bougainvillea can flourish in a sheltered sunny outdoor spot all year round.
An important consideration is to remember bougainvillea are large and vigorous climbers, so they need a lot of space and a trellis for support. It is possible to prune some varieties into standards, including the popular Barbara Karst.
They need a well-drained slightly acidic soil – and a large pot with plenty of drainage holes – because bougainvillea don’t like having their roots bogged down in moisture.
Take note that bougainvillea have thorny limbs so don’t position the plant in a doorway or gateway where it may be a hazard.
Caring for Bougainvillea in the UK
After the winter hibernation bougainvillea burst into life in early spring and will grow quickly and prolifically. As leaf buds appear the plant needs a good watering (with rain water if possible) every two weeks or so – allow it to dry out between waterings.
From the middle of April on feed your bougainvillea each week with a fertiliser with a high nitrogen content. As the bracts show their colours include potash in the feed.
With care and attention your bougainvillea will reward you with a magnificent display of vividly coloured bracts. If flowering is not prolific in the summer months it is probably due to over-watering, so let the plant dry out until the leaves droop, then begin watering again less frequently.
Cut down feeding and watering when flowering stops (usually in early autumn) – once a month will see them through the winter, when they’re likely to drop their leaves as temperatures drop.
You should prune bougainvillea in late winter to tidy them up and keep them in shape to a manageable size, and make sure they are well fixed onto a trellis or support.
Some growers suffer from a skin rash caused by bougainvillea sap, and the plants are thorny, so gloves are advisable when handling the plant. Note, bougainvillea can be mildly toxic to dogs if they consume it, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Westdale Nurseries are UK bougainvillea experts. We propagate and sell dozens of brilliant bougainvillea varieties online and if you contact us we are only too happy to advise on the care of your bougainvillea wherever you live in the UK.