I used to have dozens of houseplants, but over the years I’ve cut way back. Today, there are only three plants in the sunny, southeast corner of my dining room and all three are bougainvilleas. They are orchid-pink ‘Texas Dawn’, the deeper pink ‘Barbara Karst’ and sunny yellow ‘California Gold’.
These plants started out in little 2” pots that I got from one of my favorite wintertime escapes: Logee’s Greenhouse in Danielson, Ct.,(due west of Providence, R.I., just over the Connecticut line). Before I fade away completely in a daydream about the botanical wonders that live beneath Logee’s ancient glass roofs, I’ll just tease you with the image of a 100-year old Ponderosa lemon tree that fills one entire greenhouse. If you can’t visit in person, Logees has a great catalog and web site. OK, back to my bougainvilleas. If you have a sunny indoor space, order yourself a couple plants. They are dead easy to grow. When I was in Mexico and Puerto Rico, I learned why, after all these years, mine are still alive. They grow like weeds along the sides of the road with very little water and very poor soil. It’s a lot like growing in my house!
Bougainvilleas actually respond well to abuse. Like many plants, they set flower after a rest period of reduced water and fertilizer. Mine bloom almost year-round and I think it’s partly because I always let them go completely dry between waterings. When I see the leaves are wilting, that’s when I water.
Winter and early spring are the most difficult time for house-bound bougainvilleas. Some years all three of my plants get completely encrusted with whitefly and aphids. The plants are so big now that I can’t muscle them upstairs to the shower. So I have to wait until a warm early spring day, when I can drag them out onto the deck and hose them down.
My bougainvilleas are trained on a variety of different trellises. A nice thing about ‘Texas Dawn’ is that it stays very compact (for me, at least). It’s the shortest of the plants in the picture (at the back), yet requires little to no pruning to maintain this compact form. The other two varieties get cut back pretty severely every year or two. Most of the time, I just wind any wayward stems back into the plants to keep them from taking over the dining room.
As for fertilizer, I spread a couple cups of worm castings (which I make in my Worm Chalet) on the top of each pot about twice a year. When the plants aren’t resting, I also give them liquid fertilizer every time I water.
The only downside to growing bougainvilleas indoors is that they’re messy. All those clouds of papery flowers eventually drop to the floor. I’m not a fussy housekeeper, so this doesn’t really bother me. But if you keep your house as neat as a pin, bougainvilleas probably aren’t for you.