from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Growing Bougainvillea Indoors

Bougainvilleas require lots of light when they're grown indoors. Mine are happy in the southeast corner of my dining room. This photo was taken during February—it was 20 degrees and snowing outside.

Bougainvilleas require lots of light when they’re grown indoors. Mine are happy in the southeast corner of my dining room. This photo was taken during February —— it was 20 degrees and snowing outside.

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, RI, 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.

15 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010    

    I LOVE bougainvillea and you had me sold on putting mine indoors instead of the storage shed for the Winter till you got to the ‘encrusted with whiteflies and aphids’ part…lol. I’m trying to avoid extra Winter work, as every year I say I’m not going to cover all of my plants anymore. Then every cold snap, I drag out all of the old blankets and tarps. I always say that if they can’t make it on their own, I don’t need them! But, I can’t resist. Thanks for the info and ideas though.

  2. Anonymous
    September 29, 2010    

    I LOVE bougainvillea and you had me sold on putting mine indoors instead of the storage shed for the Winter till you got to the ‘encrusted with whiteflies and aphids’ part…lol. I’m trying to avoid extra Winter work, as every year I say I’m not going to cover all of my plants anymore. Then every cold snap, I drag out all of the old blankets and tarps. I always say that if they can’t make it on their own, I don’t need them! But, I can’t resist. Thanks for the info and ideas though.

  3. November 7, 2010    

    I got 5 Bougainvillea Vera Purple from Logees three weeks ago and they immediately dropped all their blossoms and most of their leaves. I have five east or south windows in my kitchen, but they crave the sun lamp that I’ve dragged out of the basement. What’s left of them looks healthy. They’re in five inch pots and Logees said to transplant them to 6 inch clay pots within the next month — but I’ve also been told NEVER to transplant until Spring. They are not rootbound. I adore them but so far, these are more trouble than a litter of puppies. Any advice?

  4. November 8, 2010    

    My bougainvillea came from Logees, too! They started out in little 3″ pots but grew quickly. Plan now for a sturdy pot-trellis to support them.
    After seeing bougainvillea plants growing “in the wild” on the sides of the road all over the Caribbean, I decided there was no need to fuss over them. I just water when I think of it (or when I see the leaves wilting). I fertilize when I think of it and repot rarely, instead I topdress the pots with some worm castings about once a year. Hack the vines back when they look rangy or won’t fit into their corner anymore.

    Bougainvillea will tolerate lots of abuse — drought, repotting, losing all their leaves, aphid and whitefly infestations, etc. The only thing they definitely need is lots of sun. So if you can provide that, you can look forward to many years of beautiful blooms! -Kathy

  5. August 7, 2011    

    How much light do they need? I have two 2′ by 3′ windows in my room; one facing south and the other west. Would that be enough for bougainvilleas?

  6. January 15, 2012    

    This was very useful! Thank you for sharing! I have had a bougainvillea growing inside for about two years and it seems to be doing okay but it hasn’t bloomed yet. Any ideas on how to encourage blooms? How much should I prune it? I will for sure follow the other tips you shared! Thank you!

  7. June 26, 2013    

    Your article, “Growing Bougainvillea Indoors –
    Gardener’s Journal,” was indeed definitely worth writing a comment down here in the comment section! Simply just wished to admit u really did a good work. Thanks -Bart

  8. Andrea
    September 12, 2013    

    I have one outside now in full bloom. I will bring it in before it gets too cold. And we are supposed to get cool like 62 for a high tomorrow but warm into the 70′s again. I don’t like bringing plants in from the outdoors cuz usually within a week or two the bugs appear. Fungal gnats. And trust me I don’t overwater anything. Which gnats love. So any advise on how to bring it indoors without bugs would be appreciated.

  9. Barb Skaer
    January 2, 2014    

    I am so glad to see all the info on these beautiful flowers; however, I’ve had an issue that I haven’t seen addressed, &
    no one has been able to explain to me….

    I’ve purchased 2-4 of these plants ranging in color from a very vivid orange to a coral shade because I’m just not a
    fond of pink or red flowers…..always preferring the orange shades. Every time I’ve had them for awhile they lose
    their orange, & they become pink or red. I’ve wondered if it’s the water…just don’t know, & I’d love an explanation.

    Thanks

    • Gardener's Supply
      January 3, 2014    

      Have you checked with the grower where you buy your plants? Another option is to pose your question on a gardening forum, such as gardenweb or davesgarden. Logee’s Greenhouse (http://www.logees.com/) is a good mail-order source for tropical plants; perhaps they will know something about why your orange plants revert to pink or red. -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

  10. AnnaMae
    January 3, 2014    

    I live in Washington state I have a bougainvillea which
    I have had it 8 years and move it out side when weather
    permits. It is in a 12″ pot now but getting too big to
    move and I am 82 and can’t wrestle it around any more
    I want to know how to start a new one. It has been cut
    back every year. So any help is appreciated. Other wise
    will have to dump, I am bad about doing that.
    Thank you
    Anna Mae

  11. AnnaMae
    January 5, 2014    

    Thank you will try this. this summer

  12. Kathleen
    April 2, 2014    

    What about cross-pollination? I’m in an upper-floor condo with a fully screened balcony that gets lots of afternoon Miami sun. Do these plants need to spend any amount of time exposed to butterflies, bees, or other pollinating agents? I have no way to put my plants in a completely exposed area.

    • Gardener's Supply
      April 3, 2014    

      I don’t think you need cross-pollination to get flowers (and bracts). Ask around in your neighborhood. You’re in the heart of bougainvillea territory, so I’m sure there are others who have tried. -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

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