Bougainvillea Bonsai Tree – Species Guide and Growing Tips

A flowering purple Bougainvillea BonsaiA flowering purple Bougainvillea BonsaiIntroduction to the Bougainvillea Bonsai

A great thing about the Bougainvillea Bonsai (boog-in-VILL-ee-uh) is that it comes in so many varieties. The bract colour can be pink, white, purple, orange, and many shades in-between, some varieties also have variegated leaves.

The colouring of the Bougainvillea is very striking and certainly grabs your attention. Bougainvillea has sharp thorns but they should not be bothersome in a Bonsai form.

Bougainvillea, or Paperflower, is a climbing tropical plant and is a member of the Nyctaginaceae or Four o’clock family. It has sharp thorns and is a native to the coast of Brazil. Common traits of plants in this family include; petal less flowers (coloured bracts resemble petals) and smooth edged leaves.

Bougainvillea Bonsai Care

Positioning

The Bougainvillea is a sun lover so make sure that it gets around 6 hours of good sun per day. This will make sure you have a healthy plant that will give you all of that beautiful colour.

If you live in cooler climates, remember that the Bougainvillea (and more so a Bonsai) is not tolerant to frost. You can still grow a Bougainvillea but it must be taken indoors when night temperatures drop below 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

When growing this plant indoors, it will perform best in a window with western or southern exposure. Bougainvillea can also tolerate florescent light, but the sun is always best.

Close-up of leavesClose-up of leavesWatering

Simply put, too much water can be the demise of your Bougainvillea Bonsai. They actually respond well to a bit of neglect, so do not need to be watered frequently. Bougainvillea should be watered thoroughly and then wait until the top of the soil is quite dry to water again.

Too much water can cause root rot and leaf drop, under watering can be fixed whereas over watering cannot. If your plant gets too dry, it is best to set the plant in a bucket of water and let the roots absorb water from the bottom.

Feeding

The best time to feed your Bougainvillea Bonsai is once a month during the growing season. This will give the best opportunity for your Bonsai to flower.

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There are specific Bougainvillea fertilisers that can be purchased at gardening shops or online. A slow-release fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) in equal ratios will do the job nicely.

A word of warning, using a fertiliser that is high in nitrogen will stall the growth of your plant and will mean it will not bloom fully. It is important that you choose the right fertiliser.

Maintaining a Bougainvillea Bonsai

A small BougainvilleaA small BougainvilleaPruning

In order to maximise the bloom time on a Bougainvillea, wait until spring to perform any major pruning as this will not cut your winter bloom time short. In summer do not perform any more pinching or pruning as this ensures that the growth during and will be allowed to produce more colour.

Generally we recommend to prune your Bougainvillea each month of the growing season. Be sure to only take a little bit off at a time as heavy pruning will stop your Bonsai flowering and giving you those beautiful colours.

Shaping

When shaping or styling your Bougainvillea, remember that you should only train new growth. While the new growth produced is flexible and can be easily trained with wire. Old growth is brittle and will likely break if you try to bend it.

Remember, the Bougainvillea has thorns  so be careful when wiring.

Re-potting

You will need to re-pot your Bougainvillea Bonsai every 3-5 to years (3 years for younger Bonsai, 5 years for older). This will ensure that root rot does not set in and also give the best opportunity for growth.

A good way to tell if it is time to re-pot is by looking at the drainage holes in the container, if the roots are growing through then its time to re-pot. Re-potting is best done in the warmer months due to the Bougainvillea not being a cold weather species.root ball of a bougainvillea bonsairoot ball of a bougainvillea bonsaiRoot ball of a Bougainvillea Bonsai

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As with all Bonsai, Bougainvillea Bonsai root pruning should be done during each re-potting. If you are re-potting a young plant, take extra care as the roots will be fine and brittle. The roots do get tougher as the plant gets older, but be sure to be careful in removing the tree from it’s old pot.

Use a well draining soil when re-potting your tree to ensure that your soil remains relatively dry. The Bougainvillea survives very well with slightly dryer soil. Your Bougainvillea Bonsai soil mix should consist of approx. 40-50% organic material and 50-60% hard material such as pumice, granulated granite of course sand.

Frequent Questions

Can you grow a Bougainvillea Bonsai from cuttings?

The easiest way to propagate a Bougainvillea Bonsai is actually from cuttings. Prepare a small container full of lightly damp potting soil and rooting hormone. Trim a small branch off of the mother plant and make sure any leaves at the base of your cutting are removed.

After you trim any excess leaves off of the bottom of the cutting, dip the cutting into the rooting hormone and then insert into the damp potting soil. Keep the freshly planted cutting out of harms way until you know it has rooted in.

It is important to keep the soil slightly damp but be careful not to over water or the cutting will rot.

How do I care for my Bougainvillea over Winter?

Bougainvillea Bonsai winter care is very important for the long term health of your tree!

As the Bougainvillea native to the warmer climates of South America, you will have to prepare your Bougainvillea for winter if you live in a colder climate. Although they can survive a bit of a chill and spring back to life once the warmer weather arrives, it is always better to “winterise” for Bougainvillea to be on the safe side.a frost bitten Bougainvilleaa frost bitten BougainvilleaA frost affected Bougainvillea

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First of all, NO FEEDING should occur over winter. Save this for late winter or early spring to give your plant a boost to life for the growing season. You can then keep your Bonsai in a cool area, making sure it will not freeze, with as much sun as possible.

Also do not over water during the Winter period to avoid the roots freezing by having soil that is too damp. Lastly, if leaves begin to brown make sure you remove them so your Bonsai can make the most of the little water you are giving it.

As the weather starts the get warmer, it’s time to increase watering, introduce more and more sun, give your Bougainvillea a prune (to encourage growth) and then finally move the plant back outdoors to flourish.

How do I make my Bougainvillea bloom?

The best advice for how to make a Bougainvillea Bonsai bloom is actually to neglect it a little bit. As long as you have the plant in a good position with plenty of sun, don’t overwater or fertilise too much you should not have a problem with blooms.

If you find that your Bougainvillea is not blooming as much you you would like, first try cut the watering down (don’t worry, they are very hardy plants) and then leave a cycle of fertiliser out. This should help promote blooming.

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