NZ Woman's Weekly

Gardening: Bougainvillea

Ever since the bougainvillea growing up the verandah of a house we rented years ago stuck one of its thorns into the cat’s eye, I’ve been off them. Fixing the eye cost $600 and both the cat and I were seriously relieved when we moved.

However, I accept that some people adore bougainvillea, and I was reminded of how beautiful they can be (as long as you don’t get too close) when I saw one climbing over a fence the other day.


It still has killer thorns, but white bougainvillea has a gentler, more subtle look.

They come from Brazil where they grow in arid, rocky soil, and they do all too well in New Zealand conditions.

Their rampant nature puts some people off, but if there’s a touch of the headmistress or headmaster in you, you should be able to train them to behave themselves.


The good news is, bougainvillea will live perfectly happily in a container, and will be easier to control.

Give them warmth, sun and well-drained soil, adding compost to the soil before planting, along with slow-release fertiliser that’s high in potash. Mulch the plant with fine bark or rocks, and don’t disturb the roots during or after planting – ironically, bougainvilleas have small, weak root systems and don’t like them being disturbed. They lose their leaves once the temperature goes below 10oC, producing new shoots in spring.

Although we tend to think of bougainvilleas as climbers and treat them accordingly, they’re actually badly behaved shrubs. Prune them in the spring and keep trimming through summer to keep them under control and promote flowering.

Take a look at how to create a beautiful garden mosaic here.

Lee Ann Bramwell

About Lee Ann Bramwell

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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Issue 1541

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