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Bougainvillea flourish

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For height and colour, you can’t beat a bold and beautiful bougainvillea in the summer time

There are a number of different ways to bring height interest to the garden – arbours, pergolas, hedges and tall trees. Choosing a flowering climber for this purpose not only adds interest skywards, but also creates a stunning show during the flowering season.

There are two types of climbing plants – bines and vines. A twining vine is called a bine, and these plants need support to twine their stems around objects. Vines use various “tools” to support themselves as they grow upwards. These include thorns, tendrils or suckers.

Bougainvilleas are South American natives and ornamental climbing vines. As the weather gets hotter and drier, bougainvillea thrives, providing a spectacular show of colour.

Bougainvillea was named after French Navy Admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville who spotted and fell in love with the plant on an expedition to circumnavigate the globe in 1768. A botanist, who was part of De Bougainville’s crew, later found the plant in Rio de Janeiro and named it after the commander.

Bougainvillea ‘Flame’ is an ideal screening plant. Picture: Arnelia

The tubular flowers of the bougainvillea – two or three on one stem – are tiny and whitish-cream in colour. The colourful parts of the plant, which we usually associate with flowers, are actually specialised leaves called bracts. These look like fine tissue paper, hence the name “the paper flower” and they are found in a range of bright colours. The function of these bracts is to attract pollinators to the plant and to protect the tiny flowers.

Sophia van Wyk, sales and marketing manager at Arnelia Farms, says: “Climbers can provide colour and joy to an otherwise dull spot in the garden or can be used to create a beautiful focal point.

“They can provide shade, be planted as a security measure, provide insulation against a wall or create an attractive hedge.”

Colourful hybrids

Some hybrids can reach heights of above 3m. Picture: Lukas Otto

The bright pink, mauve and rusty orange bougainvilleas are popular in gardens throughout South Africa. Plant breeders are pushing the boundaries to develop new hybrids in exciting colours.

When choosing a bougainvillea for your garden consider what colour you want, but also take into account the other plants you have in bloom from December through to February, to prevent a glaring colour clash.

A bougainvillea trained along an arbour catches the sun’s rays. Picture: Lukas Otto

Also consider why you want to include a bougainvillea in your garden and choose your variety accordingly.

Some varieties are vigorous climbers and suitable for training up pergolas and arbours, or as screening along boundary fences.

“Many of the new varieties are suitable for smaller gardens or container gardening to add colour to the stoep,” says Van Wyk. “They also do not have those big thorns that bougainvilleas are known for.”

What varieties can you look out for?

Bougainvillea “Thai Delight”. A tall growing bougainvillea with a full growth habit and masses of flowers. White bracts that age to pink. Ideal for low-water use and low-maintenance gardens.

The white bracts of Bougainvillea ‘Thai Delight’ age to pink. Picture: Arnelia

Bougainvillea “Flame”. Moderate growing plant, with red-orange bracts in summer. Good spreading habit. Ideal for embankments and screening and low-maintenance gardens.

Bougainvillea “Rub”’. A medium-sized shrub, with masses of ruby-coloured bracts in summer. Lovely for screening. Grows to a height of 2m with a 1.5m spread.

Bougainvillea “Rijnstar White”. An unusual bougainvillea with elongated floral bracts in delicate white. It can be grown in a container on the patio.

Bougainvillea “Vera White”. Classic white bracts. Excellent growth habit. A short and compact variety, suitable for containers or a very short hedge. No thorns.

‘Vera White’ can be used to create short hedge. Picture: Arnelia

Bougainvillea “Vera Purple”. A short and compact variety suitable for containers or a short hedge. Bracts are fluorescent purple. No thorns.

Tips for growing a bougainvillea:

Van Wyk says bougainvilleas thrive in a warm sunny spot, or a shady area with full sun for some part of the day if they are planted in containers.

  • Bougainvilleas thrive in a rich, loamy well-draining soil.
  • After removal from the nursery bag, place the plant at the same level it was in the bag and avoid disturbing the roots too much. After planting, firm the soil around each plant and water well. 
  • Pinch the tender ends which are about to bloom. This will promote more dense and intense flowering and will also extend the life of the plant and help reduce disease. 
  • Give your plant a light pruning after each flowering cycle (two or three times).
  • Feed monthly with any fertiliser for flowering plants. Fertilise with an iron-containing product if possible, or give additional iron.
  • Prune in winter to set the tone for new growth for the season.
  • Once established, bougainvilleas are drought tolerant.

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