If I were only able to grow one plant in my South Florida yard, it would be bougainvillea. It’s easy to grow bougainvillea in Florida, and they are arguably the most spectacular plants found here. The variety of colors, shapes and sizes make it possible to beautify a yard using no other plant. They can grow on a trellis or up a wall. Be a bush or a small tree. They grow in the ground, pots and even hanging baskets. Why grow anything else?
Easy to grow
Stick them in slightly acidic well drained soil in a sunny spot. Fertilize generously using a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous. Let them nearly dry out between watering and, you’re set.
The only pest I have problems with is a little green caterpillar. This guy wraps himself in a leaf during the day making him difficult to find. But find him you must. They grow fast, and do a lot of damage quickly. You can squash them individually, but like cockroaches, if you find one, there’s probably more.
I spray the infected plant in the evening with Thuricide, a living bacteria that only kills leaf eating caterpillars. It’s sold at Home Depot. Two days later I thoroughly check the plants. I’ve never found a live caterpillar during the inspection. It’s safe for people, pets and other insects. Because the caterpillar population is destroyed, but their predators are not, I don’t have to spray more than 3 or 4 times a year. If the plant has been heavily damaged, don’t worry, it’s a bougainvillea in Florida. It’ll come back.
Bougainvillea cycle from a vegetative state to a blooming state. The Blooming cycle lasts three to five weeks. Stress promotes blooming. Letting the soil dry out works, but don’t let it get so dry that they drop leaves. I like terracotta containers because they dry out faster. Allowing the plant to become root bound also helps. Heavy rainfall in the summer can slow down blooming, but if kept in well drained pots, they can be allowed to dry out more so strong blooming periods occur.
My favorite types are the double blossomed. They’re even more spectacular than the regular bougainvillea. Not all gardeners like them because the blossoms don’t fall off naturally. They have to be cut off, which is more work.
Another advantage of growing bougainvillea in Florida is here they can be grown from cuttings. I only try this during the rainy season when it’s hot and humid. I add to the humidity by spraying the cuttings with water whenever I happen to think about it. I choose woody cuttings about 6” long, dip them in rooting powder, and stick them in a small container with moist soil. At first they have to be heavily shaded. Gradually reduce the shade. Without a mist house, it’s as much an art as a science. I’m happy if I get 50% rooted. It’ll take at least 6 weeks before you can consider stepping them up. One nice thing about having my own little plants is they look great in small containers which I would normally only use for annuals.
There are lots of types and shapes of bougainvillea in Florida and every Florida yard should have at least one.
Another colorful yet easy to grow perennial is oleander.