Bougainvillea 101


Grab a seat, students, and let’s get going.

Welcome to Bougainvillea 101 or — as we commonly call it here at Tropical Mountain University — Basic Bougainvillea.

Let’s get right down to business. The most important thing you need to know about planting bougainvillea in your yard is this:


You heard right. Don’t plant bougainvillea because you will regret it. However, most of  you, lured by its loveliness, have already planted bougainvillea, and that’s why you’ve enrolled, desperate, in this class.

The second thing you must know about bougainvillea is that if it is not subjected to the sternest discipline, it will eat you and your yard alive.

Buy clippers, and use them mercilessly. You’ll need a ladder too if, for instance, you go away for a week, leaving your bougainvillea unwatched.

An unwatched bougainvillea goes berserk.

The third thing you must know is that bougainvillea has vicious thorns. That is its way of protecting itself from its archenemy, which is you.

A bougainvillea is like having a loose Bengal tiger roaming your yard, one that grows bigger, meaner, hungrier every day.

Always wear thick long sleeves and leather gloves when trying (futilely) to talk sense into your bougainvillea.

There is only one upside to having a bougainvillea. It is busty and beautiful, and that is its basic trick, its sneaky deceit. It’s like a high-maintenance woman with scarlet lipstick and fingernails like talons.

You may think you want those fingernails ripping down your backside on sweaty, moonlit nights, but you will regret it. Be sensible. Plant carnations.

That’s all for today. I must run back to my yard before it’s too late.

29 thoughts on “Bougainvillea 101”

  1. It sure is pretty though. Up here on the tundra we just worship it from afar, which is probably the best place from which to worship it.


  2. My husband would agree with you 100%. I, on the other hand, love an untamed bougainvillea, but I no longer live where they will grow. Which makes my husband happy.


    1. Gracias, Don Cuevas. I was out this morning fighting one of my bougainvilleas when this came to me. Initially, I had intended only to make a minor incursion, but I ended up doing a bit more than I thought. And I came away with raw arms because I did not sport a long-sleeved shirt. I did, however, wear gloves, so it could have been worse, far worse.


  3. It seems like a much more appealing thing to having growing along your wall than a topping of embedded, broken glass, though.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we would be thrilled to have such a thing running amok in our yard. But we’re being overrun by other things instead.


    1. Kim: We don’t do the broken glass routine on our property wall. However, there is the sex motel on one side and the crabby neighbors’ yard on the other. Nobody is likely to climb over either of those. The front street side is very high, and so is the side running along the back street. I think putting broken glass on the wall, which is common in Mexico, creates bad karma. Who needs that?

      However, the hour-long gunfight we heard the other night in the near distance did make me think that it would be nice to have broken glass at that moment. But it wasn’t necessary.


      1. I agree with you on the broken glass. I also think it’s easily defeated with any doormat, car floormat, bit of carpet, etc. And it definitely looks “ghetto.”


    1. Nah, Tancho. Better to not have planted in the first place. We have four normal bougainvilleas, the ones that grow to the size of mountains if not controlled, and another species that gives me no trouble. It’s kind of like a bougainvillea vine, and it behaves itself.

      One of the four has flown completely out of control. It rests against the highest wall, the one that abuts the sex motel. It is supported by three steel chains, and all I can do now is keep the bottom trimmed, not letting it touch the ground. It is 12 feet high, and almost 25 feet wide. I measured.

      Two others are quite controllable, fairly small, and I now know I must keep a stern eye on them. A third, the one I trimmed this morning, is borderline. I know I must be strict. It is a hormone-filled adolescent. I really need to trim it severely, and soon I will do so. I hope.


  4. Last year at our garden center I looked at one, the cost was high and the risk of death by frost here in Vancouver BC was likely so I sighed and moved on. Still chilly up here so the garden is a bit neglected although some things are growing really well. Too cold even to spend the day pressure washing the house and deck, hubby loves doing this!!!


    1. Shelagh: The cost was high? Not here. And I imagine it would not do well in Canada. I recall plants in my yard in Houston that never got above the puny stage. But here, the same plants go gangbusters.

      Count your blessings. Bougainvillea is bad news.


  5. I prefer to enjoy other people’s bougainvillea. Especially at this time of year, the street I live on is awash with bougainvillea spilling over walls and fences. What is in my yard, you may ask? Shrimp plants, the occasional small flowering shrub, or pots of herbs. I love this post. It made me laugh. Let others wrest with the thorny beasts.


  6. I’m a veteran of the bougainvillea war in Florida. I know better. If you must wear a crown of thorns, plant blackberries. They are not near as aggressive, quite tasty and make delicious jam. It’s a cash crop over in Zamora.


  7. The way I see it bougainvillea is like a high-maintenance amante. If the benefit is not worth the effort, keep your pills in your pocket.


    1. Carlos: I planted these things totally ignorant of what I was getting myself into. One has flown completely out of control, and I must live with it. The other three, however, will be forever cut down to size. I will be their master, and they will be my bitches.


  8. Recently, before reading the Bougainvillea Alert, I innocently purchased a trio of the beasts at the local vivero. Now I expect I will have some sort of Sadeian menage a trois (like you must have next door). With luck the shenanigans will be confined to the old boat hull that I planted them in.


    1. Pinky: They can be controlled, but if you let them fly free, you will regret it. Well, depending on exactly where you have them. A boat hull doesn’t tell me that much. In any event, be careful.


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