Bougainvillea Bonsai – Species Guide

Mature Bougainvillea BonsaiBougainvillea Bonsai

Bougainvillea (boog-in-VILL-ee-uh), or Paperflower as it is sometimes referred to, is most often thought of as a climbing tropical plant with sharp thorns and is a native to the coast of Brazil. The Bougainvillea can be trained and/or grafted into a tropical tree and also into the form of a Bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea is a member of the Nyctaginaceae or Four o’clock family. Common traits of plants in this family include; petal less flowers (coloured bracts resemble petals), smooth edged leaves, and mostly tropical natives.

A great thing about Bougainvillea is that it comes in many varieties. Bract colour can be pink, white, purple, orange, and many shades in-between. The colouring of the Bougainvillea is very striking and certainly grabs your attention and some varieties also have variegated leaves. Bougainvillea has sharp thorns but should not be bothersome in a Bonsai form as the plant will be contained and small.


The Bougainvillea Bonsai is a sun lover.  If you live is a cooler climate, you can still enjoy the beauty of 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.


Over watering can be the demise of a Bougainvillea plant. Bougainvillea should be watered thoroughly and then wait until the top of the soil is almost 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.


Constant watering can cause nutrients in the soil to leech out of the container. To stimulate a Bougainvillea Bonsai with nutrients, an all purpose plant food should be used in the spring and summer months. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the most important to a Bougainvillea. It is very important to follow the directions listed on the fertilizer you are using as every fertilizer is different and too much can be as bad for a plant as not enough. During fall and winter a fertilizer that encourages blooming should be used. A great supplement for a Bougainvillea is iron.

Bougainvillea BonsaiPruning

To prune a Bougainvillea a nice pair of hand pruners will do the trick. Bougainvillea blooms on new growth in the leaf axils and at the ends of the shoots. The easily time to train your plant into a Bonsai is when new growth is occurring. The new growth is much more flexible than old growth which makes it easy to train with wire or string to grow in the direction you desire.
In order to maximize 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 the summer, typically after July, do not perform any more pinching or pruning. This ensures that the wood produced during this period will be allowed to produce more flower buds.


The best time to re-pot a Bougainvillea is before the new growth occurs. 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. You can also tell by pulling the plant out of the container. When there are a lot of elongated roots circling a main root mass, that is another great sign that its time to re-pot.


The easiest way for a home gardener to propagate a Bougainvillea Bonsai is from cuttings. Prepare a small container full of lightly damp potting soil and rooting hormone. A cutting is when you trim a small branch off of the mother plant. 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, take the freshly cut branch and dip it 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 your cutting will rot.


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