Growing Bougainvillea Indoors

Bougainvilleas require lots of light when they’re grown indoors. Mine are happy in the southeast corner of my dining room. This photo was taken during February—it was 20 degrees and snowing outside.

I used to have dozens of houseplants, but over the years I’ve cut way back. Today, there are only three plants in the sunny, southeast corner of my dining room and all three are bougainvilleas. They are orchid-pink ‘Texas Dawn’, the deeper pink ‘Barbara Karst’ and sunny yellow ‘California Gold’.

These plants started out in little 2” pots that I got from one of my favorite wintertime escapes: Logee’s Greenhouse in Danielson, Ct.,(due west of Providence, R.I., just over the Connecticut line). Before I fade away completely in a daydream about the botanical wonders that live beneath Logee’s ancient glass roofs, I’ll just tease you with the image of a 100-year old Ponderosa lemon tree that fills one entire greenhouse. If you can’t visit in person, Logees has a great catalog and web site.

OK, back to my bougainvilleas. If you have a sunny indoor space, order yourself a couple plants. They are dead easy to grow. When I was in Mexico and Puerto Rico, I learned why, after all these years, mine are still alive. They grow like weeds along the sides of the road with very little water and very poor soil. It’s a lot like growing in my house!

Bougainvilleas actually respond well to abuse. Like many plants, they set flower after a rest period of reduced water and fertilizer. Mine bloom almost year-round and I think it’s partly because I always let them go completely dry between waterings. When I see the leaves are wilting, that’s when I water.

Winter and early spring are the most difficult time for house-bound bougainvilleas. Some years all three of my plants get completely encrusted with whitefly and aphids. The plants are so big now that I can’t muscle them upstairs to the shower. So I have to wait until a warm early spring day, when I can drag them out onto the deck and hose them down.

My bougainvilleas are trained on a variety of different trellises. A nice thing about ‘Texas Dawn’ is that it stays very compact (for me, at least). It’s the shortest of the plants in the picture (at the back), yet requires little to no pruning to maintain this compact form. The other two varieties get cut back pretty severely every year or two. Most of the time, I just wind any wayward stems back into the plants to keep them from taking over the dining room.

As for fertilizer, I spread a couple cups of worm castings (which I make in my Worm Chalet) on the top of each pot about twice a year. When the plants aren’t resting, I also give them liquid fertilizer every time I water.

The only downside to growing bougainvilleas indoors is that they’re messy. All those clouds of papery flowers eventually drop to the floor. I’m not a fussy housekeeper, so this doesn’t really bother me. But if you keep your house as neat as a pin, bougainvilleas probably aren’t for you.

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6 Responses to Growing Bougainvillea Indoors

  1. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE bougainvillea and you had me sold on putting mine indoors instead of the storage shed for the Winter till you got to the 'encrusted with whiteflies and aphids' part…lol. I'm trying to avoid extra Winter work, as every year I say I'm not going to cover all of my plants anymore. Then every cold snap, I drag out all of the old blankets and tarps. I always say that if they can't make it on their own, I don't need them! But, I can't resist. Thanks for the info and ideas though.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE bougainvillea and you had me sold on putting mine indoors instead of the storage shed for the Winter till you got to the 'encrusted with whiteflies and aphids' part…lol. I'm trying to avoid extra Winter work, as every year I say I'm not going to cover all of my plants anymore. Then every cold snap, I drag out all of the old blankets and tarps. I always say that if they can't make it on their own, I don't need them! But, I can't resist. Thanks for the info and ideas though.

  3. Gitta says:

    I got 5 Bougainvillea Vera Purple from Logees three weeks ago and they immediately dropped all their blossoms and most of their leaves. I have five east or south windows in my kitchen, but they crave the sun lamp that I've dragged out of the basement. What's left of them looks healthy. They're in five inch pots and Logees said to transplant them to 6 inch clay pots within the next month — but I've also been told NEVER to transplant until Spring. They are not rootbound. I adore them but so far, these are more trouble than a litter of puppies. Any advice?

  4. My bougainvillea came from Logees, too! They started out in little 3″ pots but grew quickly. Plan now for a sturdy pot-trellis to support them.
    After seeing bougainvillea plants growing “in the wild” on the sides of the road all over the Caribbean, I decided there was no need to fuss over them. I just water when I think of it (or when I see the leaves wilting). I fertilize when I think of it and repot rarely, instead I topdress the pots with some worm castings about once a year. Hack the vines back when they look rangy or won't fit into their corner anymore.

    Bougainvillea will tolerate lots of abuse — drought, repotting, losing all their leaves, aphid and whitefly infestations, etc. The only thing they definitely need is lots of sun. So if you can provide that, you can look forward to many years of beautiful blooms! -Kathy

  5. Christina says:

    How much light do they need? I have two 2' by 3' windows in my room; one facing south and the other west. Would that be enough for bougainvilleas?

  6. Rachel P. says:

    This was very useful! Thank you for sharing! I have had a bougainvillea growing inside for about two years and it seems to be doing okay but it hasn't bloomed yet. Any ideas on how to encourage blooms? How much should I prune it? I will for sure follow the other tips you shared! Thank you!

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