Planting & Landscaping

5 Easy Steps to Train Your Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea plants are beautiful climbing, flowering vines that can bring a lot of color and life to your garden. 

Bougainvillea is a flowering vine native to South America and has thorny vines, and in the right conditions, the creeper can become quite large. Bougainvillea's common name is paper flower

A bougainvillea that is left to grow in its natural way will typically be around three feet (1m) tall, and it prefers direct sunlight for the best blooms.

In addition, they are drought-tolerant and disease-resistant.

Bougainvillea Flowers (Bracts)

bougainvillea bracts

Their flowers are colorful bracts that surround the small white true flowers. These bracts can be pink, red, purple or violet and even white and yellow.

The bracts are a type of leaf whose main function is to protect the tiny flower and attract pollinators.

They flower best in full sun, and they do not need much-added fertilizer. Fertilize once in late winter or early spring with compost or well-rotted manure or a balanced organic balanced fertilizer for blooming perennials.

They are also not fussy about soil conditions as long as it has good drainage and is allowed to dry out between watering. However, they often flower more profusely when stressed, and those in planters will flower well when the roots become crowded.

In zones 9-11, bougainvillea blooms most of the year, and in cooler zones, it will become dormant and mainly bloom in summer.

Bougainvilleas grown in cooler climates will need protection in winter by either bringing them indoors or covering those outdoors planted in a protected spot against a south-facing wall.

Bougainvillea Varieties

Bougainvillea in a planter

The bougainvillea species grow from 3 - 39ft (1 - 12m) tall, depending on the variety.

There are many varieties of bougainvillea available, including thornless, giant, dwarf and semidwarf cultivars which could even be grown on a balcony given the right conditions.

Some varieties are hardy in cool zones 5 - 6, and others will thrive in zones 9 - 11. Make sure to check with your local nursery before purchasing.

Pruning vs. Training a Bougainvillea

Training a bougainvillea onto a structure such as a fence, trellis, or wall will help create a more attractive plant with fuller branches and prune the plant to keep it in shape and grow healthier.

Bougainvillea vines will naturally twist and turn as they climb up a trellis or wall; if left untrained, it will create a tangled mess.

Pruning removes any unsightly stems from last season while training attaches the new shoots to the support structure.

Pinch the new stems back to encourage bushy growth; this will ensure that the plant grows fuller and taller rather than keeping it shorter with spindly branches.

Related: Growing Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

Pruning a Bougainvillea

pruning a bougainvillea

If you want your bougainvillea plant to be more manageable, it is important to train and start pruning them early, so they don't grow out of control and overpower other plants nearby.

Annual pruning is important to keep them manageable and to promote flowering because they flower on new growth. 

Without regular pruning, the vine will become leggy, overgrown and become a nightmare to prune.  The best remedy for a vine that has become overgrown is to hard prune the plant but cutting it back by half.

A bougainvillea vine that is left to grow naturally will grow to be a sizable plant. It will have a dense thatch under the new growth.

Bougainvillea can be trimmed or pruned at any time of year except for very hot periods or frost.

Training a Bouganvillea 

Bougainvillea planted against a wall

Bougainvillea needs support when growing because it does not attach itself and can't cling on for support when growing up a surface and will need something to hold it in place.

Bougainvillea is easy to train, but do be careful of the thorns. Wear thick protective gloves. 

Training a bougainvillea is the best way to produce a graceful, shapely plant with full branches and leaves in just one season.

Once you have decided on the type of shape that suits you, clear an area for it. Bougainvillea should be planted at least a foot away from any object or surface to give room for growth and enough sun exposure.

Dig a hole deep enough, so the root ball is level with the ground.

Plant your bougainvilleas into a container or directly into the soil, making sure to keep it level and upright so as not to disrupt its precious roots. 

It's best if you can plant them at least six feet away from the nearest object so they can grow to their full height before being cut back.

Step One: Support Your Bougainvillea with Stakes and Wire

Once your bougainvilleas have been planted into a pot or directly in the ground, it's time to start training them to grow in shape by pushing two stakes on either side of the plant.

The stakes should be placed at least a foot away from each other to give your bougainvillea space for its roots and trunk to grow strong.

Step Two: Tie Your Bougainvillea with Twine

Secure the stems in place with nylon wire or twine, making sure not to pull too tight on the stem as this will cause damage. Then, remove the growth you don't want.

Attach the twine to hooks or nails placed in a wall or directly onto the trellis or arbor and secure the branches by wrapping the twine loosely around the branches.

Step Three: Continue Training Your Bougainvillea as It Grows

Training a bougainvillea

Once you have tied your bougainvillea into shape, continue training it as it grows, creating a more sturdy plant with strong branching.

The new growth from a stem cutting will try to grow up, but you can train it by tying the vine around another part of the plant for support. Use garden twine, which is flexible and made from biodegradable material. 

If using wire, be sure not to tighten a knot which will damage the vine.

Step Four: Lightly Trim or Pinch Your Bougainvillea 

bougainvillea against a pink wall

It's important to remember that bougainvilleas need thinning out by light trimming or tip pinching, so they don't grow too tall and out of shape.

Trimming can be done a few times during the growing season.

Tip pinching is trimming the new soft growth by 1 - 6in (2.5 - 15cm), which encourages new inner growth and new color and will also maintain the size you want to keep it at, making for a more manageable plant as well!

Step Five: Prune Your Bougainvillea Every Two Years

It's important that once every two years (or yearly depending on your climate and the cultivar), you prune bougainvillea hard, taking back the branches by half.

Hard pruning will keep the plant from getting too leggy and provide you with more flowers to enjoy.

Train a Bougainvillea into a Tree Shape

Bougainvillea trained into a tree
  • Bougainvillea can be shaped into a bougainvillea tree by keeping the strongest central stem as the trunk.
  • Place a stake in the ground and secure the central stem to the stake for added support.
  • Then twine the new shoots along and around the central trunk.
  • Cut off some new shoots if there are too many.
  • The shoots at the top to grow to form the canopy of the tree.
  • Pinch out the main stem of the trunk, once the required height is reached
  • The pinching will force the side stems to branch out and add to the canopy.

Enjoy Your Bougainvillea! Having a bougainvillea in your home or garden is sure to make for some beautiful times, so get out there and plant bougainvillea today! You won't regret the decision!


Bougainvilleas are easy to care for, and they can be grown in pots or directly in the ground, so it's a great plant for beginners!

They prefer dry soil with good watering from time to time.

Bougainvillea is a vine-growing plant that can be shaped or trained into a shrub or even a bonsai.

You may also like