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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Bougainvillea, a native of Tropical South America, grow into vivid, long- flowering, shrubbery plants for sunny situations. They are relatively free of pests and disease and will tolerate harsh soil conditions and drought. Bougainvilleas climb by sending out strong canes armed with stiff, curved (and sharp!) thorns, penetrating undergrowth and trees to reach sunlight. They are also quite useful as a security hedge.
Bougainvilleas come in any number of colors from the deepest magenta to soft white.
The brilliant bracts are a wonderful addition to any dining table or vases set throughout the home.
To care for your bougainvillea, first be sure to plant in a very sunny spot. Water the transplant regularly for the first several weeks. The plant will go into shock at first and it is important to feed the leaves to allow the roots to set. Watering will also promote growth of canes, but does not promote blooms.
Bougainvillea are either "growing" or "blooming." To control the shape and rate of growth, pinch the "tips,"or new shoots at the end of each cane. This will prevent long arms.
Bougainvillea enjoy a light soil feeding of 20-20-20 fertilizer, commonly marketed as Peters Plant Food or Miracle Gro. A biweekly spray to the leaves will induce brilliant and multiple blooms.
A common pest is the "leaf roller." If you see rolled leaves, sure enough you will find a green worm, an inch or two long, curled up inside. These will eventually become an orange moth. To control this infestation, you can mix a tablespoon of Diazinon in with your fertilizer mixture. For those who do not want to use chemicals mix one part JOY Dish Liquid, one part Canola Oil and five parts Water and spray plant.
In times of heavy rains, in order to prevent the fertilizer and pesticide from being washed off the leaves, add a "spreader sticker," available at garden centers to your mixture. Canola Oil can also used.
Spiders will weave their webs throughout this bushy shrub, but don't worry, this is a great spot for spiders to entangle insects for their own consumption, that would otherwise not endanger the Bougainvillea.
Bougainvillea grown as "Bonsai" are enchanting and quite simple. Any good Bonsai book will give easy to follow instructions. Potted bougainvillea need to be fed regularly and usually need other nutrients such as iron chelate and manganese. But don't worry, they will let you know their desires and will forgive even the brown thumb in all of us. A little water, a little food and they will bloom, and bloom, and bloom.
Editors' note: Kathie McCarthy owned "Key Islander" Bougainvillea with her partner Jay Adair. She supplied the 10,000 Bougainvillea for the Grand Palazzo (now Ritz-Carlton)and also supplied Bouganvillea to Bluebeard's Castle, Sugar Bay, Stouffers, Sapphire and many other locations. She is currently in the process of setting up a nursery again.

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