How to grow a bougainvillea from a stem cutting

Updated February 21, 2017

Bougainvillea is a Brazilian vine adapted to other tropical and subtropical areas, including warmer parts of the UK. It spreads 3.9 m (13 feet) when growing outdoors without restraint. But it also withstands pruning well, developing as a shrub if you trim it regularly to a shorter size. Its flowers are small and pale white. But they're surrounded by colourful petal-like structures called bracts that make this vine appealing as a landscape plant. If you have access to a bougainvillea, take some stem cuttings to propagate it.

Mix 1 part peat moss with 1 part perlite to prepare the rooting medium for your bougainvillea stem cuttings. Fill individual small pots or flats with it and moisten it evenly. Make 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep holes in this soil blend by inserting a pencil into it and removing it.

Collect 12.5 cm (5 inch) long spring or summer bougainvillea cuttings. Select 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick or thicker stems that have about four leaf buds.

Pluck the leaves from the cut end of each twig so they don't get buried in the rooting medium. Retain the foliage closest to the tip.

Dip the cut end of each stem cutting into rooting hormone and plant it in the holes you made in the peat-perlite blend. Firm the soil around the base of each cutting. Moisten the soil again.

Slip the potted cuttings into a clear plastic bag and seal it to retain heat and moisture. Hold the bag up with stakes inserted into the soil if it collapses.

Place the cuttings in a well-lit area but protected from direct sun. Check the moisture level every day. Irrigate the soil if the surface begins to dry or the leaves seem to wilt.

Remove the plastic bag as soon as the cuttings develop roots, a process that takes two weeks to three months.

Transplant your bougainvillea seedlings to acidic soil in full sun. Amend the ground with 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, to improve drainage, as this plant doesn't tolerate consistently moist soil.

Fertilise the bougainvillea seedlings at planting with a formula high in phosphorous to promote vigorous root development. Apply the feed according to the manufacturer's instructions of the brand you selected.

Use a slow-release fertiliser with equal percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Apply it to the bougainvillea plants, following the schedule recommended on the label. Dilute a micronutrient formula to half the recommended strength and feed it to the plants twice a year to prevent chlorosis, which appears as yellowing leaves.

Irrigate bougainvilleas to the root zone whenever the soil surface dries.

Prune diseased and dead wood as you notice it. After the flowers fade, trim the plants' lateral stems back to three buds from the main trunk to maintain good air circulation. Control the vine's size by cutting the branches by two-thirds and removing suckers.

Things You'll Need

  • Peat moss
  • Perlite
  • Small pots or 1 flat with drainage holes
  • Shears
  • Measuring tape
  • Rooting hormone
  • Clear plastic bag
  • Compost
  • High-phosphorous fertiliser
  • Slow-release all-purpose fertiliser
  • Micronutrient fertiliser
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About the Author

Emma Watkins writes on finance, fitness and gardening. Her articles and essays have appeared in "Writer's Digest," "The Writer," "From House to Home," "Big Apple Parent" and other online and print venues. Watkins holds a Master of Arts in psychology.