First encountered by Europeans in 1768 when they explored parts of Brazil, the bougainvillea today is among the showiest flowering woody vines for warm-climate regions such as Southern California and peninsular Florida. Many cultivars exist, with varying colours of papery bracts that surround the tiny flowers that are white and tubular. Pruning a bougainvillea vine is always a burdensome task, as the branches are lined in thorns or prickly stem spurs.
A bougainvillea may be pruned any time of year. Flowers arise from new growth, so conduct some pruning to ensure new side branches develop that yield the desirable flowers. Typically, bougainvillea flowers most heavily in the shorter day lengths from fall to spring, so the ideal time for pruning is from spring to late summer when plants aren't flowering heavily and new growth can mature. Sunset Western Garden Book advises to schedule pruning when the main, large flowering display wanes in your locality.
While bougainvilleas tend to bloom during short days, as especially found in the humid climate of Florida, the plants also flower if stressed by drought. Therefore, even if the days are long in summer in Southern California or southwestern Arizona, bougainvilleas may still be in flower, since the weather there is very dry. Therefore, bougainvillea pruning is scheduled for summer in Florida, while, in more desert areas of the American Southwest, pruning may be done during the cooler, wetter late winter to early spring so flowering is robust in the warm, dry months of late spring through fall.
Pruning the Plant
Bougainvilleas are large, scrambling woody vines that have no means to clasp and permanently attach themselves to fences, arbors and walls. Therefore, pruning the plant when small to create a balanced, well-structured form is a sound garden practice. Tie the main branches to the support structure. Trim side branches from the main skeletal structure as needed to maintain a uniform silhouette and to coax new growth for later flowering. Dead branches may be carefully removed any time of year. Being that the plant has so many twigs, spines and spurs, wear gloves, long shirtsleeves and eye protection when wrestling with removed branches.
Even after completing major annual pruning of the bougainvillea vine during the proper time in your region, vigorous growth afterward can become rampant. It's fine to trim back long, leggy branches of the plant during the flowering season as needed. The thorny stems need to be promptly trimmed or removed if they intrude on walkways or patios where they dangle near faces or play equipment. Wherever the pruning cut is made on a living branch, new growth sprouts from any number of buds at the base of leaves.
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