Bougainvillea Tree - Tips, Pruning & Shaping

Given the right conditions, bougainvilleas grow into huge plants that can spread many feet into the tree canopy surrounding it. In the home garden, you can contain this vigorous growth and create a shapely bougainvillea tree, by careful pruning at any time of the year.

Bougainvilleas are originally a sub-tropical plant but new cultivars have been developed that will grow very well in cooler areas. You can also create a suitable growing climate for bougainvilleas by planting them against a sunny wall, growing them over a sunny support like a pergola or patio or by keeping them in a pot which can be moved around to the sunniest parts of your garden. In areas with cold winters, your bougainvilleas can be taken indoors during the coldest months, when they will rest, then re-shoot when the temperature warms up. Bougainvilleas need a well-drained soil and prefer to be allowed to dry out between waterings. They benefit from an annual application of complete fertilizer, applied after flowering.

Bougainvilleas have long stems which are able to twist and climb on anything that will give them support. To train a bougainvillea tree as a standard, you will need to control this natural growth pattern with pinching and pruning. Pinching is removing about half an inch of the end growing tips to induce the plant to put out extra side shoots; this can be done by hand. Pruning is removing longer stems to be able to rain the tree to the shape you want.

You need to select the plant carefully if you want to shape a bougainvillea tree. Look for a healthy plant that either has one strong central stem or several smaller stems all coming from the base close together. For those specimens with a single stem, hammer a stake in beside the plant for support; prune off other stems coming from the base. Then pinch out the growing tips of the remainder of the plant, taking any straggly growth back harder, so that you create a tree-top shape. Every few months, continue to tip-prune the green top of your bougainvillea tree and remove any new growth that appears on your main stem. In a short time, you will see your bougainvillea tree standard taking shape. Maintain your bougainvillea standard using these same techniques, pruning after flowering.

If you select a multi-stemmed bougainvillea from the plant nursery, select three or four strong growing stems that are close together, but make sure they are still pliable. Firmly twist these together and tie them. Allow the stems to grow together as the main stem of your bougainvillea tree, releasing the ties as the stems thicken. The ties can be removed completely when the stems are self-supporting. You shape your tree in the same way as the single-stemmed specimen.

A row of bougainvillea trees lining a driveway look spectacular when in flower, so try your hand at shaping these standard bougainvillea specimens.