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Bougainvillea – Blooming Good Bonsai!

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Growing tips

Bougainvilleas are vigorous growers, so feed them frequently during the growing season.
They do not like to spend the night with wet leaves, especially in winter, so if you water your tree in the evenings it may lose all its leaves. Other than that Bougainvillea are fairly trouble-free plants. They are not prone to getting infested with bugs and the ones that do inhabit them are not known to do any damage, so go very easy on the poisons.
Origins
Although all plants in the genus Bougainvillea originated in South America, these plants thrive throughout the world and can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions. They were first ‘discovered’ in Rio de Janeiro in about 1766 by French botanist Philibert Commerson and the genus was named after Commerson’s ship’s captain: Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Although there are approximately eighteen species recorded, almost all Bougainvillea, and the multitude of hybrids found outside of South America, stem from only three species: B. spectabilis, B. glabra and B. x buttiana (B. glabra x B. peruviana).
Bougainvillea is one of the most versatile species for bonsai. Although not indigenous to South Africa, Bougainvillea species can be found growing throughout the country and are stocked by most garden centres. All produce flowers and, if treated correctly, a Bougainvillea bonsai should produce a vibrant show of colour four times a year, for periods of up to six weeks at a time.
Bougainvilleas do not have very specific growth patterns and can be trained into almost any shape. Their branches are fairly flexible and take wiring very well. While the variety of Bougainvillea from which to choose is almost endless, the best ones to choose are those with smaller leaves and flowers.
Bougainvilleas like lots of sun and water, and fairly coarse soil. They will grow fairly well in shaded areas although the blooms, if any, will be fewer and less vibrant in colour, and the plant tends to become very leggy and sparse.
The flowering sequence of a Bougainvillea is quite interesting. It blooms for six weeks and then has a seven-week resting period. If one reduces the water supplied to the plant five weeks into the rest period the tree will go into a false ‘winter mode’, resulting in more spectacular flowers. This principle works for a large number of species, both local and exotic: hold back on the water and flowers result. The flowers proliferate towards the ends of the branches so it is best to wait until after the tree has flowered before pruning.
The wood of the Bougainvillea is quite hard and is very good for carving jins and sharis, but be warned, you must treat exposed deadwood with flowers of sulphur, which is available from most pharmacies, to prevent the wood rotting.
Bougainvilleas really are very rewarding, both for the experienced and the novice bonsai practitioner.
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