The landscape maintenance crew came by today to do their quarterly tree trimming, raking, and blowing of my garden and front yard. I was glad to see them, as there were millions of Bougainvillea bracts caught under shrubs, in cacti and in between the riprap in my meandering wash. The papery bracts have littered my landscape for weeks, because I refuse to do landscape maintenance myself in 105˚ plus temperatures.
Most people overlook this downside of Bougainvillea, as it is one of the most popular landscape shrubs in the low desert. Known for its outstanding beauty and sun loving nature, it actually flowers better with little water. If over watered, the shrub will have an abundance of lush green leaves but no flowers, thus defeating its purpose to provide color.
'Barbara Karst', a variety that flowers extremely well in intense heat, easily wins the Arizona Bougainvillea popularity contest. This variety comes in several colors. The intense pink as seen the photo is the best seller. Other varieties do grow here, but do not flower as profusely as the 'Barbara Karst' variety. Bougainvillea color actually comes from the many bracts that surround each of the tiny yellow flowers. If it weren’t for the bracts, the Bougainvillea would be just another green shrub.
Regardless of their beauty, Bougainvillea has some real liabilities. The branches are thorny and sprawling, and regular pruning and training is necessary for control, a move that shears off most of the colorful bracts. Bougainvillea is extremely messy. The dried, paper-like bracts blow all over with the slightest breeze. In addition, it is frost sensitive at 32˚ and the branches will be bare until warmer weather. However, it is possible to have year-round color in the years we have very moderate winters.
I’ve seen lots of photos in home and garden magazines featuring huge, fully flowered Bougainvillea arching over pristine swimming pools, walkways, and patios, with nary a dropped bract in sight. Hours of cleanup must have occurred in preparation for the photo shoot. I can’t imagine what that pool, walkway or patio must look like on just a regular day. My two small Bougainvillea drop enough bracts to cover my large property. From the size of the shrubs shown in the magazine layouts, the homeowners must be drowning in bracts, or else they have full-time gardeners who spend a good portion of their work days sweeping and pool cleaning.