Bougainvillea 'Raspberry Ice'
Ground cover or container plant
Bougainvillea isn't just for climbing up walls and fences anymore. The shrubby, sprawling types of bougainvillea (they spread because they don't sprout upright stems) can be used as ground cover for areas large and small.
Raspberry Ice (also sold as Hawaii) is interesting among all bougainvilleas for its bright-red bracts and variegated leaves of green, rimmed in creamy yellow sometimes stained with pink. It can mound up to 4 feet if not controlled.
Other good compact types of bougainvillea include Rosenka, with bracts in shades of orange and pink, and La Jolla, with strong red bracts. All are good in containers, large and small, and hanging baskets.
Better Now Than Evercq
Bougainvillea thrives when its home is a very hot spot (in fact, it won't bloom in the shade and does not tolerate frost). A ground cover of bougainvillea would do well planted in front of a building, which reflects heat. On a hillside, these drought-tolerant plants can prevent erosion.
Bougainvillea does best when planted in the summer. For ground cover, space plants 6 to 8 feet apart. Although you may feel like putting them closer together, the plants eventually will mound up on each other, and wading through the thorny shrubs to cut the growth back is not fun.
The plants are not strong-rooted; the root ball has a tendency to fall apart during planting. Be especially careful and gentle with the roots, making sure the ball remains intact. The soil should drain well; clay soil is acceptable if it's a slope.
Once established, bougainvillea is hard to kill. Attackers include aphids and mealybugs. Prune in late spring. In containers, cut the plants back so they keep their shape. Fertilize during the summer months.
Many local nurseries carry the shrubby types of bougainvillea. If you have trouble finding them, ask the nursery to order it from San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara.