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No Wallflower, That Popular Bougainvillea : Beyond its beauty, it can be counted on to be hardy and resistant to bugs and disease. And this season is 'boogie' time.


Hardy. Colorful. Low-maintenance. Heat loving and water thrifty.

The bougainvillea.

This shrubby evergreen vine is currently making a big splash at a nursery near you. With good reason: Summertime is "boogie" time. And many garden centers have stocked up on these Brazilian natives, offering their supplies at sale prices.

Is there a dismally bland spot in your yard in dire need of some brightening up? A bougainvillea might just be the answer.

With numerous varieties available, versatility has become a bougainvillea trademark. Obscure that bare spot along an unsightly fence or wall with the outreaching, vine type. Others are easily trained to remain contained and tree-like where needed. Some do just fine as ground cover.

"Right now we're selling a lot them," said Kyle Puerner of Green Meadow Nursery in Camarillo. Puerner said bougainvillea are available in one-, five- and 15-gallon containers. There's one to meet your specific planting requirements, he said, whether plans call for trellises, stakes or something bushy to keep in a container.

Given Ventura County's diverse climate zones, sometimes what you plant can depend on where you live. With the bougainvillea, your only concern is to make sure the plant has heat--if you live inland--or light--if you live by the coast.

"They love heat. The more heat the better," said Chuck Tarpley of Enchanted Way Nursery in Simi Valley.

"With the more inland areas you'll find they bloom more because of the heat--the heat brings out the flower," said Scott Klittich, proprietor of Otto & Son's Wholesale Nursery in Fillmore.

Along the coast you'll definitely want to find the bougainvillea a spot where it will be washed with direct sunlight, Tarpley said.

"They do beautifully along the ocean," he said.

The beautiful color these plants produce--reds, pinks, oranges, golds, lavenders and others--can be a bit confusing. Take a close look. The flower is actually a tiny, insignificant thing. The three papery leaves--or bracts--surrounding the diminutive flower is what makes these plants so colorful.

"When the plant flowers," Klittich said, "that physiologically tells the (bracts) to turn color." The result is a brilliant show of vibrant color throughout the plant, interspersed with medium to deep green leaves.

Beyond its beauty, a bougainvillea can be counted on--once it is established--to be hardy and resistant to bugs and disease.

Getting it established, though, will take some care.

"The roots can be a real problem," Puerner said.

Because roots do not bind to soil, thus forming a root ball, the roots are highly sensitive to any disturbance. Therefore, you need to take extreme caution removing the bougainvillea from its container.

Tarpley suggested that you first cut the bottom off the container. Place the plant in the hole. Then cut the container from top to bottom. Fill the hole with a 60-40 ratio of soil to organic material. Next, gently lift and slide the container off the plant and pack the surrounding soil.

Watering, too, is crucial during the first couple of months. You'll need to water regularly to ensure that the plant takes hold. The proper amount of water depends on climate and soil conditions, Tarpley said. Your local nursery can give you the particulars.

An established plant can withstand long dry periods. Easing off on the water during the midsummer actually promotes flowering.

One other concern is frost, which can be problematic for this otherwise easy-to-care-for jewel. If frost is a concern in your area, the plants should be moved to a protected area if possible, or planted in the warmest spot in your garden.


* PRICES: Bougainvillea prices can differ depending on your choice of garden centers. Currently, many nurseries have the plants on sale--a five-gallon container normally going for around $19 can be had for about $12. The gallon-sized are going for as low as $4.

* COLORS: Varieties are many, but you should narrow your choice down to the type of plant growth that best suites you. One of the most popular is the San Diego Red--a vigorous, high-climbing type. The Crimson Jewel is a more shrubby, sprawling plant. The La Jolla, with its bright red bracts, makes for a great compact container plant.

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