How To Keep Bougainvillea Small

Bougainvilleas can get rather large and become hard to manage. If you're wondering how to keep these plants small, we've got the answer for you. We've researched this particular topic, and here's what we found out.

To keep a bougainvillea small, you need to:

  • Choose the right plant variety.
  • Put the plant in a well-draining container.
  • Use regular garden soil.
  • Water frequently until the plant becomes established.
  • Apply water-soluble or slow-release fertilizers.
  • Prune regularly.
  • Manage pests.

Keep on reading for more tips on how to grow and maintain a dwarf bougainvillea.  We'll also teach you how to make this plant bear more flowers and how to tame an overgrown bougainvillea. Let's get started!

How to Grow A Dwarf Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea tree growing by the house in historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, How To Keep Bougainvillea Small

Bougainvillea is known to be a flowering machine. You can enjoy its beautiful blooms with explosive colors all year round. Even in colder climates, these plants can bloom for nine out of 12 months. Their vibrant colors range from white to pink, purple, magenta, yellow, orange, and gold.

However, their growth can be hard to control. Some varieties can reach up to 30 feet high, as these plants can grow fast under direct sunlight.

At towering heights and with such lush leaves and flowers, bougies can be rather high maintenance, especially when it comes to sweeping the ground around them and pruning them to keep them in check.

Parts of their flowers fall to the ground, so you may be sweeping every day, if not twice a day, to avoid buildup on your lawn. Pruning their large branches can be a hassle due to thorns. 

That's why some gardeners prefer the smaller variety of bougainvillea known as the dwarf bougainvillea. With proper pruning and training, this type of bougainvillea can grow into a small bush or shrub that is more manageable.

Here's a guide to growing a dwarf bougainvillea.

Plant Variety

Pink bougainvillea flower in a concrete pot. Bright light in the room.

You have to start with the right variety of this plant.

Dwarf bougainvillea varieties include Helen Johnson, Sunvilleas, Raspberry Ice, and Oo-La-La. They can grow to heights between two and four feet and can be trimmed down if they become taller.

These varieties are also available in different colors. When you buy from a nursery, be sure to tell them that you plan to grow a miniature bougainvillea so that they can assist you in choosing the right type and color that you like.

With miniature or dwarf bougainvillea, you get the best of both worlds. Like their taller cousins, they also need full sun so that their lovely flowers will bloom profusely despite their shorter branches. Since they are shorter, they don't make as much of a mess, so maintenance is easier.

Right Container

Pink bougainvillea flowers in black flower pot. background on green garden.

The container or pot should be big enough to accommodate the plant's big roots. It should have a drain hole. Bougies have very sensitive roots, so it's not recommended that you move them to a bigger pot once they're already established. 

Install a trellis early on so as not to damage the roots when they begin to grow. The trellis will help support and train your plant.

Click this link to find these trellises on Amazon.

Good Soil

These plants aren't choosy when it comes to soil. They are hardy and resilient. You can use regular potting soil that drains well. Don't put too much peat moss in because it can retain moisture and lead to root rot.

Watering Schedule

A newly planted bougainvillea needs to be watered frequently. When the plant is established, you can lay low on watering it. By this time, it prefers to be on the dry side.

Despite their smaller size, the plants are drought-tolerant and need minimal watering. Deep watering every three weeks is sufficient or until the soil is dry again. Do not overwater these plants, as they can be prone to root rot and pests.

Use of Fertilizers

You can use fertilizers, especially between spring and fall. Use a water-soluble fertilizer prepared according to package instructions.

Apply it every two weeks. You can also use a slow-release formula instead during spring and summer. When winter comes, you can cut back on the use of fertilizer and apply it once a month.

Check out this water-soluble fertilizer on Amazon.


Pruning these miniature plants is best done in early spring to late summer when the plant is expected to grow at a faster rate compared to the rest of the year. This is how you tame the plant to be the size that you want.

You should prune immediately after each flower flush. This is the period when your bougainvillea is in full bloom. Make your cuts just above the leaves, and don't worry if you notice a decline in their blooms right after pruning.

Bougies can make an outstanding comeback. Before you know it, they'll be back to showering you with their colorful flowers.

Pest Management

Of course, you don't want pests in your plant! Since their height is manageable, you can pick the pests off by hand—especially the bougainvillea loopers—so that they won't bother your lovely plant.

If you notice aphids, you can spray your bougainvillea with insecticidal soap. Make sure you cover both sides of the leaves. Repeat once a week as needed.

Find this insecticidal soap on Amazon.

How Do I Make My Bougainvillea Bear More Flowers?

A row of colorful bougainvillea flowers blooming in black pot stand on the sidewalk near the road

Bougies are famous for bright flowers that can light up your garden all year round. They will bloom profusely with proper care, no matter their size. We understand your concern if your bougainvillea seems to be bearing fewer flowers. It's unusual in this kind of plant.

Expert gardeners say that the key here is simple: Put your bougainvillea where the sun is. This plant loves the sun and needs its warmth. It needs at least six hours of direct sunlight each day to be happy and healthy.

So, if your plant isn't bearing more flowers, move it to the sunniest spot that you can find in your garden. It'll surely thrive there.

Assuming that your bougainvillea is already established, it is also recommended that you just water it every three weeks. Bougainvillea is drought-tolerant and prefers to be dry most of the time.

When it's time to water your plant, make sure you reach all the way to the bottom of the container. It should have holes so that the water will drain properly.

That's it! You don't have to water it again for weeks. Some say that you can wait until the soil is dry, but this plant likes to stay dry for quite some time. The more you water it, the more susceptible it is to root rot.

The use of fertilizers is also encouraged, especially during the growing season. The slow-release formula is recommended for bougainvillea that is planted directly on the soil, while it's best to use water-soluble fertilizers for bougainvillea grown in containers. Check the product label for proper application.

You should also continue to prune your bougainvillea to encourage more growth and flowers. This is best done during late winter or early spring, right when the buds are about to swell and before they begin to bloom. 

How Do you Tame An Overgrown Bougainvillea?

Bright pink magenta bougainvillea flowers as a floral background.

As mentioned earlier, a bougainvillea's growth can sometimes be hard to control. The plant can become difficult to manage, so you need to do something about it before it gets out of hand.

In cases like this, you would need to do some hard pruning. Wear garden gloves for protection from thorns, and get out your pruning shears.

Check out these pruning shears on Amazon.

First, you have to get rid of suckers. These are stems that have grown next to the primary trunk. Cut off dead stems as well as those that are crossing branches already.

Then, decide on the height that you want to retain. When you do hard pruning, you cut off all the excess stems outside of your desired height. But make sure you leave some bud unions to encourage new growth for the plant.

Once you've done this, you need to prune your bougainvillea regularly to maintain the right height and size. Pruning is the key to taming this resilient plant.

Final Thoughts

Bougainvillea tree growing by the house in historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento

With the right variety and proper pruning, you can keep a bougainvillea small. This plant needs to be trimmed and trained so that you can achieve the exact size and shape that will make your heart happy.

Click these links for some related reading regarding bougainvillea:

How To Graft Bougainvillea [3 Methods To Try] 

Does Bougainvillea Attract Bees?


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