For a lot of people, a full-sized bougainvillaea on your balcony would be just too much, it would take up an enormous amount of space, and would probably put you more in the shade than you would wish. But there is a species of bougainvillaea that would be absolutely ideal and can be grown in pots, giving you a beautiful mass of blooms on your balcony, terrace or patio.

If you love bougainvillaea but don’t want a huge, out-of-control vine running amok in your small space, try growing dwarf or miniature bougainvillaea.

Dwarf bougainvillaea are ideal for small spaces in containers, and typically reach a height and spread of only 1m to 1.5m. They are easy to maintain, and you might find them marked as ‘mini bougainvillaea’ if you go looking for one. Some can be pruned to more of a shrub than an ambling vine, and if you are looking for a bougainvillaea for a container or to add to a small landscape, look no further.

Although bougainvillaea aren’t too fussy, it's always better to use a good-quality potting mix that'll provide good drainage and some slow-release fertiliser to keep them happy. Positioning them in full sun is best because they'll flower less in part-shade.

Bougainvillaea, from within a genus of around 18 species of shrubs, vines, or small trees, belong to the Nyctaginaceae family and are native to eastern South America, found in Brazil, east of Peru, and south of southern Argentina. These diminutive bougainvillaeas are just as flamboyant as the larger varieties and are available in a wide range of colours, but only grow up to about 1-2 metres high so will stay nice and compact.

And exactly the same as their full-size relatives, the showy colourful blooms on the bougainvillaea aren’t actually the flowers but are brightly-coloured bracts – or modified stems. They’re protecting the real flowers, which are the tiny little white things poking out from the centre.

Most species are thorny, but a feature of dwarf varieties is that the thorns – which are found on the stems – are smaller and not as sharp as the full-sized ones or might even be non-existent. Bract colour ranges from shades of pink and purple to yellow, orange and white.

A few to look for

One true dwarf is ’Helen Johnson’ and reaches a height of around 1m with a profusion of coppery bracts that mature to bright pink blooms with purple undertones. It prefers either full sun or light shade and grows best in acidic, well-drained soil. To keep ‘Helen Johnson’ in shape, prune lightly after blooming.

‘Sunvillea Rose’ is another bougainvillaea considered a dwarf or mini variety, which produces brilliant pink or magenta bracts and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. It reaches heights of around 1m with a spread of ½m to 1m. It has green foliage and is evergreen in frost free areas. It prefers full sun and requires only occasional watering.

Slightly bigger, 'Imperial-Delight' is a showy white variety that transforms to a delicate pink as they mature, creating the illusion of bicoloured flowers. They produce the showiest display of colour in the spring and early summer, but they do repeat blooming throughout the year. This variety can reach heights of 3m to 6m but can be easily maintained to a size of 1½m to 2½m with light pruning. It prefers full sun and acidic, well-drained soil.

A thornless variety, ‘Miss Alice’, is prized for its brilliant white clusters of flowers and semi-dwarf size, reaching a mature height of around 1m tall. ‘Singapore Pink,’ a sister variety of ‘Miss Alice’, is semi-thornless, with pale pink blooms.

Bougainvillaea performs well in relatively small containers where their roots are slightly restricted. When the plant is large enough for repotting, move it to a container only one size larger, and use a regular potting soil without a high level of peat moss, as too much peat retains moisture and may result in root rot.

So good luck with growing your ‘dwarf bougies’ - they may be small, but the pleasure will be massive.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan