My husband bought me 2 hanging baskets of bougainvillea and I know nothing about them. They already had pink blooms on them and they are falling off. The main stems appear to be turning brown. Is all this normal? How do I care for them? Are they vines? They look like vines. Spartanburg, SC

One of the most satisfying things about gardening is the challenge of growing something a little bit unusual like bougainvillea. This tropical flowering vine is a native of Brazil, but it has become quite popular for adding exotic blooms and color to our North American gardens during the summer.

Bougainvillea flowers are actually quite small. The fabulous color actually comes from paper-like bracts that surround the flower. There is a bougainvillea to suit just about every taste. The colors range from white to yellow to pink to purple. Some forms are large vines while others are shrubbier and well suited for containers.

In zones 10 to 11 bougainvilleas cycle between dormancy and active growth throughout the year and are showiest from December through June when it is cool and dry. In zone 9 they will die back if there is a hard freeze, but will return in spring. The rest of us should treat this tropical beauty like an annual for adding color to our summer gardens.

Given the unusually cold weather we’ve all been experiencing lately, I suspect that your bougainvillea is loosing its leaves due to frost damage. It will recover in time, just be sure to move it indoors if the thermometer dips again.

It blooms on new wood so you can cut back the dead stems without effecting future flowers.

Problems will also arise if the soil is too moist. Bougainvilleas dislike wet feet. Water only when dry and choose a well-drained soil.

This plant loves a lot of light, but should receive protection for intense afternoon sun in hot climates.

Bougainvillea should be pruned heavily in the spring after the last danger of the frost has passed. And don’t be afraid to shape it during the growing season, this will encourage more blossoms.

One last tip. Although I often advise tearing pot bound roots when repotting, that’s not a good idea with bougainvillea. They don’t like their roots disturbed, so be gentle with the plant when you take it out of the container and move it to its new home.