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Bougainvillea Advice
updated: Jul 04, 2014, 11:38 AM

By John

About four or five years ago, I planted a bougainvillea in front of my house. It started slowly, but did well last year and this year, but last month started to decline quickly. This is the second time this has happened with a bougainvillea in this spot--which should be ideal for this plant. Can anyone recommend professional who has specific experience with bougainvilleas or tropical vines that could come out to look at my situation?

The before and after pictures are from this spring and from today.

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Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 532738 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 11:54 AM

Overwatered and poor drainage?


 COMMENT 532739 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 11:55 AM

Judging from the stress shown by your Phoenix Roebelini I'd say there is something wrong with that spot: bad soil, poor drainage, too much or too little water, contaminants etc etc. Sorry, I couldn't be more helpful.


 COMMENT 532741 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 12:05 PM

# 1 did you feed it, water it?
#2 how are the other plants in that same area? sometimes you can have contaminated soil.
Mine plant was spindly years ago, now it's taking over the world. A small bag of natural plant fertilizer (inadvertently left outside) had a meltdown during one rainy season years ago and the plant must have eaten all winter.

Try EB Stone plant food for flowering plants. Terra Sol and La Sumida (both on Patterson) both have it. OSH and HomeDepot do not.


 COMMENT 532744P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 12:18 PM

I'd take these pics to the people at Island Seed off Hollister Ave. They are 100% pros at this sort of thing.

Let us know what you determine as the cause.


 COMMENT 532748 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 12:54 PM

I appreciate the comments--honestly, but I really have tried most everything that I could think of and have read or that might be a logical suggestion. Natural fertilizers, watering schedules, insect inspections, etc. What I'm looking for is an expert or someone with good experience that I can hire to give me advice on my specific situation.


 COMMENT 532755P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 01:05 PM

Your plant doesn't look all that bad to me. It just looks like it has less flowers. The soil looks compacted, though. Try digging in, very slightly digging in, an entire bag of worm castings (Island Seed & Feed, $9.99) and then water the plant deeply. Be patient. See what happens.

Most bougainvillea (pronounced "boo-gahn-vill-ee-uh") seem to thrive without much attention at all, once established.

I looked up how to pronounce bougainvillea and there are differences of opinion, but no one advocates "vee-ya," as the man who named the plant after himself was French. (Plant origin: Brazil.)

By all rights it should be pronounced "Boo-zhan-vee," as his name was Bougainville. But none of us around these parts are going to call it that. Just don't try to make it into Spanish two lls=y.


 COMMENT 532758 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 01:19 PM

I think you could get some good advice right here for free. Those plants should be bulletproof. A 4 to 5 year old shouldn't need anything except rain water. So, here is where you could tell us how you've been treating it?


 WOODRUFF agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 01:22 PM

Your poor plant does look kind of unhappy.

I suppose it's possible that there's something in the soil, like a specific fungus or maybe a nutrient deficiency, that is death to bougainvilleas.

Here is a pretty detailed list of bougainvillea diseases and their treatment:


Taking a piece of the plant to someone at Island Seed sure couldn't hurt, though.


 COMMENT 532761 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 01:27 PM

Be careful what you wish for. These grow like weeds with proper conditions, and then you're constantly trimming them and picking up their mess. You might patent your soil as a remediation measure.


 COMMENT 532763 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 01:39 PM

In response to two of the most recent comments: the plant looks bad because it has lost most of its bracts, but it also is not producing any new leaf growth. The existing leaves are not strong and green. It is definitely in decline. As far as care, I believe that twice since January I have spread around the base of the plant a bag of a mixture of manure and compost to act as a natural fertilizer and a mulch. Since this year had been so dry, I have also used a slow drip occasionally at the base of the plant. The soil is definitely clay. I'm sure the drainage is poor. The decline has been in the past couple months. I don't see any evidence of insect infestation or obvious disease.


 COMMENT 532767P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 02:16 PM

Don't know if this is a help, but I have a few that just thrive with no water, no fertilizer, etc. - but they are not where other plants need to be watered or fertilized. They are in areas where nothing gets water or fertilized ever, just rain water when we get it.I was told years ago that they do not like a lot of water and disturbing their roots is a no-no and no fertilizer either. Is it possible that this one get too much care and not enough benign neglect?


 COMMENT 532769 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 02:24 PM

Tough to say exactly why it's in decline and I don't have anyone to recommend as a professional. Several things come to mind: over watered(root rot), under watered, fertilizer burn(from manure if not watered in well after applying) also possible it's become shallow rooted(with drought and watering not deep enough). At this point if it were me I'd water it deeply, or let it dry out, depending how I'd been watering it. If non of this worked and I was hell bent on bougainvillea in that spot, I'd get a large clay pot this time and try it again in the container. Always a slim chance a gopher chew on it too.


 COMMENT 532770 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 02:35 PM

John, I've been working as a gardener in SB since 1988. If you hire an expert you'll get one opinion, hire another you'll get a second opinion. . . if you follow me.

That being said I would take the photos to Island F & S, or Mike at Terra Sol. It's too bad that Turk Hesselund closed because Ray the owner would have the answer.


 COMMENT 532774 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 03:23 PM

As a landscape professional I can see from the pictures that the bougainvillea is in decline and the other plants that are in the picture are also looking stressed. Even the agave is stressed and I would have to say it is from lack of water. I would give it a big deep soaking with a sprinkler. Then I would take a soil probe and see how deeply the water penetrated. If you don't have a soil probe use a narrow trowel. When the agave and palm have enough water the leaves will open up and the bougainvillea will slowly recover. This is just an observation from the pictures and from what you mentioned about watering. One other thing to check is to see if there are any tunnels from moles around the plants channeling any water down the hole.


 COMMENT 532779 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 03:44 PM

Yes, I agree. All plants pictured are lacking water!


 COMMENT 532783 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 04:13 PM

Thanks again for your comments. The picture I took today was poorly chosen because I was in the process of cleaning out and replanting the area around the bougainvillea. The part of the agave you can see in the picture is the base of the plant I had just dug up--and I just split off half of the pygmy date palm that you see in the top picture. I realize what the bottom picture looks like, but both the agave and the little palm were in great condition--healthy and happy. I've never had any problem growing anything in this area except the bougainvillea.


 COMMENT 532786 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 04:46 PM

Pipe some of your gray water out there, from a sink, shower or bathtub, whatever is closest. Plants aren't that picky about soap or phosphates. I use the outflow from my R/O unit to water plants.


 COMMENT 532788P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 05:10 PM

767P: I'm with you on this one. The worm castings, as I said previously and then watering and then forget about it.

Some plants just don't like some areas. Period. If that Bougainvillea won't thrive there, OP, you should give up the ghost and try something else. Ask Island Seed & Feed what replacement would be good. How about a passionfruit vine? They are host plants for butterflies and the fruit (if you grow a fruited one) is costly to purchase. Delicious, too.

By the way. To the poster who was slamming these vines: the only place I have seen the mockingbirds nest this year is in my neighbors' Bougainvillea.

That Bougainvillea the another B plant, belonging to neighbors right next to me NEVER get any water, attention or kind words. They only get hacked back every few years. Both plants are 40+ years old, though.


 COMMENT 532789P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 05:12 PM

oops. "That Bougainvillea AND the other B plant . . ."


 COMMENT 532810 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 08:47 PM

I had a garden account in Montecito years ago that had one area next to the house that was death on plants. I tried all of the angles mentioned above and the plants still died! While digging out the most recent failure, I caught a whiff of natural gas! We called the has company and they found a leak underground. Mystery solved..has line fixed and plants finally grew there. Is this a possibility in your location?


 COMMENT 532817P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 09:22 PM

Concrete tailings can create bad soil. I had contractors ruin a couple spots every time when they dump them in a spot of dirt. Permanently ruins the soil.


 COMMENT 532829P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-04 10:33 PM

I've had problems like this with various plants in various places. What kills me is that weeds thrive no matter what or where. :-(


 COMMENT 532842 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:08 AM

I'm a garden designer, and it has been my experience (as well as a few of the others who commented) that bougainvillea need to be watered only when they seem dry; drip irrigation would be fatal to them.


 COMMENT 532843 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:21 AM

To me the soil looks dry, depleted and compacted. I have lots of bouganvilla at my home and we use a drip system for them. At this point you should probably use Dynamite fertilizer and a drip system and expect it to be many months for it to return to green leaves first. They do tend to die back for a rest with the weather, but your other plants also look very dry. A drip watering system would not waste water and would allow the roots to get nutrients. I agree use a stick probe to see how deep the water is getting, but a drip should solve that. The location of the bouganvilla looks fine.


 COMMENT 532846P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:41 AM

You might double-check the pH of the soil. Sometimes near a house the soil will be basic, and bougies like acidic soil.


 COMMENT 532847P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:41 AM

And I wouldn't pipe gray water out onto it unless the pH is checked of the water, especially if it's soapy.


 COMMENT 532849P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:44 AM

And I wouldn't pipe gray water out onto it unless the pH is checked of the water, especially if it's soapy.


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 08:45 AM

We have 4 plants, they never get watered or fed, are huge now and are crazy full of color.


 COMMENT 532861 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 09:32 AM

May be that the roots have reached hard pan layer a few feet down. Bougies, though robust, have a sensitive root system so digging around them is ill-advised. Soil sample to a lab to test for oddball soil profile and/or toxicity. Sample at depth 2-3'. Fruit growers labs or Wallace labs. Let them know the issues.


 COMMENT 532868 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 09:50 AM

How long ago did you dig out the other plants? Bougainvillea have very sensitive roots. If you disturbed it's root system too much you will need to give it time to recover. If this is the case you could try pruning it back a little to help it and I would recommend some worm castings watered in.


 COMMENT 532948P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 02:45 PM

Your house exterior looks great! Was it recently painted? Paint residue or wash water from brushes/rollers can poison soil.


 ACF agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 02:45 PM

To 755P: In French the name Bougainville is pronounced BOO-ghan(nasal)-veel or boo-ghan-VEE-ya, both with a hard G (because it's followed by an A). In French the three words mille, tranquille, and ville are pronounced with the L sound, but pronunciation of personal names can vary. Of course most Americans call the plant boo-ghan-VEE-ya.

Lesson: The only safe pronunciation of any plant's name is the Latin version!


 ACF agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 02:47 PM

My large bougainvillea has suffered in recent years because of the cold winters. They hate the cold.


 COMMENT 532953P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 02:49 PM

Could it be sunburn from that awful hot spell we had not long ago? That heat damaged my Carpinteria garden and it is still recovering.


 YIN YANG agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 05:43 PM

Congrats, JohnSR for a hugely popular thread! Good luck renewing your plant. Are you above Foothill? I'm below near Alamar, but no longer have Bougainvillea.
To those unfamiliar, this plant can be NASTY! They grow huge and bushy and have thorns; I know someone who got pierced and developed a joint infection, not from the hospital, and this was decades ago.


 COMMENT 532990 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 05:50 PM

ACF, your comment shows how micro climates in SB are different. I have a white bouganvillea near the El Encanto that bloomed all winter long. Up here it was one of the most mild winters we've ever had. And the white ones rarely bloom heavy in SB.


 COMMENT 533038 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-05 10:38 PM

I have many bougainvilla plants, and yours looks like the
same variety I have had growing near a patio screen for
20 years. It is not a rampant grower as some types. Mine
is called "Oolala" and is a bright fushia color, like yours. They require pruning to keep blooming, as they bloom on the
new growth only. Yours looks like you have spared the
pruning shears too much and maybe too much water, as
others have suggested. I only water mine about every two
weeks, and sparingly then.


 BONNER agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-06 10:39 AM

I have three bougies that look same type/color as yours, all bloomed well since planted 11 years ago...until 2 years ago one of them began declining. It now looks exactly like your stressed plant. We dug deep off a bit from perimeter and found the problem...a gopher (from a long tunnel) had channeled to the plant and eaten all the fibrous roots. We never put a barrier around when planted as assumed gopher-proof plant. Not so. If hungry and opportunity there, they will eat a bougie. We trapped but 2 years later it still is struggling and barely new growth, will probably remove and replace with new plant and serious gopher shield around it. Never use chicken wire, it's way too thin and open, easy access to gophers.


 COMMENT 533392 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-07 10:35 AM

Tell that to my neighbor who dug up his whole yard and covered it with chicken wire, then sod on top of that. He thinks he has the gophers stymied.


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