The Q&A Archives: Bougainvillea Woes

Question: We planted the bouganvillea last spring along the outside perimeter of our property. They get full sun all day, however, they just do not appear to be thriving. Very limited growth over the summer and very few blooms. I suspect the soil. It is very clay-like soil typical of inland Orange County, California. I know that it doesn't drain well, however, I have seen lots of examples in our general area where the plants seem to be doing great. I know that the roots are quite sensitive so I am hesitant to mulch around the base. Any suggestions?

Answer: Some plants can take a full year to become established before they perform as expected. This is especially true of bougainvillea as they resent transplanting or having their roots disturbed. Usually, though, bougainvilleas are free-blooming, putting out a flush of flowers starting in late summer. The plants prefer rich, moist soil so mulching over the root area shouldn't hurt the plants - just don't cultivate the soil with a hoe or you might injure the surface roots.

If your plant doesn't bloom this season, try the following wilt method to stimulate bloom formation: After the main flush of new leaves emerge in spring, cut back on water until the leaves hang straight down during midday. Give the plants only enough water each morning to prevent them from completely drying out. Don't worry if the leaves drop - your bougainvilleas will still be okay. Continue this procedure for two weeks, then begin watering daily, followed by a monthly application of a low-phosphorus, high-potassium time-release fertilizer such as 17-7-10 at a rate of one tablespoon per gallon container size. The plants should bloom well while you are fertilizing them. Keep watering and feeding on this schedule until new leaf growth appears after flowering.

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