The Q&A Archives: Bougainvillea

Question: We recently purchased a beautiful Bougainvillea (Johnny Walker) and we were told by the gentleman that sold it to us to not water it too much!!!!! Well, we listened to him and this beautiful plant is so dried out that my wife is in tears over it. I personally re-visited this nursery and told him about the damage. I had to rent a van to transport this plant so my purchase was well over $200.00.

I cannot tell you how upset we both are and I am contemplating dropping this off and demanding my money back. The leaves are very dry. Is there any way this plant can be revived? We have started the watering process and hope it is not too late. What do you recommend? And what process should we take moving forward as an indoor plant?

Mike Zareski

Answer: I can only imagine how upset you must be with the fate of your new bougainvillea. Bougainvillea, once it is established, can go through short periods of drought without problem. But a bougainvillea growing in a pot has restricted root space and cannot search the soil for moisture - the roots are dependent upon you, the gardener to supply the necessary water. While it is true, you can allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings, a potted bougainvillea cannot go for an extended time without water. The first thing a water-starved plant will do is drop its leaves. This is to conserve what moisture it has. Next, the stems will begin to shrivel and the last stage of death is that the roots will dessicate and die. I don't know whether or not it is too late to save your plant. Watering thoroughly (try immersing the pot in a large container of water for 15-20 minutes) and then watering whenever the top inch of soil dries out should supply the needed moisture. Your plant may not have been fatally damaged and may still be able to produce new leaves. If so, all is well.

If it does regain its health, you'll want to provide average household temperatures and bright light indoors. Bougainvillea blooms on a 5-6 week cycle and produces colorful bracts on new growth. After it has finished flowering, prune back the spent blooms. The plant will rest for a few weeks and then produce new growth, which should bloom for you.

Just a thought - it can be risky to transport a tender plant in a van. If the trip was long, your plant may have become overheated or even suffered from cold temperatures if it remained in the van overnight. It also may not have received the light it needed. Couple those factors with lack of sufficient moisture and you end up with one very unhappy bougainvillea.

I hope it perks up for you now that you've gotten it home. Give it some TLC and it may begin producing new growth. I hope so!

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