The Q&A Archives: Bougainvillea

Question: Two of my bougainvilleas bloomed beautifully all winter long. Then come April I noticed a white toothpaste like but sticky stuff in between the branch joints. Not knowing what it was I took a cotton swab dipped it in rubbing alcohol and wiped each and every joint. That saved one plant but the other one did not survive. All the leaves are gone. In order to promote the growth I pruned some branches and found them to be green inside. Its been almost 3 wks now - but still no sign of new growth. What am I dealing with here and is there any way I can bring this plant back to life? It is a gorgeous dark purple color that used to bloom profusely!!

Answer: It sounds as though your bougainvillea was infested with either mealybugs or cottony scale insects. Neither are usually lethal to a plant, but can set it back if it is teetering on the brink of disaster. While the rubbing alcohol will kill the pests, it might also burn the plant tissues - some plants are more sensitive than others to it. Now for the good news. Bougainvillea grows and blooms on a cycle. Typically it's a 6 week cycle where the plant grows, then flowers, then rests before it grows again. I wouldn't give up on the plant. Give it another few weeks to rest before expecting new growth. If the tissues beneath the bark are still green, there's still life in your plant, and the potential to grow again. Hope it does!

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