The Q&A Archives: Is my purple queen bougainvillea dead?

Question: When I purchased the plant about 4 weeks ago it looked beautiful. I planted it in a pot next to the pool where it gets full sun all day, watered it when the soil on top looked dry and fed it with 15-30-15 twice. The leaves started to go white around the edges and gradually fell off and any new growth seemed to die before it had a chance to grow. I took a sample of the leaf to a local nursary and they told me the plant had spider mites and advised me to spray the whole plant and cut off any dead branches. The plant has no new growth and a lot of the branches have dried up. Is there any chance of it coming back because right now it looks very unsightly and people ask why I have a dead plant sitting by the pool. I would appreciate any advice you could give.

Answer: Bougainvilleas can take full sunshine and seem to thrive in hot situations. I've even seen them growing along stretches of desert freeways where they get only natural rainfall and no supplemental water at all. So, the sunny situation shouldn't cause concern, but there are two things in your question that do concern me. First, bougainvilleas resent having their roots disturbed so when you transplanted into another pot you may have shocked it a bit. Normally they recover and begin to grow once the roots become established, but you may have compounded the problem by feeding your plant twice in a 4 week period. It's true that plants in containers are usually watered frequently, which can leach minerals out of the soil, so frequent fertilizing is recommended, but we generally suggest you use a water soluable fertilizer and dilute it to half=strength. If you fed full strength, you may have burned the roots (which may already have been stressed from transplanting). A second dose of fertilizer may have done the plant in. As for spider mites, they are common on plants growing in hot, dry areas and you can help your plants not become host to spidermites by washing the foliage off once a week or so. This simple treatment usually discourages spider mites so no chemical treatment is necessary.

At this point I prune off the dead plant parts, leaving at least 6-8" of stem. Then water on a regular basis. Bougainvilleas grow and bloom on a 5-6 week cycle. The produce leaves, then they flower, then they rest. When they're finished resting they begin to grow again. If the roots of your plant are still alive, they should begin producing new shoots and foliage within a few weeks. Hope they do!

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