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by David K
(Tucson, AZ USA)

 bougainvillea suddenly dying 21949110

sick bougainvillea

I have a couple bougainvillea plants, which are about 14 yrs old, and which were thriving up until a few days ago. It has been unusually wet here in Southern Arizona over the past 6 weeks. The plants were lush and full of flowers until about 4 days ago. Suddenly all the flowers are gone and the leaves look like they have been eaten by some sort of pest. I suspect caterpillars, but I haven’t actually seen any. What can I do to save the plants?

Comments for bougainvillea suddenly dying

Aug 18, 2021

Never Grown Bougainvillea
by: Jacki Cammidge, Certified Horticulturist

This is not a plant I’m familiar with, as it doesn’t thrive in my climate. It prefers warm dry climates, such as the Mediterranean or in some parts of California.

As it’s drought tolerant, this might be an indication of what’s going wrong. If this kind of plant is exposed to too much moisture, it responds by sulking, or worse, dying. In fact, some sources specifically state that over watering will not thrive; Wikipedia says this;

“They require little water once established, and in fact will not flourish if over-watered.”

So this is probably what’s happened. I’m really hoping that there isn’t some kind of fungus or root rot happening. This could be a problem in any kind of soil that doesn’t have perfect drainage.

I don’t know if the holes in the leaves are from caterpillars, but by now they will have hatched out into moths or butterflies and there is nothing to be done with that.

So, what to do? You could cut off the damaged leaves, but I would avoid doing any other kind of pruning at this time of year. The risk is that it prods a plant into sprouting all kinds of new growth that then dies in colder temperatures.

With plants of this age, less meddling is better. I would not be attempting to move them at this stage, as Bougainvillea have very tender roots. Leave well enough alone, and hope that next year, your climate goes back to hot and dry, as it should.