Save my Bougainvillea!
April 16, 2009 8:54 AM   Subscribe

My new Bougainvillea Bonsai has dropped or shriveled almost all its leaves and bracts. Help!

I picked up a Bougainvillea Bonsai recently at my local garden store, hoping that my sunroom would have enough light to support it. It had some new growth when I first got it, which continued to grow in the next few weeks. After a short time the leaves started to curl, and since then they have nearly all dropped or shriveled up, along with the bracts. Can I save it?

I was told that Bougs like to dry out, so I'm pretty sure I have not been overwatering it. I gave it one feeding of 6-8-10 "Bougain" fertilizer, and was worried about it not having enough light, so I've been using two compact florescent lights over it several hours a day. I'm concerned that it might be a temperature issue, as the sunroom has wild fluctuations in temperature throughout the day and we have had several cold nights.

I am by no means a green thumb, so I'm not sure how to evaluate this plant's health or figure out what to do next. Do I need a real grow light? Better temperature? Help me save my plant!
posted by RobotNinja to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They like to dry out, but not to stay dry. Any indoors I've had usually benefit from a real drench, followed by a dry out, then repeat. If you think of the places where they grow in the wild this is generally how the rainfall patterns work.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:03 AM on April 16, 2009

Did you transplant it after you bought it? Sounds like transplant shock to me.

I'm also wondering if the fertilizer could have burned the roots -- was it diluted at all when you used it?

My bougainvilla (outdoors, well-established) tends to drop leaves after extreme temperature changes, but it has always recovered. Water it, watch it, and don't expose it to any drastic changes in moisture or temperature, and it may well come back. (Unless the fertilizer fried the roots, in which case, it's probably dead.)
posted by mudpuppie at 10:23 AM on April 16, 2009

I did not transplant it. The fertilizer is some sort of solid pellets, which as I understood were supposed to be scattered around the top of the soil and would then dissolve as it was watered. Some of the leaves had already dropped before I fertilized it, although it is much worse now. Could it just be the sudden shock of cold temperatures? In the store the plants are kept in a greenhouse area.
posted by RobotNinja at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2009

Could it just be the sudden shock of cold temperatures? In the store the plants are kept in a greenhouse area.

I think it could be that. It could also be that it got too dry.

It sounds like your sunroom has temperature conditions like the plant would experience outside -- cool nights, warm days. Could be that was a shock to the greenhouse-grown plant.

By any chance, does it get really hot in your sunroom? That could be another problem.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2009

Don't know about daytime/night temp differential making that much of a difference... I've seen enormous ones in Nepal, and it def gets parky at night there. Unfortunately apart from having grown a few I can't advise much more, so why not try ringing where you bought it, or taking it by?
posted by methylsalicylate at 11:23 AM on April 16, 2009

My bouganvilla (not a bonsai) drops its leaves on occasion. I haven't figured out what causes this, however, it always begins to grow new ones within a couple of weeks. It's in a room where it receives the morning sun only.
posted by Ostara at 12:17 PM on April 16, 2009

We're having a similar Boug problem, and the recommendation today from a landscaper was to try Miracid to acidify our soil. I'm not sure if it relates to the Bonsai Bougs, but we have Barbara Karst and other varieties on our property.

Good luck.
posted by FrotzOzmoo at 7:27 PM on April 16, 2009

Update for future internet wanderers: I kept watering it and lighting it, and after about two weeks of leaflessness, it finally started to sprout new leaves. I've been keeping a close eye on its water levels now and it seems to have made a full recovery.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:16 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

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