Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I can't get my Bougainvillea to bloom. H-E-L-P!!!!

 
 
A bougainvillea without the proper care
 
 
 
A bougainvillea grown with the proper care
 
Why won't my bougainvillea bloom?  I hear this so often during the summer.  I understand the frustration.  I have been there.  Years ago, I tried growing bougainvillea, only to end up with a plant with no leaves and no flowers or a plant with a ton of leaves and no flowers.  I decided then and there this plant was not going to win.  I asked around for advice for growing bougainvillea and got many different answers with little success.  Out of this frustration my bougainvillea experiment began.  Every time I met a bougainvillea grower, I asked questions.  Below, I have listed what I have learned from trial and error.  I hope my notes will help you have a bougainvillea with lots of blooms.

 
  • In our plant zone, bougainvillea plants are typically grown in container and hanging baskets.  They are not winter hardy if planted in the ground or left outside in pots here in Waco.
  • Bougainvilleas need a good quick draining potting soil.  I put in a little pine bark mulch to my potting soil, if is not in the mix.  I like a mix with peat moss, pine bark mulch, & perlite. 
  • Make sure your container has plenty of holes for good drainage.  Do not use saucers.  Saucers capture water, helping maintain moisture in the soil.
  • Plant in full sun. You may have to move your plant several times before you find just the right spot where your plant produces the most blooms.  From my observations, I have found the bougainvilleas that bloom the most are on driveways. 
  • Bougainvillea plants do not bind the soil like most plants.  You must handle with care when transplanting being careful not to distrub the root ball.  I usually advise my customers on leaving the plant in the container they purchase the plant in and setting it in the container of their choice.  If I can tell it is root-bound in the container they are buying, then it is okay to transplant.  Otherwise, the dirt normally will fall from the plant, resulting in a dead or damaged plant.
  • Bougainvillea roots like to be crowded in a pot.  This plant blooms better when it is root-bound.  If you plant it in the ground, you will need to cut the roots back every so often to make it crowded.
  • Clay containers are a good choice.  The clay pots tend to stay drier, thus stressing the plant.
  • Bougainvilleas like to be on the dry side.  Allow your soil to dry to touch between waterings.  Watering a bougainvillea to often will result in a lot of green foilage and very little flowers.  This plant comes from a hot humid climate and is happiest in this environment.  I have found when we have a summer with more humidity than normal my bougainvilleas bloom longer.  When we don't have as much humidity my bougainvilleas cycle, blooming about 6 weeks then resting another 6 weeks from blooming.  Two summers ago my bougainvillea bloomed constantly.  In the summer, we water every other day.  We let our leaves wither or flag a little.  You will need to inspect your plant to decide what watering schedule is best for your plant.  We get a lot of wind at Greenlife and reflected heat from the concrete that our plants grow on, thus drying them out faster.  Every growing site is different.
  • Bougainvilleas going into the greenhouse for the winter.  Trimmed back 75% and defoileated
  • Bougainvilleas that are pruned back, bloom more.  The more you cut back the more blooms you will have.  To the horror of my staff, I prune our bougainvilleas back 75% when I move them to the greenhouse for the winter. They think I am a little scissor happy.  At this time, I also remove all the leaves to protect them from aphids and mealy bugs.
  • Bougainvilleas bloom on new growth,  try to pinch back often to create new growing points. 
  • On pruning, don't prune to often, constant pruning to keep a plant from getting to large can inhibit blooming.  The ideal time to prune or pinch back is when they finish blooming. 
  • When the night temperatures are 60 degrees or more move out of the greenhouse.
  • Bougainvilleas are 'heavy' feeders.  At the beginning of each season, use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.  Bougainvillea foods usually have have higher number in nitrogen.  This will provide nourishment to help your plant become strong and healthy.  When the vine starts to bloom, switch to  a hibiscus food.  Hibiscus food has a higher last number which is your potassium.  Make sure you feed the right amount.  Don't skimp and don't overfertilize.  When you apply your fertilize make sure your soil is moist.  If you apply fertilizer to a dry plant you run the risk of burning your roots and killing the plant. 
Bougainvilleas do not like temperatures below 30 degrees.  If we have high winds or heavy rains, the flowers will fall off.  I try to protect mine.

 
Our Bougainvillea growers greenhouse.  He is the best! 
Brett and our grower loading the truck today with our new bougainvillea's and Hibiscus

40 comments:

  1. As I was reading your post, I felt like I had wrote it myself! I too have asked owners of this beautiful flower how to get it to bloom and have received the same advise. I only wish now that I had gone to school to get a formal education because I love to grow plants of all types and would have loved a job like yours...working at something you love.

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  2. thanks for the tip,we are in our rainy season,no wonder all my plants are not looking well.i need to bring them inside ,and feed it some fertilizer,thanks again

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    1. Your welcome. We have had a lot of overcast days in the month of March. We are thankful for the rain and now we are praying for a little sunshine to get our bougs to bloom. We have quite a bit of foliage that is starting to color. Just about of week of sun should make them pop.
      Our bougs set bloom in the greenhouse late January from our unusal warm winter. They were goregous. Come on sunshine!

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  3. I live in Bakersfield CA. I bought a bougainvillea plant about month ago. I replanted it in a pot, it does not have any flowers at all. How long will it be before it flowers?

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  4. The time flowers appear on your plant depend on many things. Some top causes that come to mind are if you have had overcast days with little sunshine, over fertilized, or if the root system was not very established when you transplanted it.

    When your plant is ready to set bloom the tips of the leaves will start to turn pinkish red. When I buy bougainvilleas, I always try to buy with lots of foliage that has a pinkish red tinge to them. It is tempting to buy one with lots of blooms and no foliage, but most of the time the blooms fall off with the first rain or high wind and disappointment sets in. The novice grower will have a hard time trying to get it to rebloom and usually gives up with the plant ending up in the trash.

    Hopefully, with some warm sunny days and a little time your plant will set bloom. This may require a little patience.

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  5. Hi, I think I may have given my plant too much fertilizer because all the leaves have fallen off or turned black. I would like to rinse the roots and replant them in a different soil. can you please recommend to me a good soil I can purchase at wal mart, home depot or lowes

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  6. Oh, no!!! Sorry to hear that. Black leaves is a indication of over fertilizing. If you have a white layer of crust on top of the soil, this is fertilizer build up. Scrap it off. In the future buy a slow release organic to avoid fertilizer burn.

    I would not remove the soil, due to the fact that bougainvillea roots do not bind the soil. You need to be careful not to disturb them. I suggest you leach the soil with running water.

    As for a soil choice, use a soiless mix. If you have a place to buy organic potting soil do so. Most organic potting soil contains zeolite which absorbs toxins in the soil.

    If your plant does not turn around, take it to a independent garden center for advice. Independent garden centers are mom and pops like my nursery and are passionate about what they do and will give you advice that you cannot get at the big box stores.

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  7. I'm not sure exactly where to "pinch". I'm new to this plant, any plants for that matter ;), and am confused on this one.

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    1. Pinching is the key to promoting flowers on Bougainvilleas. Pinch about 1/2 inch from the tip. I always start this process of pinching when my plant has gone through its first flowering cycle of the season. This will encourage more branching and with more branching you will have more blooms. Sometimes if I have a client with a overgrown plant with nothing but a lot of green foilage in the summer, I will give it a pretty hard prune to stimulate it and feed with hibiscus food. A hard prune is usally more than 50% of plant cut back. You should be able to pinch with your fingers or you can use clippers if you like.

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  8. I bought my boug a year ago and it bloomed beautifully for about 8 months. I live in Las Vegas so the winters are not brutal. I did not prune it back and now it is not flowering. Should I prune it back now or simply wait until fall? It has a ton of green leaves and appears to be very healthy otherwise.

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    1. Not knowing what you have feed your plant or how much sun your plant gets I am going to take a guess that maybe you have used a fertilizer with to much nitrogen or over watered. This sometimes creates a nice green plant with no blooms.
      Let's try this, pinch the tips back about a inch and start using a hibiscus food. Make sure your plant is getting at least 5 hours or more of sun. Monitor your watering. Water only when the top inch or so is dry. If this does not do the trick, I will tell you something that we do sometimes to get a boug to bloom that has been over loved. It is a little scarey, but here it goes. I am only telling you this because your in Vegas and I bet your willing roll the dice on this one. Let your plant dry out to where the leaves droop some what and then water. When the leaves droop, I call this leaf flagging because they look like a flag hanging on a pole with no wind. Sometimes this shocks them into blooming. Good Luck!
      Debby

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  9. I have blooms on my Bougainvillea, buy hardly any leaves & whats there are very tiny. Why is this?

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    1. I pulled a bougainvillea out of the greenhouse today that looked just like you described.
      From your description and what mine looked like, my best guess is that when you bought yours it was probably full of blooms and they fell off, leaving bare branches. Now, the plant is started to put on new growth and that is why the leaves are small. Give it some good food, plenty of sunlight, and I bet in a week or two you will start to see larger leaves. If the limbs get long and lanky cut back your plant (this could be a couple of inches to a couple of feet) depending on how you need to shape it. When you have soft gren growth on the tips of the plant pinch back about a half an inch to encourage more growing points.

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  10. I live in Mumbai, India and i have bougainvillea glabra white all around my house 22 plants/pots in all. They bloom throughout the year - summer, winter or rains. I keep them pot bound - well drained - by hanging them on railings, water them once a day early in the morning - 1 mug of water per plant pot - feed 1 teaspoon of NPK 20/20/20 every 2 weeks and i teaspoon per plant/pot phosphate fertilizer once a month. I do prune when the plants look a little ragged with dry bloom stems. thats all. and they look so beautiful throughout the year.

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    1. Wow! that is great that you have develop a routine with your plants to keep them blooming and figured out what works for you. You must live in a part of India that has mild winters and not have to bring them in. Love to have a picture of them in full bloom. Thanks for the info.

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  11. I live in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana-lots of heat and humidity. My plants are large and very green but no flowers. They all get full sun. A local plant grower recomended epsom salts along with bloom fertilizer. I've tried that but still no flowers. Any sugestions? Waiting for blooms...

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    1. Usually, when plants are big and green that is an indication of overwatering and/or to much nitrogen.
      Try letting them dry out between warterings without letting them die. I would also prune them back some. Also, try Ferti-lome Bougainvillea and tropical plant food. You can get this from an independent garden center. On using epsom salt I would not use in conjunction with a chemical fertilizer due to over doing it on magnesium. The only time I use epsom salts is when I do all organic. Rabbit Hill makes great organic fertilizers with epsom salt in the mix and so does Espoma. I use epsom at the beginning of Rose blooming season to give my rose great big blooms. Good Luck!

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  12. I live in Miami, Florida and this summer is very hot.. my plants are green (I think I have been over watering) but I feel bad when the leaves look droopy and sad.. my other problem is that I have noticed the leaves are being eaten by some sort of animals, but don't know which one. please, what would you recommend??

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    1. It is hard to see plants looking thirsty. Although, the bougs are pretty forgiving and it helps shock them into blooming. As far as the leaves being eaten by a animal, if there are small holes or chewing type marks, this is a insect and I would use a systemic insecticide. I am not aware of what type of animal would eat a boug due to the thorns, if that is the case you by have to put a screen around it.

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  13. I live in an Appartment in Mumbai,India.So we do not have a backyard but have a nice big window with grill, facing mountains creek and a huge mangrove forest. The window is facing to east direction.We have around 10 plants in there like 2 roses,1 crape jasmine,1 gardenia,2 kidney bean climbers,1 rosy periwinkle,1 hibiscus,a show plant.A month ago i bought a boug... it had a strong 3 inched bark with only 2 little shoots.I think it was fully cut before and now having 2 little shoots.I planted it in a new pot and found that it did not had a well established root system.I kept the plant behind hibiscus in a corner. After some days it started growing new foliage.Today a month passed but it is not blooming and its summer here,it got nearly 4 hours continuous sun.Now today i took hibiscus back and placed bougain infront of it( in the beginning it was behind hibiscus)now it gets 5 hours of sun daily,still it is growing only foliage.Some leaves seems to be quite dull and pale.I water it daily but very little amount,and fertilize it once in 2 weeks only with kitchen scraps like egg shell ,tea, banana peels etc.... Will my bougainvillea bloom ever?Help

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  14. Pradeep, Your Bougainvillea will bloom again. First, you will need to be patient. It takes weeks for blooms to appear on the new leaf growth.

    Bougainvillea has a sallow root system and does not like to be disturb as in being repotted. Bougs like to be root bound.

    Bougs like full hot sun and heat. I am not sure if you have air conditioning in your apartment or if you open the windows.

    As far as the foilage being pale, bougs are heavy feeders and sounds like you need some nitrogen.

    It also sounds like you are being to nice to it. Bougs like a little neglect. Try letting it dry out between waterings and letting the leaves droop. Also, pinch about a inch off the end to encourage growth and blooming. Good luck!

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  15. Hi,

    I've found your site & answers about bougs very helpful. We live in South-East Spain - we have a boug planted at the front of the house (in the ground - we inherited it with the property). For a couple of years its blooms were beautiful and constant (bright magenta) but now it looks very sad - just loads of leaves and a few pathetic blooms - we are considering trying to remove it which is quite drastic - any advice on what we could do to get it back to its peak of blooming (it must be about 12 years old now). Is it time to get a new one and keep it in a pot?

    Thanks

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    1. I am glad this site has been helpful to you. I am going to assume the boug is still getting direct sun and nothing has changed over the course of years such as a near by tree has grown larger and now shading it. Another, problem with bougs in the ground is maybe high nitrogen fertilizer for the grass is getting on the boug causing to much vegatative growth.
      What I am going to recomend is try to root prune it. Root pruning older vines will sometimes shock them into blooming. You will need to take a spade and dig down about 18" in a 3-4 foot circle around the trunk to sever the roots. Also, try pinching it back and use a fertilizer formulated for bougainvilleas. I would not attempt to move it at all. Another tip is to prune it round.
      Hope this helps.

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  16. Thanks very much. We'll give it a go.

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  18. Since you live in Greece and North of the equator, your bougainvillea will cycle and not bloom continuously all the time. When bougainvilleas are planted near the equator where the days and nights are equal they bloom almost all the time. Closer to winter when the nights are longer a bougainvillea will bloom more than the dog days of summer such as August. As for here in North America, our Bougainvilleas bloom about 5-6 weeks and rest before blooming starts again approx. 6 more weeks. Bougainvilleas do like humidity before blooming but not while blooming. I am not sure if your plant is in a container or ground, so the tips I will give you is not to over water,feed often with a fertilizer formulated for Bougainvilleas, and give at least 5 hours of sun a day outside. Good luck!

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  19. i have a three year old torch light boug and i live in dharamsala....the himalayas.....i water it and use organic manure but its not flowering like a torch light......only bunches on the tip......could u guide me please

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  20. I am going to assume you have a boug called Torch Glow. I am not familair with Torch Light. The Torch Glow will only bloom in bunches on the tip and not drape up and down the whole stem with color like a common variety boug. Torch Glow are compact in growth and has erect stems with flowers growing in bunches near the the top resembling a torch. In tropical areas where they are hardy Torch Glow is commonly used for erosion control. If you want mounds of color, I suggest you buy a boug of a variety producing these types of blooms.

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  21. I bought a boug this spring. In the middle of this summer, my boug's flowers began to fall. I then noticed the leaves had holes in them. I inspected them, but didn't see any signs of insects (at least not visible). Now my boug is just a bunch of branches. I have it on my porch in a hanging basket, and water it twice a week. It still has a lot of plant food in it and is in it's original container. I didn't know anything about pinching. It's been without leaves and flower for about two months and a half. What should I do to get to its original condition?

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    1. First, I would scratch the stem. If there is a healthy green under it, then it is still alive. It is normal for the plant to drop leaves if they are taken out of a sunny spot and placed in a covered spot or indoors. Not knowing if yours was moved or not, I can only guess it has done though some type of change in lighting and temperature for it to drop its foilage. Ours alway drop foilage when we take them into the greenhouse for the winter, but quickly recover and put on new buds. As far as holes in the leaves, it sounds as something was chewing on them.

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  22. Hi, I am from India and have 3 bougs in orginal earthen pots. They bloom in Indian Winters, that what they told me. Now I see they have started little blooming. What they need is some food as I have not given them anything for last 1 yr. but they seem not to complain. The fertilizer stores here are organic but they are not skilled. I will really appreciate if I can get basic idea about boug fertilizers and quantity. I wont get the packs as in Walmart/ home dopot.

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  23. I'm so glad I read this but now I'm wondering about mine. Mine bloomed the first year we moved into our house but it hasn't bloomed the past two summers. We trim it back to almost nothing every fall and it comes back as leafy as can be but never blooms. However mine is potted in the ground and is in a brick flower bed. I'm wondering if its not being allowed to drain enough and what I can do to fix that?

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  24. If you live in Florida, a common pest that eats Boug leaves is the so-called Bouganvillea Looper which is a brown/green inch worm (caterpillar) that comes out of the soil and feeds at night. We have tons of these in Tampa. These worms usually don't kill the plant but will strip it of its leaves in no time. I have gotten them under control by spraying the leaves (both sides) with Thuricide BT from Southern AG. It is not a chemical pesticide in the usual sense. It is derived from a bacterium, so it is fairly non-toxic. Enough to mix 20 gallons of spray costs about $5.00. You just dilute in water, mix and spray (repeat after rain storms). So-called systemic granules will also work, but I try to avoid systemic agents because they are thought to harm desirable organisms such as bees and butterflies. Also, Bougs need as much direct sunlight as possible, and over-watering can kill them.

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  25. Thank you for all of your advice, this takes a lot of time! Reading all the comments has given me insight to the 5 Bougainvilleas that I have, some flourishing, some...not! I read elsewhere that you can use palm fertilizer on bougs, what is the exact "formula" that is best? The palm one I found is 10-5-8. (I can't get specific fertilizer where I am) What nutrient do bougs like best to bloom, and should I fertilize every two weeks? Mine are all in the ground, one is going crazy (a torch) and is probably now over 25' high, against an east facing wall, I do NOTHING to it, it is about 5 years old. Our island is full of very happy bougs, and I think most people leave well enough alone! I see some recommendations for just fertilizing at the beginning of spring. Your advice about the roots of the plants is very helpful, have not seen anything on roots elsewhere.
    I live on the island, Leros, in Greece, originally from the US . Thank you! Christy
    Ps. I love your administrators and office help, best kind...

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  26. Thank you for your time and advice. REALLY helpful. I'll send you a picture of my three Bougainvilleas that sit in front of my home here in Saudi Arabia. Two are planted in the ground and the third is in a pot at the end of the flower bed. Can I upload the pictures here or send them directly to you. Thanks again for the advice, I'm looking forward to pruning and pinching and trying to get them looking fabulous again and again.

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    1. You can email us at greenlife@aol.com and I will post them.

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  27. My Bourg is very green and leafy, i am in the UK in the middle of England, My bourg has sticky white web like round sticky stuff stuck to the branches, I did wipe aload of this off but it has come back, what is it, it normal?

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    1. You have a insect. I would apply a insecticide labeled for tropicals. Aphids are insects that will leave a sticky residue and a black smooth mold.

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    2. Thank you for your reply, it does ot appear to have blck mold yet but perhaps this is the next stage and therefore hopefully a good sign. I shall get some insecticide at the weekend and give it a go, I would love to see this plant back in it's full glory.

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  28. Amazing information ... wow i am all set to get my bougs flowering and rectify my mistakes... anjali

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