Issue: December 1, 2007

Bouganvillea dropped all its leaves

I kept my bougainvillea outdoors for the summer and brought it in before the temperatures dropped. Less than a week later, all of the leaves and color had dropped, and I am left with twigs. It's not dead, is it? What can I do to revive my plant? I keep it in my solarium which gets a fair amount of southern winter sun. Thank you for all your advice!

Rosemarie E.


Many plants, especially many of our tropical houseplants will respond to a drastic change in environment by dropping their leaves. Your bougainvillea has responded to its change in location and associated environmental conditions in this manner. Since you brought it indoors before the temperatures dropped below freezing, it is not likely that it died.

Have you watered it? It is OK to let it become drier, but not totally dried out. The loss of leaves may actually result in new growth and flowering as it recovers. The bougainvillea will often grow and not flower if it is not stressed in some manner.

Your solarium with southern winter sunlight should be an excellent place to grow your bougainvillea. Water it enough to keep the soil from drying completely and watch for new growth to begin. Now is a good time to prune it to remove shoots that have become too long. Prune it before growth begins. Once growth begins, you will need to water more frequently. When new growth has developed, you can also begin fertilizing with a flowering houseplant fertilizer. Follow the directions on the brand of fertilizer you have chosen. You may fertilize with each watering, or once a month, depending on the directions.

Be careful not to overwater your plant. When it has no leaves, it will use water very slowly. Once growth begins, watering must increase, but because of lower winter temperatures and protection from wind, you may not need to water as often as during the summer.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.