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Why Is My Bougainvillea Dropping Lots Of Yellow Leaves?

Oh Bougainvillea, you're a riot of color but why are your leaves turning yellow & falling off in winter? Find out why.

Bougainvillea Dropping Lots Of Yellow Leaves

Let’s be honest here, bougainvillea is not a plant I grew up with.  I thought it was some kind of exotic plant until I moved to Santa Barbara 10 years ago where it’s found growing in some form or color on every block.  It’s ubiquitous I tell you, yet in my opinion, it’s a beautiful “weed”.  I had no experience growing bougainvillea until a bought a house with 3 of them on the property.  The 1st winter they all of a sudden started loosing leaves so I had to ask the question: why are my bougainvilleas dropping lots of yellow leaves?

My Bougainvillea glabra, which you’ll see in the video below, is a flowering machine.  It puts out a big show of magenta/purplish color off and on for 9 or 10 months out of the year.  It grows up and over my garage which sits at the end of a long, narrow driveway.  It gets a major “WOW” from anyone who sees it.  By the way, this is how I prune and trim my Bougainvillea to get that maximum bloom.

bougainvillea dropping yellow leaves

Here are a couple of leaves starting to turn yellow.  Even though the leaves are dropping, there are lots of flowers already open & lots soon to open.

My initial experience with the Bougainvillea leaf droppage issue had me scratching my head.  What was I not doing?  Or, was I be doing something I shouldn’t be?  I did some reading and got some answers but the final confirmation of the cause came when I visited San Marcos Growers that February to pick up some plants for a client in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They are a large wholesale plant grower with an excellent reputation so with ears open wide, I listened closely to what they had to say.

Here’s the scoop: Bougainvillea is native to coastal tropical areas.  It does great here in Santa Barbara where the winter temperatures rarely dip below the low 40’s but the tropics we are not.  One of the causes for the leaves turning yellow (and yes, they turn completely yellow) is those cooler winter temperatures.  In our climate, though not at all extreme, Bougainvillea is semi-deciduous.  Not all the leaves fall off but maybe 1/2 of them.

See how my Bougainvillea glabra looks in the middle of winter:

The other reason why yellow leaves fall off of Bougainvilleas in winter is due to a prolonged dry spell.  The last few winters haven’t been too cold here but they have been dry.  The lack of rainfall in the last 4 winters has brought on our drought (yes, a severe drought) conditions so the bougies just aren’t getting the water they were used to.  After all, the tropics get a heck of a lot more rain than we do.

bougainvillea dropping yellow leaves

You can see the fresh new growth emerging where the leaves have fallen off.

It’s interesting to me because I’ve noticed that some Bougainvilleas drop more leaves than others.  I’ve been told that some varieties tend to shed more than others do although I haven’t delved too far into that topic.  What I’ve observed though is that Bougainvilleas in cooler, shadier, windier, etc parts of town shed more leaves than the ones in sunnier, more sheltered areas.  There’s a huge hill behind my house that looks out over the ocean (blowing those cool winds!) and when I was taking my Jan/Feb walks up there a, 2 block long hedge of them had almost completely defoliated.  It has since started to leaf out like crazy now that the weather is warming.

As I say in the video, there are 2 things you can do about those yellow leaves falling off Bougainvilleas: #1 is to just let them be and  fall where they may, and #2 is to rake or sweep them up.  It’s part of the natural cycle of the plant and because we don’t get any colorful foliage displays at all in these parts, we’ll take it as our version of fall!

Happy gardening,

Nell's signature

bougainvillea dropping yellow leaves

I’m including these 2 pics of Bougainvilleas in February just because they’re so purdy!

bougainvillea dropping yellow leaves

 

 

 

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10 comments:

  1. Nell
    I live in central Florida. My potted Boganvilla is dropping its leaves.
    They are yellow. It was gorgeous 3 weeks ago.
    Please Hrlp.
    Jennifer

  2. Hi Jennifer – Bougainvilleas drop yellow leaves die to an environmental change or stress. The most common reasons are: the plant is too dry, it has an infestation of spider mites or it’s due to the weather changing (winter coming on & the days & evenings are getting cooler). My bougies drop a lot of yellow leaves after a big flush of blooms. Hope that helps, Nell

  3. Mine is doing the same thanks for sharing.

  4. Betsy – Bougainvilleas go semi-deciduous & drop leaves if winter temps dip down – that’s probably the reason! Nell

  5. First, I love your website and the beautiful pictures of the various bougainvillea plants. We live in beautiful Yorba Linda about 15 minutes from Newport Beach CA and the area we live in is suppose to be the best for growing most plants especially sub-tropical. I was also experiencing the yellowing of the leaves and leaf dropping and your website was very helpful in answering questions I had. One thing I wanted to ask you is that you mentioned spider mites could cause yellowing leaves, do you have an excellent website that could show me what spider mites would look like on a bougainvillea plant so I will know what to look for. Also, can it kill the plant or just do temporary damage to it since I have several in ground and established beautiful (variegated and regular leafed) bougainvillea plants around our pool and spa area and would hate to see them die. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures with all of us and your timely response.

  6. Hi Candy – Thank you. Bougainvilleas are tough plants, especially when established. The spider mites will cause damage, & then the leaves eventually turn yellow & the fall off. I’ve never known them to kill older bougies. Here’s a site for you: https://www.bgi-usa.com/pests-diseases/. My B. glabra in Santa Barbara dropped a lot of yellow leaves at the end of each flowering cycle whereas my B.Barbara Karst did not. Hope that helps, Nell

  7. Hi,
    I brought home 2 Bougainvillea plants with the small flower variety. They sit in a sunny spot and I water them every 2 days. However, just after I brought them home, the orange one shed all its flowers and the flowers of the baby pink one are shriveling up. The leaves are green and seem healthy. i have hardly enjoyed the flowers though this is the season for them to bloom, everyone else’s Bougainvillea seems to be doing fine. Do the flowers shed and reappear? What is the reason for this to happen? Please help me.
    Thank you,
    Amba

  8. Hi Amba – It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know if they’re indoors or out, where you or or if they’re in pots or the ground. Bougies naturally go through periods of blooming & then not. Also, watering every 2 days is too much unless they’re in 6″ pots in a hot climate. They could just be settling in & that’s the reason. Depending on your environment & conditions, they will bloom again. Nell

  9. I live in Charlotte County, FL, 5 months out of the year, November through April. In October, I had my house power washed and chlorine unfortunately was used. My Bougainvillia Tree received an unfortunate dosing. The leaves all fell off; but, it does appear that the leaves are starting to come back. Any suggestions other than to be there next time the house is washed AND refuse chlorine wash?

  10. Hi Karen – That’s the best thing to do; no plants like chlorine. Be there, have someone else be there or give them explicit directions not to use it. When my previous home was power washed, they used an environmentally friendly soap & all my succulents & bougies were just fine. Nell

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