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Light Freeze Damage On Bougainvilleas: What It Looks Like and What To Do About It

Do you think your bougainvillea has been hit by the cold? Mine were a few weeks ago. I want to show you what light freeze damage looks like on bougainvilleas & tell you what my plan of action is.

deep pink red bougainvillea against a white column the variety is Barbara Karst. the text reads Light Freeze Damage On Bougainvilleas what it looks like & what to do about it

Oh, bougainvilleas; just when I thought I’d written all I could write about you, this happens. All in all, it’s been a very mild winter here in Tucson but we did have 1 evening in mid to late December when the temps dropped to 29 degrees. Brrrrr – the bougies weren’t very happy about that. I want to show you what light freeze damage looks like on bougainvilleas and tell you what my plan of action is.

I worked at a wonderful nursery in Berkeley many moons ago.  One January a very atypical 4-5 night consecutive freeze hit the Bay Area. My client who lives on the coast just south of San Francisco had an iced-over bird bath! The bougainvilleas in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills totally froze to the ground. Some started sprouting back up in mid-spring but many bit the dust.

That’s what a hard freeze does to bougainvilleas. The water inside the plant freezes and it can be the kiss of death depending on how the roots fare. This light freeze that hit mine effected mainly the upper branches of my “Barbara Karst” that wasn’t against the house. The leaves on those branches wilted (it looks like the plant is dehydrated in the early stages) then dried up and fell off.

Light Freeze Damage on Bougainvilleas

What am I planning on doing about it you ask? Absolutely nothing right now except for sweeping up the fallen leaves and flower bracts. At the end of February/beginning of March, I’ll see low the temps are dropping and decide whether to prune then or wait. I don’t want to force out a lot of new growth by pruning and have the bougainvilleas get hit even harder because their outer protection has all been cut away.

Branch of a bougainvillea with deep red pink flowers & a couple of curled leaves. This is light freeze damage on bougainvilleas
The flowers have dried on this branch & a couple of the leaves have curled.
A bougainvillea with deep red pink flowers grows against a white building. Many of the branches are brown or dead. This is light freeze damage on bougainvilleas
This bougainvillea is right around the corner from me. The outer & upper branches have been hit on this 1 too.
close up of bougainvillea leaves in winter this is light freeze damage
Here’s another of my bougainvilleas. The leaves are always a paler green on this 1 but the markings are due to the freeze.
Close up of a boungainvillea branch which has been hit by a light freeze. New growth is appearing at the nodes
That’s new growth swelling from the nodes. Old leaves will all fall off & that fresh new growth will appear as the days get longer & the weather warms. 

If your bougainvillea has been hit by a freeze (light or hard) in early winter, resist the temptation to have at it with your Felcos at this time. A light freeze will just superficially effect the plant so wait until the evening temps are consistently warmer. With a hard freeze you may have to wait even longer to see if any new growth is appearing. And, no fertilizing your bougie at this point thinking you’re going to pamper it.

Don’t worry if the leaves on your bougainvillea are turning yellow and dropping off at this time of year. Here’s the scoop: Bougainvillea is native to coastal tropical areas.  One of the causes is the cooler winter temperatures.  In some climate zones it’s semi-deciduous and the leaves partially or totally fall off.

Have you ever experienced freeze damage on your bougainvillea?

Be sure to check back in late winter/early spring because I’ll be doing a post and video showing you how I prune my Bougainvillea Barbara Karst after this light freeze. For now she’s just going to have to wait!

a red cardinal sits in a large oleander in tucson arizona

Just for fun – a Cardinal hanging out in my Oleander on a January afternoon. I love it when they come to visit my garden!

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8 comments:

  1. I lived in South Florida for 23 years and there were many episodes of light frost over the years. Believe me, no need to do anything. Yes, the leaves and flowers will fall and the plant will look a bit dismal for a couple of weeks, but then the rebound will be incredible! More blooms than you ever thought possible, a real dazzler! You are right not to cut anything back now, your patience will be rewarded.

  2. thanks! mine just froze 🙁

  3. Hi Gloria – Thanks; the damage on mine is minimal so I’m not concerned at all. I’ll do a pruning in early spring & my bougie will be on its way to splendor. Still has a good amount of color though despite the cold. Nell

  4. Oh dear Anna, hang tight until spring & you might see sign of new growth coming from the base. Nell

  5. Hello! Do you sell bougainvillea starters ? If not, where can I find them in Ontario Canada?
    Thank you

  6. No I don’t Sophia. I live in the US so I’m not familiar with Canadian growers. I imagine at least 1 nursery would have small ones for sale once the weather warms. Nell

  7. ok, plan of action is to wait until mid-late march to prune? i am getting nice green leaves at the base but freeze took most of the flowers and the top..just long bare stickers

  8. Hi Donna – Funny you should bring this up. I’m pruning mine this week (on March 8) because the evenings have consistently warmed to above 40F here in Tucson. The days are sunny & in the 70’s. Video & post on this subject coming in 2 or 3 weeks. Nell

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