Boug leaves dried after bare rooted repot in gritty mix...

qbriq(3b)August 22, 2013


I recently bare rooted and repotted a Bougainvillea from a bark/coir/perlite mix into Al's Gritty mix. The tree has caliper of about 3" and until recently had very nice, natural ramification and healthy foliage. No force or tools were used during the bare root, just water from a hose, but, despite my best efforts, most of the fine feeder roots were lost. Having never repotted a bougie I was surprised by how brittle the roots were - they just broke right off.

Droop was apparent within about 8 hours of repotting. All leaves were drooping within 36 hours. It has been one week since the repot and 3/4's of the leaves are completely desiccated; the remaining are curled and drying. Some branches show signs of failure at the tip (yellowing/desiccation) however most branches appear to still be alive.

After it was repotted I watered fairly heavily in the first 2 days and kept it in a lightly shaded area outside (daytime temps were 83F; night time 54F). When the wilting occurred I began to think, "weak root system + semi-arid loving tropical = overwatered" so I figured I'd let it fully dry for two days. The desiccation grew worse; I brought it indoors to keep a closer eye on it and better manage it's night time temperatures.

The tree is presently being grown indoors under a 400W Metal Halide. It's condition has steadily worsened. It is in a deeper pot (typical 13" green garden center type) on account of the long, thick and curling tap root. I have let it get quite dry between waterings but I have noticed that the top 2/3's dry about three times faster than the bottom 1/3 even though half of the bottom 1/3 is a drainage layer of 1" pumice.

Couple of questions:

Should I be waiting till it is dry all the way down or only until the first few inches are dry?

What are best watering practices for bougies in containers specifically and containerized trees in Al's gritty mix generally?

Also, any suggestions on how to handle a Bougainvillea in this condition?



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All the directions I have seen for planting Bougies says it will not tolerate root disturbance. You have proved that to be true. I don't know of anything you can do now but wait. Al

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 10:42AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Have you fertilized?


    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 8:24PM
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I have not fertilized.


I know. I also read that you bare rooted your bougs without difficulty. I assumed that the process would have been less destructive.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 3:27AM
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This Al, Calistoga, has never bare rooted a bougainvillea. I have planted them from 5 gallon containers by carefully cutting the container up the side to keep from any root ball disturbance.

It may be that Al, Tapla, has been successful bare rooting a Bougie, He has a lot of experience in handling roots from his Bonsai work. Al

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:30AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Ah, so it's not even Gritty Mix.

I just caught the mention of the pumice layer on the bottom of the container....that has the potential to make drainage worse, actually. I also noticed that you mention letting the upper mix become quite dry....that's also a serious issue for delicate, newly potted roots.

If you have a layer of pumice in the bottom third, then this is not a Gritty Mix we're discussing. It's anyone's guess how the mix you've made will function.

Your plant might have done very well in Gritty Mix. Maybe try it next time.


    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 1:37PM
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You're right. I did mean tapla. Sorry, my mistake. Thanks for your response.


I am talking about gritty mix, minus the drainage layer. I did not read anywhere that drainage layers were a no-no with the gritty mix but I can see that this might be the case here. Why did you ask if I had fertlized?



    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 3:37PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I have two bougainvillas in gritty mix in 10-15 gallon ceramic pots. I carefully barerooted them but did no rootpruning when transplanting into the gritty mix. I transplanted the first one about three years ago in June and then again this June. Each time it showed wilting and lost a few leaves but began to perk up within a week. I watered almost every day and kept it in dappled shade for about two weeks until it began to show new growth. I began fertilizing regularly and moved it into full sun at that point. It has almost doubled in size this summer and is finally starting to bloom. Its now about four feet tall and well filled out.

When I got the second one in June of last year, it was in full glorious bloom. After transplanting to gritty mix, it lost all blooms and the brightly colored leaves around the blooms within a week or two. I kept watering regularly and again kept it out of the sun until it showed the first signs of new growth. It took all of last summer to fill out and was just starting to bloom when we had our first frost last fall. Both plants lose all their leaves indoors over winter, but come back strong in summer.

I should mention that I incorporate Osmocote Plus 15-9-12 with minors into my gritty mix, so these plants are getting constant feeding from the beginning. I also have found that these plants need regular watering and wilt quickly if I don't water at least every three days. I have read that I should let them dry out between waterings, but they don't seem to like that. They also are very prone to attacks by white flies and mites, so I use a systemic insecticide in the mix. Look closely for pests on your plant. It could be a factor in your problem. And since they do take a long time to bounce back after transplanting, I think it's important to transplant early in the season.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 11:49AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

JW, the Gritty Mix - and gritty mixes in general - offer no nutrition. While this is advantageous for root-extension during the first 1 - 2 weeks in a new mix, it quickly leads to deficiencies in certain plants that will then stall the recovery. That's why I asked. Nutrients are essential for any potted plant, but even moreso in a mix that is virtually devoid of nutrition (unless one uses a slow-release from the start).

As for the drainage layer....the finer material settles on top of the coarser mater below, which then impedes drainage. When water encounters this layer, it travels horizontally first - saturating that whole layer of mix - before finally beginning to drain. This ensures uneven drying in the pot.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 12:46PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

When next you repot a Bougie or other plants with a fibrous root system, try cutting out 3 pie-shaped wedges of roots, leaving 3 wedges of equal size undisturbed. The next year you can cut out the other 3 wedges, then skip a year or just continue alternating removal of half the roots in wedges each year.

When you repot into the gritty mix, especially after root work, you need to water as often as required to ensure there is adequate amounts of water in the area of the pot occupied by roots. It's not at all unusual for me to repot a plant with a very flat root system and water it twice daily until it starts colonizing the deeper parts of the pot with roots.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 2:51PM
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Thank you for your response. I appreciate the information. I have kept a pretty close eye on it and there are no pests. I have been watering regularly for the last week but as I mentioned in my first post it was clear that there were issues within the first 24hrs. I wasn't sure whether to treat this like I would like other repots and keep it partially shaded. Perhaps it was a poor choice but I opted to take it into full light.


I realize that the gritty mix is effectively nutritionally bare but I had decided not to fertilize immediately after the repot in order to give the boug some recovery time. Now - two weeks on and bare of leaves - it probably would not be a good idea to give any nitrogen. Do you think a transplant fertilizer at this point would be helpful?

What you've described with regards to the drainage layer is precisely what I've encountered. I repotted a ficus about 5 days ago and it also is drying unevenly. Considering that the ficus was healthy and its roots were minimally disturbed I opted to pull it and repot it sans pumice drainage layer. We'll see how it fares. Thanks again for your response.

Al (tapla):

Thanks for the information. I will try the wedge technique in the future. Just a couple of questions:

1) Is the Wedge technique for root reduction solely, or do you use this graduated approach for removing old soil as well (i.e. do you always bare root directly or do you go in segments when dealing with fibrous root systems)?

2) Regarding Watering: my Ficus has a relatively flat root system. The surface is drying quickly and the bottom of the pot stays moist. I am hoping that the removal of the drainage layer will help. When you are dealing with a shallow root system after repot you water more frequently, but does that mean you water less deeply (i.e. to avoid contributing to the slower draining soil at the base of the pot)?

Thanks again to everyone who has responded so far.


- JW

    Bookmark   August 25, 2013 at 9:23PM
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