How to get rid of bugs on bougainvillea.

How to Get Rid of Bugs on Bougainvillea Naturally (Complete Guide)

If you’ve got bugs eating your bougainvillea to bits and you just can’t stand seeing those gorgeous flowers go to waste, you’ve got to stop them.

Perhaps you’re dealing with pesky aphids sucking the juice out of your precious leaves.

Or maybe you saw some mealybug cotton webbing all over the stems.

Dare I say you saw a caterpillar (or two) gobbling up those green leaves right in your face?

Have no worry. You’ll be well-equipped with knowledge by the end of this guide to take them on!

In this guide, you’ll learn about:

  • What kinds of bugs are eating your bougainvillea
  • How to get rid of them naturally
  • Detailed instructions for common bougainvillea pests (aphids, mealybugs, etc.)
  • How to prevent future pest infestations
  • And more

If you have any questions abut your specific pest problem, please leave a comment at the end of this page and I’ll try to help you out (as usual)!

Sound good?

Let’s send those bugs back to bougie-town!

What kind of bug eats bougainvillea?

Bugs eating bougainvillea.
Bugs on your bougainvillea? Read on.

Bougainvilleas “bougies” are hardy by nature to varying climates.

They can tolerate hot and cold weather. And they can handle some light drought or wetness without a sweat.

With their thorny vines and excellent tolerance to pests in general, it’s not really usual to see bugs eating bougainvillea.

But there are some specific species that don’t care for the spiky thorns and will gobble up those ornamental leaves like it’s their favorite meal (maybe it is).

Some common bugs are aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, mites, worms, and ants.

Pests like these are specialized because they can eat your plant without being harmed by the thorns.

While the plant is resilient to most pests, it can start to wear down if you neglect care.

This can make it get stressed, which will result in yellowing leaves, dropping, failed blooms, stunted growth, or dull color.

Visible pest activity on the bougainvillea should be treated immediately as it can be a sign of mating and hundreds of eggs being laid.

Bugs generally don’t show up slowly.

They come in a small swarm and then blow up to the hundreds or thousands overnight.

If you care about your bougainvillea, protect it by doing something now rather than waiting.

Let’s go over each one of them and how to get rid of them!

What kills bougainvillea?

Pests on bougainvillea.
These pretty flowers bloom pest free!

A lot. Even though this hardy ornamental is resilient to pests, neglect will kill it.

Caterpillars, aphids, mealybugs, mites, and the traditional handful of diseases (powdery mildew, fungus, mold, etc.) are all able to destroy your bougie.

Catching the bug problem during your regular pruning or watering is key.

Then taking the proper steps to remedy it will save your bougainvillea from pests.

It always goes through the same process for pest control:

  • Identify the pest(s) with 100% accuracy
  • Remove as much of the population as possible through natural means if possible
  • Set up traps, natural repellents, and make changes to discourage future infestations
  • Continue monitoring for bugs
  • Reassess the situation and adjust as necessary

Remember that if your plants were infested once, it’s likely that some kind of environmental condition is favoring bugs to infest it in the first place.

You need to correct this in order to discourage future infestations.

Things like overwatering, overfertilizing, or simply having poor ventilation because of dense foliage can all encourage pests.

When this issue is rectified, pests are less likely to show up in the future.

Of course, some regions are just prone to pest problems whether your plant is well cared for or neglected. So it depends.

How do I get rid of bugs on my bougainvillea?

The most common bugs that are found on bougainvillea are listed here.

First, identify what’s eating your plant.

Then find out how to remove the infestation.

Third, set up natural repellents and traps to exclude them for good.

Bougainvillea is hardy in general, so there are not that many bugs you’ll find eating it. Thus, pest infestations should be relatively simple to clean up.

Aphids

How to get rid of aphids.
Aphids are an annoying garden pest that’ll eat up your plants if not controlled!

If you’ve had any garden plants before, you’ve probably dealt with aphids. These plants are no exception.

Aphids come to feed on those big green plant leaves and love them. Since they’re tiny and they can fly, they easily dodge those thorns.

Aphids usually show up in huge numbers and you can find them beelining up the bougainvillea stems to those precious green leaves.

Identification

Aphids are easy to identify.

They can be green, yellow, white, orange, or any color in between. They look like small flies that flutter away when you approach your plants.

There are tons of resources online that you can use to identify them. Look for large wings, a pair of antennae, and visible legs.

They can be seen sucking up the sap of your bougainvillea leaves.

They like to suck the juices from your leaves and will leave behind that sticky goop that collects mold.

If you see some kind of black fungus on the leaves, that’s likely the work of aphids.

Solutions

Getting rid of aphids can be super easy if you do it right. But if you’ve let them breed and lay eggs, it can be a nightmare.

Hosing them off

Start with a basic garden hose. Spray them with medium pressure. They should be instantly knocked off the leaves and flutter around.

Do this whenever you water your plant. It should disturb them and some won’t come back because of this constant disturbance.

Be careful of plant rot from wetting the leaves. If you find that the bugs aren’t being removed from the water pressure, use a nozzle that has a higher setting.

When done regularly, aphid populations should decrease over time, but you need to be consistent. A strong jet of water from your hose will instantly remove any aphids on the bougainvillea.

If you have a hose mixer, add some insecticidal soap for extra killing power. Use as directed.

Dish soap

Dish soap is easy to make and kills aphids instantly.

It’s also safe for bougainvillea when mixed correctly.

Use a tablespoon of dish soap (people like Dawn, but only use the original one (available on Amazon) into a quart of pure water. Stir gently. Pour into a spray bottle.

Spray directly onto aphid infested parts of your plant. You can test it first by spraying it into a small section to see if there’s any plant damage. If so, dilute it.

If you see that it’s not working to kill them, but rather they just fly away or roll around in the soil, up the soap concentration.

The dish soap is supposed to knock them off and drown them because of the soap’s surface tension.

Prune infected parts

All parts that have visible aphid activity should be removed.

This is because they may have mated and left behind thousands of tiny aphid eggs.

If you find that you still can’t get rid of them, check out this guide on DIY aphid home remedies.

Aphids can be a nuisance but will leave your plants alone when constantly disturbed.

Ants

Tiny black ant eating a leaf.
These pests are no match for the power of DIY solutions!

With aphids, mealybugs, scale, and other bugs that leave behind a sticky residue on the leaves, come ants.

Ants love to seek out these moldy deposits and eat them up.

Whether it’s honeydew from brown scale, webby cotton from mealybugs, or moldy soot from aphids, ants will eat it.

You’ll often see them show up in combinations together feeding on your plants.

Imagine aphids secreting their juices all over your leaves. Then it molds and becomes hard.

Then the ants come and start feeding on the mold.

Then you’ve got a huge mess of different bugs eating together like your bougainvillea is a dinner table!

The good part is that ants aren’t that hard to get rid of. They leave on their own if you get rid of the primary pest that’s secreting its juices on your plant.

Whether it be aphids, mealybugs, or scale, get rid of them then the ants will leave on their own.

In some cases, ants will need to be eliminated at the same time as the primary pest. They exist in a symbiotic relationship, which means they help each other out.

For example, soft brown scale will secrete honeydew which ants eat. The ants help defend the scale from biological control agents like parasites.

As you’ll learn about later, it’s important to rid of the ants first in this case.

Other times, you can just get rid of the primary host first then the ants will leave your bougainvillea on their own. Or you eliminate both pests at the same time.

Here are some various techniques to get rid of ants on your bougainvillea.

Identification

The common species of ants you’ll find are farmer ants or honeydew ants.

Like any other ant, they’re ants!

The only difference is that these are known to infest your plants gathering that sweet, sweet honeydew. They’ll eat it up and bring it back to their nest nearby.

They can be black, gray, brown, or any shade in between. They look similar to the typical ones you find in your home, but these specialize on picking up the secretions left by mealybugs or aphids. Gross.

While they don’t harm your plants directly, they can be a vector for plant diseases. They can also make your bougie very ugly-looking because they show up in huge numbers paired with whatever honeydew-secreting pest that’s there.

For more information on other species, see these guides:

Solutions

If you get rid of the bug that’s providing the food source for them, then they’ll go away. So focus on the primary pest first.

In the meantime, there are some tricks you can don to help keep them off your plant.

Sticky tape

Sticky tape can be used around the base of the plant.

Wrap it in rings around the base up to the first branch. Ants will have to crawl over it to get to the sooty mold from other pests.

This will stick to any ant that dares to walk over the sticky trap!

Sticky tape can be purchased from hardware stores for cheap. It’s a quick way to effectively get rid of crawling insects on your bougainvillea.

Borax

Borax is excellent for ant control. Sprinkle it around the base of your bougie plant and keep the ants out!

As they cross over the powder, it causes microscopic incisions in their hard exoskeleton.

Borax can be applied to the base of plant in a circle around every stem or randomly sprinkled in the soil.

With minimal use, borax shouldn’t harm your plants. You can substitute diatomaceous earth if you want to keep it organic.

It’s just as good to use against farmer ants. Use as directed. Keep people, pets, and other creatures out of the powder.

It works by dehydrating them from the cuts it makes in their shell.

Dish soap

Dish soap can be used to spray down ants and kill them right when you spray.

Use a small tablespoon per quart of water. Mix and spray.

Wipe off the ants after you do so, or else it’ll just bring more. Test it on a small part of your plant first to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Give it 1-2 days before you spray down the entire thing.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs (Pseudococcus longispinus) are tiny bugs that create a black or silver sooty mold on your bougainvillea.

If you see these mold spores on your leaves, it’s likely the work of mealybugs because it’s their signature sign of damage.

It also attracts ants that come and eat the mold, so you may see either bug on your plant’s leaves, stems, or soil. Sometimes it’s hidden on the opposite side out of view.

There’s also the citrus mealybugs (Planococcus citiri) which are found feeding on bougainvillea just like the longtailed mealybug.

Mealybug identification

The simplest way to describe these critters is cotton buds.

They look like small, white or brown tufts of cotton balls.

It may be easy to confuse them with other webbed bugs, but mealybugs will leave behind their sticky white poofs all over your leaves.

You may mistake them for spider mites.

They’re flat, soft, and have a distinct oval shape.

They have a segmented body with a shiny wax that gives them a spiny shell on the posterior end.

This wax makes them impenetrable to common pesticides as it just washes right off. Think of the wax as a protective coating.

The citrus mealybug is the most common one with a pink body under the layer of wax.

You’ll find them hiding on the leaves or stems. Females deposit hundreds of eggs in the white cottony poofs. When the nymphs hatch, they’re bright yellow and will be vulnerable to pesticides.

When they develop their waxy cover, they’re protected.

So this gives you a small window to prevent new mealybugs from growing if you kill them when they’re just nymphs.

If you see ants, they may be cohabiting with the mealybugs. Mealybugs are excellent hiders and will hide on the opposite sides of your bougainvillea- out of plain sight.

Signs of damage

Similar to other plant-sucking insects, mealybugs will suck the nutrients out of the leaves.

They reduce your plant’s vigor which may result in stunted growth, yellowing leaves, or droopiness.

The cotton buds they form on the leaves also interfere with photosynthesis by blocking sunlight absorption.

They excrete sticky honeydew just like aphids do. This is sticky and will grow a black fungus over it.

Solutions

Mealybugs can be managed by either ridding the companion ants, removing damaged foliage, or natural DIY sprays.

Prune

First, remove the infected parts of your plants.

Get rid of all the cottony buds by cleanly cutting off those leaves or branches.

If you must save the branch, you can spray it with some rubbing alcohol then remove it with a scraper.

But this isn’t recommended because you’ll disturb them which can cause more issues.

Note that this method isn’t practical if you’ve been neglecting it. If the cotton is everywhere, you can’t possibly do that much cutting back without damaging your plants.

Use biological control

The most effective and organic way to eliminate mealybugs is through the use of biological parasites.

There are a few that can take care of the citrus and long-tailed mealybugs without harming your plant.

Depending on where you live, some of these pests may already be present and you just need to research how to get more of them to your garden.

Otherwise, you can buy them in batches and release them in your garden according to the instructions provided by the company you purchase them from.

Typically, the parasites will seek out mealybugs and parasitically kill them over time. However, if not released correctly, the parasites may leave your garden and render your efforts useless.

Some good natural predators of mealybugs are:

Ladybugs (lady beetles)
Ladybug eating bugs.
Ladybugs are one of many bugs that can help destroy bugs.

Ladybugs are common and can be found everywhere- from your porch to your RV.

You can easily bring in more ladybugs by making your garden more favorable to their lifestyle.

Or you can order them online and then release them in batches. Ladybugs will destroy mealybugs, lawn moths, tickseed beetles, cauliflower pests, and more, without damaging your plants. They leave on their own when the infestation is clear.

If your bougainvillea is planted in a container, you can clear infestations by putting it inside a greenhouse temporarily. Release the ladybugs in batches inside the greenhouse so they don’t fly away.

This way, they’re stuck inside until they eat up all the pests.

When the infestation is clear, you can put your bougie back outside.

This works if you’re planting bougainvillea in a container and it’s still moveable. It doesn’t work if it’s already established roots as you don’t want to move it around.

Do NOT attempt to unearth your plant!

Lacewings

Lacewings are also a good choice. These flying creatures can kill mealybugs by eating them whole rather than parasitically injecting them with eggs.

Check this out:

These are not as readily available as ladybugs though, so check that your area can sustain them before you buy.

Syrphid flies

These flies are known to effectively kill mealybugs. Also known as hoverflies, they look like small bees.

They prefer environments that are warm, humid, and have plenty of flowers.

If you plant a bunch of different, brightly-colored flowers, you have a good chance of attracting hoverflies to your garden. They’ll take care of the mealybugs naturally.

Here’s a good resource to learn more about hoverflies.

Mealybug destroyer (Cryptolaemus)

Relatively new to the parasite biological control scene, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri readily feeds on mealybugs.

They kill both the adult and the larvae like it’s nobody’s business. The mealybug destroyer is basically a big mealybug that’s cannibalistic.

It has small brown wings with a light brown head. These are used in commercial farms.

But you may be able to find some online for smaller quantities.

For a detailed guide on getting rid of mealybugs, check out this article.

Brown soft scale

Soft scale, also known as Coccus hesperidum, is a common pest that feeds on the plant just like the other bugs on this list.

Scale look like tiny ovular disks that begin feeding as soon as they hatch.

Identification

They have rounded shells that are mottled with distinct stripe patterns.

Scale does heavy damage. They can reduce plant growth by blocking photosynthesis of the leaves by depositing a sooty honeydew.

This then attracts mold and blocks the plant from getting sunlight. It also brings in other bugs like ants or aphids.

Scale is disgusting. You’ll likely find them showing up in mid or late summer to fall on your bougainvillea.

Solutions

There are many different ways to get rid of scale without the use of dangerous insecticides. Many DIY home remedies will do the trick without the need for compounds.

Pruning

Prune off any infested parts of your plants that show brown scale activity. This will remove a large portion of the population and their eggs.

Don’t try to save the foliage unless it’s a critical area like a leaf node or root stem.

Brown scale can be killed by a mixture of dish detergent with water.

Rubbing alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol will instantly kill soft scales. A single spray or two is all that’s needed.

Remove the scale after you spray or else other bugs will come eat them.

Rubbing alcohol can be used to remove the honeydew deposits.

Spray the deposit, then use a sturdy cotton bud to swab it off. Don’t overdo it because it’ll burn your plant. 70% rubbing alcohol is more enough.

Organic oils

The most effective way to eliminate brown scale is through biological oils. These are oils that are dedicated for specific spot treatment of pests.

Don’t use broad-spectrum insecticides (those bug killers that kill many different pests). They do too much damage by killing beneficial insects nearby.

You want to concentrate on just the soft brown scale.

Organic oils may not be available in your area. Look for NR 440, or PureSpray Green (Amazon). Use as directed. Follow all instructions.

Biological parasites

Scale can be killed by using biological control agents such as Metaphycus spp.

This parasite will directly attack brown soft scales. If you decide to use parasites, make sure that there are no ants nearby.

They actually help defend the scale from the beneficial parasites, so you want to eliminate them first.

Giant whiteflies

Whitefly vs. aphid vs. mealybugs.
A whitefly is often confused with mealybugs and aphids.

Whiteflies are those tiny little flies that flutter out when you approach your garden.

But giant whiteflies are the….well, giant ones. These bugs suck the sap out of your bougainvillea just like aphids or mealybugs.

The problem with giant whiteflies is that they can get anywhere on your plant without damage since they can fly. The thorns are no match for their flying capabilities.

Identification

Whiteflies are those little flutters of white that seem to come out when you approach your plants.

They’re harmless towards humans, but will infest your leaves- sometimes in bunches where they swarm everywhere.

Each whitefly has a pair of wings that fold upwards like a triangle. They also have visible curled antenna with small visible legs under their big wings.

Whiteflies aren’t always the color white- they can be green, silver, gray, or tan.

They’re also commonly mistaken for aphids since they look so similar. One easy way to tell the difference between whitefly vs. aphid is how the wings fold.

Whiteflies fold them upwards while aphids fold them to the side.

Here’s how to get rid of them.

Vacuum

Use a handheld portable vacuum and suck them up. They’re not match for the power of a simple vacuum and you can remove them easily this way. Do it daily until the population is gone.

You can release them elsewhere or dispose of the vacuum bag sealed so they don’t escape.

Spray dish soap

Dish detergent instantly kills these bugs when sprayed directly.

Just like the other recipes on this page, use 1 part dish soap to about 7 parts water. You can also add in some robing alcohol for extra power.

Test it on a singe part of your plant first, as usual. Spray when you see them and they’ll be wiped out.

Neem oil

Neem oil proves to be excellent for killing these flies. The neem will help defend your leaves from further damage as well.

Dilute as necessary. Follow all labels. Neem is ideally used when you first see whiteflies on your bougainvillea.

If you don’t want to use a diluted or concentrated neem extract, they also make soil-based granules you can substitute instead.

Prune

Get rid of any infested parts of your plant. Cut them off cleanly then dunk the branch into a bucket of soapy water to kill the remaining pests on it. Sterilize the pruners when you’re done.

This will eliminate their eggs hidden in the leaves.

Repel with plants

There are some plants that are especially good at naturally repelling whiteflies.

If you’re in the right hardiness zone, consider planting the following:

With so many different plants, there’s surely something you can grow in your region.

For further info, check out this guide on how to get rid of whiteflies.

Spider mites

Spider mite bougainvillea.
Notice how the spider mite looks like a spider!

Spider mites are tiny mites that are nearly microscopic to the naked eye.

If you look closely, they look like small red spots that can glide through wind currents and crawl slowly across surfaces.

Spider mites come in all different types of species, with the most popular ones being the following:

  • Clover mite
  • Red spider mite
  • Banks grass mite
  • Spotted spider mite
  • Twospotted spider mite

These are found on ornamental plants.

Spider mites damage the plant by piercing the leaves with their sharp mouthparts to suck out the sap or nutrients.

This leaves the plant damaged because it constantly loses hydration and can’t hold it inside the foliage.

Over time, constant piercing by mites will make your bougainvillea dehydrate.

Wilting, dryness, yellowing of the leaves, or plant drooping may occur.

Spider mites are a common pest of all types of plants- everything from corn to ornamentals.

While a smaller number of mites are rarely harmful to the plant, you need to get rid of them before they breed like crazy.

Lots of mites will suck the water out of your plant until watering it does nothing.

So don’t be lazy!

A lot of gardeners never notice the mites until their bougainvillea keeps showing signs of dehydration 24/7.

It’s like the plant never gets satiated like it has rabies or something. That’s why mites need to be handled immediately.

Identifying spider mites

There are different types of mites, but they all have similar characteristics.

They’re small, come in multiple colors, and have different niches they feed in. Bougainvillea attracts mites that navigate the thorns.

They’re extremely difficult to see without a magnifying glass or against a contrasting background. If you have dark mites, put a white piece of paper behind them to make them easier to spot.

You can gently shake your plant leaves and they may fall off onto the paper.

Spider mites generally hide on the leaves or stems of the plant.

Signs of damage

Spider mites slowly sap the nutrients out of your plants by piercing them and sucking up the extract like it’s their favorite meal.

(It probably is.)

These mites will leave behind telltale signs of infestation:

  • Small white webbing on the leaves
  • Browning or yellowing of the bougainvillea leaves
  • Stunted growth
  • Brown or yellow spots on the leaves (sometimes white)
  • Silky white webbing on the thorns of your bougainvillea
  • Torn leaves with white webbing between
  • Specks or bite marks on the foliage, stems, or leaves
  • Bites or marks on the plant
  • Wilting or drooping bougainvillea

Solutions

Spider mites can be very hard to get rid of. Some of the most effective remedies you can do at home are the following.

Pruning

All infested foliage should be pruned immediately. Don’t try to save the leaves that are being eaten by these buggers.

Cut them off right away to prevent the spider mites from further infesting your bougainvillea.

Be careful not to cross-contaminate.

Sterilize the pruners before/after use with rubbing alcohol.

Dispose of the infested leaves or thorns by sealing them in a secure gardening bag or dunking them into a solution of soapy water.

This will eliminate the spider mites that are hiding in the plant parts that you cut off.

Neem oil

Neem is a natural, powerful concentrate that can be used to destroy all sorts of pest infestations- everything from gnats, stink bugs, to green tomato hornworms.

Spider mites are no exception.

Neem is generally safe for humans, but may pose risks to pets and sensitive individuals. Always read the labels and use as directed.

The MSDS is useful and should be provided by the retailer.

Here’s one for example so you know what to look for.

  • Neem can be sprayed on your bougainvillea after being diluted.
  • Depending on the purity of said oil, you may need to dilute it more or less. Look up a guide online. There are plenty.
  • Spray the oil early in the morning or at night.
  • Do NOT spray in the peak hours when the sun is bright. The oil forms a thick coat over the plant, which burns the plant when it’s too hot.
  • Or you can wait until a cloudy day with a nice overcast to do some damage control. Water your plant after you spray to get the excess neem oil off.

The coat will last for a few weeks when done correctly so it does provide residual protection after you spray.

The spider mites should be killed upon contact or leaves because they have nothing to eat.

Horticultural oil

Similar to neem oil, horticultural oil can be a completely natural or sometimes organic way to get rid of these mites.

You can buy this oil at nurseries. Make sure it specifically says that it works on mites, as not all contain the necessary ingredients to work. Use as directed.

Horticultural oil generally kills mites on contact and will last after you spray it.

Dish soap

You can make your dish soap mixture at home with just some basic dish detergent and water. Mix one tablespoon of soap for one quart of water.

Swirl gently until suds appear. Grab your favorite bug-killing spray bottle and pour it in. Label it as poisonous so no others ingest it. Then go crazy with it.

Spray down your bougainvillea with the mixture and it should drown the mites upon contact. This will work, but takes time to kill them all. It also makes removing the webs they leave behind on your leaves much easier.

You can adjust the concentration of the mixture by adding more or less soap. Or water. Play around with it until you find that it’s effectively killing the mites.

Additionally, I suggest testing it on a small portion of your bougainvillea plant first. Watch for burning. If you see damage, reduce the soap concentration by adding water to using less detergent.

Soapy water is probably the number one DIY remedy gardeners use to rid 99% of pest problems in my experience.

Insecticidal soap

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can use store-bought insecticidal soap.

There are hundreds of different brands on the market. My suggestion is to start off with an organic brand, then a natural brand.

Make sure they say on the label that they kill mite infestations and they’re safe for ornamental plants. Use as directed.

Some of the most popular choices are the following:

Do your due diligence- check out some reviews and find the one that looks most promising to you. There are ton of them on the market.

You can read this article for a detailed guide on spider mite control.

How do I get rid of looper caterpillars?

Looper caterpillar eating bougainvillea.
This is a good example of how a looper can be mistaken for some other caterpillar.

If you’re seeing these grubby lime green caterpillars crawling all over your bougainvillea leaves, those are likely loopers.

These are known for their “loping” motion when they crawl.

They bunch up into a U-shaped curl, then squeeze themselves forward to inch along. They’re extremely destructive because they’ll chew through your leaves like crazy.

Caterpillars are always hungry. I’m sure you know that by now.

The bougainvillea looper is about 1 inch in length and can be green, yellow, or brown.

Since it’s active during the night, you won’t see it except when it’s disrupted. The leaves will become stripped and skeletonized.

The good thing about these pests is that they’re easy to remove because they’re easy to pick off. You can spot them and then remove them manually until they’re gone.

If that doesn’t work for you, there are other natural ways to repel or eliminate them. Let’s cover some popular DIY home remedies.

Identification

Looper caterpillars are about 1″ in length. There are some species that feed specifically on bougainvillea or similar plants in the same genus.

They have a yellow or green color to them and will come out at night. They hide during the day.

They move quickly by squirming around in their signature caterpillar movement patterns, like this:

Solutions

Don’t fret! There are plenty of techniques to get rid of those pesky green loopers caterpillars. They won’t be eating your no more after you do the following.

Manual removal

This is the easiest, but not for everyone.

If you’re squeamish, this isn’t gonna work for you. Get your favorite pair of gardening gloves.

We’re gonna get personal!

What you’ll need:

  • A bucket (3 or 5 gallons works)
  • Dish detergent
  • Water
  • Thorn-proof gardening gloves
  • Tweezers

How to get rid of them:

First, let’s get the mixture ready.

Grab the bucket and pour in the dish detergent. You only need about 2-3 tablespoons. Any brand works. No need to be fancy with those plant-based types.

Next, fill up the bucket with water.

Fill only until the suds form, like you’re doing a car wash. This is usually a gallon or so of water.

Whatever the case, the water should be at least 2 inches from the bottom of the container.

Place this bucket of soapy water under your plant if possible. If not, then place it as close as you can.

Get your gardening gloves on and it’s time to go hunting!

Pick off any caterpillars you see by hand.

Or use the tweezers if you’re scared. Toss them into the soapy water like you’re an all-star basketball player. The soap will dispatch them slowly as they drown.

Don’t worry. They can’t climb out if it’s smooth enough. Repeat it over and over until you get all the visible caterpillars off your plant.

You want to be gentle and comb through your leaves. They can be hiding under or on the backside of them away from the sun.

Looper caterpillars are active at night. So you may need a flashlight if you’re going hunting at night.

This is why you can sometimes wake up to large pieces of leaves being eaten overnight. These caterpillars come out to feed at night and will leave destruction by the time you get to your bougie.

Get rid of the bucket water. If you are consistent and do this once a week, the caterpillars will disappear. It’s not the most convenient technique, but it works.

For more info, check out this guide on getting rid of looper caterpillars.

Neem oil

Neem oil is excellent for loopers. The neem oil puts a residual layer to shield it from small bugs. It also kills caterpillars when sprayed directly in high enough concentrations.

If you’ve read the other section prior to this one, you’ll know that neem can damage your bougainvillea by overheating it.

Never use it during peak sunlight hours. Wash off your plants after you spray.

Neem may need to be diluted before use, so read the label and use it as instructed. Keep away from people, pets, and other creatures.

There are a lot of different types on the market. Get something that’s organic if you can, especially if you’re growing veggies or fruits nearby.

It’s safer for you, the planet, and your garden. So it’s worth the extra few bucks.

Check out some organic neem on Amazon.

Diatomaceous earth

Bougainvillea loopers rarely leave their host plant after they hatch from the egg.

With this in mind, you can prevent them from climbing back onto the plant to eat it if you block them at the base of it.

Diatomaceous earth is an organic powder that’s made from fine crystals. It’s often used for pool cleaning or as a supplement.

Buy a bag of the organic, edible type. NOT the pool type.

Sprinkle it around the base of the plant in the soil. Put extra DE around the base stems so the looper caterpillar has to crawl over it to climb up the plant.

Once they touch it, it cuts up their bottom side so they bleed out precious fluids. Smaller larvae are especially susceptible to DE damage.

Read the labels and use as directed.

Pretend you’re sprinkling a minefield for the caterpillars to walk through.

It shouldn’t damage your bougainvillea if it’s not overdone and kept on the soil surface.

The nice thing about this is that any new looper worms that try to crawl to a new plant will have to touch the diatomaceous earth to get onto it.

If the caterpillar falls off the plant, they need to touch it to get back up.

It’s like a passive barrier that just traps and kills loopers without you needing to do anything but the initial investment.

Which is cheap, by the way. Get DE in bulk available on Amazon or your local home improvement retailer.

You can use it for other pests like:

Try spinosad sprays

If you don’t have the time to deal with the caterpillars because you can’t go hunting at night, a commercial solution will be your companion.

Look for insecticides that contain spinosad.

It’s known for its ability to wipe out caterpillar populations.

Get something that’s organic, or at least natural if possible. Use as directed. Be sure to get the leaf tops, bottoms, and stems. It’s one of the best insecticides for bougainvillea out there.

Dozens contain spinosad, so be sure to find one that lists caterpillars as a target insect.

Check out some products on Amazon.

Getting rid of bougainvillea pests for good

Aphids eating bougainvillea.
This only happens when you neglect regular plant TLC.

Now that you’ve ridden the infestation, it’s time to learn how to keep bugs off your plants permanently.

While the plant is pest resistant, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to start it again.

Following one infestation, you should know that your plant is susceptible to whatever bug it was infested with prior.

Here are some tips and tricks to prevent bougainvillea pests in the future:

Keep stress levels of your plant low

When your plant is stressed it makes it more susceptible to infections.

Keep it happy by giving it the recommended watering amount, feeding when necessary, and plenty of sunlight in the right hardiness zone.

This IS common sense, but poorly raised plants will be susceptible to bugs.

Don’t overwater

Overwatering leads to fungal, mold, and mildew. It also brings in pests that thrive on water, which is a lot.

Everything from mosquitoes to sowbugs to household indoor silverfish all love high humidity or still water.

Water deeply and completely, but never drown your bougainvillea in water. They’re somewhat drought resistant so it’s much preferred to under than overwater.

Keep it moist. Not wet. Use drip irrigation if possible.

Water at the base

You should never water the leaves, as this can harbor moisture and then lead to mold or mildew. Water at the base only.

Don’t over-fertilize

Fertilizing is necessary during midsummer and spring.

Don’t overdo it. Dilute your plant food if possible to half the recommended dosage. Overfeeding your plant will do more damage than you think.

Bugs also eat the leftover fertilizer that’s caught in the runoff.

Keep it well-pruned

Lastly, don’t let your bougainvillea grow like weeds.

Sure, it may be exciting to see all those new branches coming out.

But leaving it like a jungle will provide plenty of places for insects to hide, breed, and chew on your plant.

It also makes it harder to spot infestations. Regularly prune your plant leaves as needed. Keep it clean, tidy, and neat.

Further reading

Here are some additional references you may find useful:

Did you get rid of the bugs eating your bougainvillea?

Pest-free bougainvillea.
Enjoy your pest free bougainvillea!

You should now have a good idea of how to control, manage, and eliminate common bougainvillea pests.

Armed with this knowledge, go forth and eradicate those darned buggers!

The majority of bougainvillea pests are easy to get rid of if you’re consistent and persistent.

It’ll test your patience, but bougainvillea is a resilient ornamental plant that’ll work with you. Most bugs can’t harm it, so that’s always good.

If you have questions about a specific pest infestation, please leave a comment and let me know below.

Or you can contact me directly, as always!

If you found this page helpful, please let me know as well.

Consider telling a fellow bougainvillea enthusiast who may get some value out of it.

Thanks for reading.

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