Although bougainvillea shrubs are sturdy plants that often withstand extensive abuse without showing signs of trauma, they do have a limit to the amount of stress they can tolerate and continue thriving. If you fear for your shrub, tell if your bougainvillea is dead by assessing the foliage of the plant. If you do not see green growth in the stems and leaves of the plant, it may be dead.
Check the bougainvillea for foliage growth above the ground. If you do not see vibrant leaves and green stems, the shrub may be dead.
Grasp a stem between your hands and bend it. If the stem breaks crisply with a snap, the bougainvillea may be dead. If the stem bends but does not immediately break, the plant may still be alive.
Cut away the outer bark from a stem to look at the inside. If you see green inside the stem, the bougainvillea may still be alive. If the inside of the stem is drab and gray, the plant may be dead.
Cut back every stem that appears dead after you test the stems using steps two and three. Cut these stems back to approximately 2 inches above the soil level. Leave any stems intact that may not be dead.
Provide water for the bougainvillea plant after pruning it. Water to saturate the soil and then wait to water again until the soil is dry.
Wait to see how the bougainvillea responds to the pruning. Often, a bougainvillea can appear dead but when you cut it back, it rejuvenates and begins growing again. Wait up to one month and if you do not see any new growth, you may conclude the bougainvillea is dead.