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Butterfly Bushes: Planting, Growing, and Caring for Butterfly Bushes

How to Grow a Butterfly Bush

Caption

Attract beautiful butterflies to your garden with a butterfly bush.

Photo Credit
Willowpix/Getty
Botanical Name
Buddleia davidii
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Bloom Time
Flower Color
Hardiness Zone

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Planting, Growing, and Pruning Butterfly Bushes

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The butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is a fast-growing shrub with masses of showy, fragrant flowers that attract pollinators. Planted in spring or fall before frost, this perennial will bloom from summer through autumn. Learn how to grow a butterfly bush (and learn if you should plant a butterfly bush).

About Butterfly Bushes

Also called “summer lilacs,” Buddleja are hardy to Zone 5 and remain evergreen from Zone 8 south. Growing 5 to 10 feet tall, this large, arching shrub produces an abundance of flowers—long, spiked trusses—in mainly purple and pink colors. The shrub grows well in perennial gardens or as a shrub border, and the flowers are good for cutting.

Don’t prune at the wrong time. Butterfly bush growth appears on new wood, so pruning should wait until the new wood is ready to grow in spring. Also, be patient with this shrub as it may not leaf out in the spring until after other perennials. 

butterfly on a butterfly bush

Invasive Concerns of Butterfly Bushes

Please note that the butterfly bush, originally imported from China, has been classified as an invasive species in many U.S. states as it’s known to crowd out native plants that are essential to wildlife. In warm climates, it can become a noxious weed and spread aggressively, while in cooler climates, it mostly stays contained if gardeners deadhead the flowers.

Note: The butterfly bush does provide adult butterflies with nectar similar to that of many flowers. However, it is not a “host plant” for butterfly larvae; if you want the butterflies to stay, be sure to add native host plants such as milkweed, aster, and dill. See plants that attract butterflies.  

If you would still like to put a butterfly bush in your garden, there are a few species of non-invasive butterfly bushes native to the southwestern United States. Also, there are newer varieties that stay compact and won’t take over your garden. See our native list of butterfly bushes below.

Please check with your local cooperative extension for more information.

Planting

Choose a location with full sun and moist, well-drained soil. 

When to Plant

How to Plant

  • Loosen the soil from 12 to 15 inches deep and mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
  • Dig a hole twice the diameter of the plant container.
  • When placing the plant in the hole, the top of the rootball should be level with the soil surface. Gently backfill the hole around the rootball. Firm the soil.
  • Water thoroughly.
Growing

Caring for Butterfly Bushes

  • Water freely when in growth and sparingly otherwise. In the summer, water if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
  • Avoid fertilizing butterfly bush; too much fertility promotes leaf growth over flower production.
  • Remove spent flower spikes to encourage new shoots and flower buds.  In addition, it is important to deadhead the flowers just as they start to wither so that this invasive plant doesn’t spread volunteer seeds. Deadheading of this invasive is now required in many states.
  • Each spring, apply a thin layer of compost, then 2 to 4 inches of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
  • In cold, Northern climates, spread mulch up to 6 inches deep around the trunk to nurture it through the winter.
  • Buddleias are very late to break dormancy, so don’t be in a hurry to assess winter damage.
  • The bush should bloom abundantly even in its first year. In warmer climates, the bushes will grow into trees and develop rugged trunks that peel; peeling is normal.
  • In the northern limit of their range, they behave as herbaceous perennials, dying back to the root in cold winters.

Pruning Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bushes must be pruned vigorously, or their flowers will grow up so high that you can’t see and enjoy them!

  • Since butterfly bushes bloom on new wood, even if there is no die-back, cut them back to the ground early each spring. Yes, hack to the ground! 
  • Also, prune out dead stems, cutting them close to the ground.
  • Even where winters are mild enough for the stems to survive, prune severely to stimulate abundant growth on which flowers are borne.
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Pests/Diseases
  • Susceptible to capsid bug, caterpillars, weevils, mullein moth, and spider mites.
  • Fungal leaf spots and die-backs can occur.
  • Butterfly bushes are one of many deer-resistant plants.
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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