Butterfly Bush

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Butterfly Bushes

butterfly-bush

The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) is a beautiful, fast-growing, deciduous shrub with masses of blossoms—long, seductively spiked trusses—that bloom from summer to autumn.

The flowers come in many colors, though butterflies prefer the lavenderpink (mauve) of the species to the white and dark purple cultivars.

Butterfly bushes are hardy to zone 5 and remains evergreen from zone 8 south. The shrub is also low-maintenance, only requiring dead-heading and annual pruning in later winter to encourage flowers and a compact shape.

Invasive Concerns

Please note that the popular Butterfly Bush, imported from China, is now being classified as an invasive species in most regions, which means it’s crowding out native food that is essential to wildlife, including butterflies and birds. In more gentle climates, it can become a noxious weed. In other climates, it seems to stay contained within a garden’s cultivated soil if gardeners deadhead the flowers once spent.

Also, despite the “butterfly” name, keep in mind that this shrub is not a “host plant” for butterflies in that it does not support butterfly reproduction and lifecycle. Rather, it provides nectar to adult butterflies; think of nectar as their favorite adult beverage! If you do have a Butterfly Bush, be sure to add native host plants such as milkweed if you want the butterflies to stay. See plants that attract butterflies.  

There are non-invasive American Butterfly Bushes. Please check with your local cooperative extension for more information.

Planting

  • Buddleias need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
  • Plant in spring or fall. See your local frost dates.
  • Loosen the soil, mix in compost, and 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
  • Space plants 5 to 10 feet apart, depending on the variety.
  • Water thoroughly.

Care

  • 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 and 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.
  • Since they bloom on new wood, even if there is no die-back, cut them back to the ground every spring. Yes, hack 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.

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.

Recommended Varieties

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Buddleia davidii

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