By: Jackie Carroll
Butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) are grown for their long panicles of colorful flowers and their ability to attract butterflies and beneficial insects. They bloom in spring and summer, but the naturally attractive shape of the shrub and evergreen foliage keep the bush interesting, even when it is not in bloom.
These tough plants tolerate a variety of conditions and are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Find out more about butterfly bush planting and care.
Planting a butterfly bush in an optimum location minimizes the time you’ll spend on maintenance. Choose a sunny or partly shaded area where the soil is well-drained. Soil that is constantly wet encourages rot. When planted in good quality garden soil, a butterfly bush rarely needs fertilizer.
Give your butterfly bush plenty of room. The plant tag will tell you the mature size of the cultivar you have chosen. Although butterfly bushes tolerate severe pruning to maintain a smaller size, you can reduce the time you’ll spend pruning by planting it in a location with plenty of room for the plant to develop its natural size and shape. Butterfly bushes grow from 6 to 12 feet (2-4 m.) tall with a spread of 4 to 15 feet (4-5 m.).
NOTE: Butterfly bush is considered an invasive plant in many regions. Check with your local extension office prior to planting to ensure that the plant is permitted in your area.
Butterfly bush care is easy. Water the shrub slowly and deeply during prolonged dry spells so that the soil absorbs the water deep into the root zone.
The plants don’t need fertilization unless grown in poor soil. Fertilize with a 2-inch (5 cm.) layer of compost over the root zone or scratch in some general purpose fertilizer if you need to enrich the soil. Cover the root zone with a 2- to 4-inch (5-10 cm.) layer of mulch. This is particularly important in cold climates where the roots need winter protection.
The most labor-intensive part of caring for butterfly bushes is deadheading. In spring and summer, remove the spent flower clusters promptly. Seed pods develop when the flower clusters are left on the plant. When the pods mature and release their seeds, weedy young plants emerge. The seedlings should be removed as soon as possible.
Young shrubs that are cut off at ground level may re-emerge, so remove the roots along with the top growth. Don’t be tempted to transplant the seedlings into other parts of the garden. Butterfly bushes are usually hybrids, and the offspring probably won’t be as attractive as the parent plant.
Problems with butterfly bushes include root rot and the occasional caterpillar. Planting the shrub in well-drained soil usually eliminates the chances of root rot. The symptoms are yellowing leaves, and in severe cases, twig or stem dieback.
Any time you grow a plant that attracts butterflies, you can expect caterpillars. In most cases the damage is minimal and you will have to stand close to the shrub to notice it. It’s best to leave the caterpillars alone unless their feeding activity does substantial damage to the shrub.
Japanese beetles sometimes feed on butterfly bushes. Using insecticides to control Japanese beetles is usually ineffective, and more likely to destroy the abundance of beneficial insects attracted to the shrub than the beetles. Use traps and handpick the insects, and treat the lawn for grubs, which are the larval form of Japanese beetles.
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Read more about Butterfly Bush
Butterflies are more than beautiful, they’re a gardener’s best friend, for pollinating plants. To attract more butterflies to your garden, be sure to plant the butterfly bush as a delightful flowering shrub for your garden and landscape.
Known botanically as the Buddleja davidii (aka buddleia), 1 , the long conical flowers are filled with sweet nectar that is irresistible to all butterfly species. Buddleia is a great source of food for butterflies and other pollinators. Not only do the butterflies love the butterfly bush—hence the common namesake—but the flowers are long lasting throughout most of the summer.
As with all plants, there are multiple cultivars of the butterfly bush to choose from. Plant them alone as an attractive feature plant or as part of a collection. They are also fairly low maintenance, and will add a dramatic structure to your garden even when the flowers are spent thanks to their architectural seed heads.
Below, we’re taking an in-depth look at butterfly bushes, giving you advice on what variety might be best for your garden, and taking you through how to properly care for and maintain your buddleja throughout the year.
So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this beautiful plant, that is sure to entice a kaleidoscope of butterflies into your garden!
By the way… do you know what a “flock of butterflies” is called? We’ve listed common terms below in order of our favorites first.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja) is a genus in the family of the brown-root family (Scrophlariacae). They grow as deciduous, winter or evergreen half shrubs or shrubs, more rarely than trees. Butterfly Bush are common in the tropical and subtropical regions of America, Africa and Asia. There are about 100 species worldwide, which grow mainly in sunny and hot locations on sometimes very dry and barren soils. O
Appearance and growth
The species Buddleja davidii, also known as Butterfly Bush, is particularly interesting from a horticultural point of view. It is available in numerous breeding forms, the so-called Davidii hybrids with different flower colours and growth heights. Depending on the variety, they grow broadly upright or stocky and form a loose, funnel-shaped crown with strong main shoots and loose lateral branches, the tips of which often overhang slightly under the weight of the flowers. The largest varieties grow up to four metres high, the smallest about 1.50 metres. Its bark is light brown and its narrow, elongated leaves are opposite and lanceolate. They are grey-green and have grey-felt undersides. In mild winters, last year’s leaves often stick to the shoots to a large extent, only in stronger frosts do the leaves die off and fall to the ground. The large oblong flower panicles stand at the ends of this year’s main and side shoots. They open in July and often bloom until the first frost. The varieties flower white, light pink, pinkish red and purple to dark purple.
Less well known are the frost-sensitive spherical Butterfly Bush (Buddleja globosa) and the yellow flowering and somewhat more robust Butterfly Bush (Buddleja x weyeriana), a garden hybrid. In addition, there is the winter-hardy alternate-leaved Butterfly Bush (Buddleja alternifolia), that has however only little similarity with the other types optically, however. It grows strongly overhanging and its purple flowers appear in June in small clusters in the leaf axils of last year’s shoots. In contrast to the butterfly bush, the narrow, elongated leaves are alternate and, as the name suggests, the butterfly bush is a real butterfly magnet in the garden. Colourful butterflies such as the Little Fox and the Peacock Eye are magically attracted by its nectar-rich, fragrant flowers. At the same time, however, the plant is also a neophyte, which means that it spreads further and further in nature. It is particularly dominant in dry locations: Railway embankments and industrial wastelands in inner-city areas are often densely overgrown with summer lilac.
The butterfly bush is suitable for single planting and group planting in warm full sun perennial and summer flower beds. The undemanding shrub, however, also copes well on dry slopes on gravelly soils. Late summer Butterfly Bush beds are particularly beautiful, in which the shrub is combined with high-fat stonecrop, asters and other shrubs popular with butterflies. Due to its Mediterranean appearance, the Butterfly Bush also fits well into Mediterranean gardens.
The yellow summer bush is only suitable for outdoor planting in very mild regions and the spherical summer bush does not have sufficient winter hardiness for the Central European climate. However, both shrubs can be cultivated well in tubs. They need a permeable substrate that is not too rich in humus and can survive a few days without watering. Like the butterfly bush, the summer bush can be used as a solitary shrub or for group planting. However, it also cuts a good figure in loose, free-growing flower hedges, provided it is not overshadowed by other woody plants.
The butterfly bush should be severely pruned in spring because it blooms exclusively on the new wood. It is sufficient to leave only two to four buds from last year’s flowering shoots. It then forms particularly strong new shoots with large inflorescences. The alternate-leaved summer flieder, on the other hand, should only be thinned out and not completely cut back, as it blooms on last year’s shoot. If you want to prevent the butterfly song from sowing itself, you should cut off the wilted inflorescences continuously in late summer.
Winter protection or hibernation
The yellow summer lilac is protected in autumn in the root area with a thick layer of leaves. If necessary, cut back the shoots slightly and then wrap the crown in a winter fleece. The spherical summer lilac hibernates best in a dark, cool cellar room.
All Butterfly Bushes can easily be propagated by cuttings or cuttings. It also sows itself on loose, permeable soils, but the offspring are not varietal and usually have the purple flowers of the wild species.
Diseases and pests
All species of the summer song are very robust and are rarely attacked by diseases or pests. In warm, air-dry locations, spider mites may occasionally occur, in humid summers also downy mildew.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.
Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants, so the caterpillars will have lots of food as soon as they hatch. If you want to see the caterpillars form chrysalises and emerge as butterflies, grow the larval plants caterpillars love: Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for monarchs, parsley (Petroselinum crispum) for black swallowtails and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) for buckeyes.
Hand-picking and spot-treating with insecticidal soap are the safest ways to get rid of unwanted insects without harming butterflies.
About butterfly bushes
Butterfly bush is a large, arching shrub that produces masses of flowers in midsummer to fall. Flower colors include blue, pink, red, violet, yellow, and white, and the shrub grows 5 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety. Butterfly bushes grow well in shrub or perennial borders, and the fragrant flowers can be used for cutting.
Special features of butterfly bushes
Easy care/low maintenance
Choosing a site to grow butterfly bushes
Select a site with full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Plant in spring or fall, spacing plants 5 to 10 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the rootball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Flowers are produced on new wood, so prune back old growth almost to the ground early each spring before any new growth emerges.