Butterfly Bush lives up to its name

Ptelea, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

When I first moved to the little house on a big hill, I planted a Black Knight butterfly bush. It grew for a few years but ultimately did not last.

Determined to have this pollinator’s dream in my garden, I picked a new spot and have been rewarded with a healthy shrub for years. 

For my second go-around, I picked a full-sun, at least 6 hours each day spot at the end of my sunny garden bed. There it has a corner spot to showcase those fabulous purple blooms.

The sunny corner spot was a good choice because these bushes can get big. Really big. Mine is roughly 7 feet tall, but other varieties can reach 12 feet tall and four feet wide. 

The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) is a native of Asia first brought to England in the late 1770s. Although not a tropical plant, it does like warm weather and well-draining soil. 

Without pruning, the branches of this shrub naturally grow in a slight arch and have blue-green elongated leaves. The flower spikes can be pink, purple, blue, white, or yellow. 

These blooms know their job and will attract butterflies to your garden. They are also prolific self-seeders. Deadheading spent blooms is recommended to control seedlings overtaking your space.

Many states consider butterfly bushes invasive. New varieties have been cultivated to produce sterile blooms, which control the spread of self-seeding growth—more about propagation in a moment.

As an herbaceous perennial in USDA Zones 5-9, the branches may die back in the cool weather, but the roots remain alive. I give my bush a hard pruning in the late winter/early spring, cutting it back to a third of its size. A braver gardener would trim it almost back to ground level. 

The cutback will create a healthy shrub. Flowers appear on new growth so, you will be rewarded with rapid growth and intense blooms. I also give the roots a layer of mulch to protect them from the cold winter.

Because of the height and size of this shrub, it works well planted in the back of the garden bed. The graceful stems and flowers will provide a backdrop to your sunny bed. 

New varieties have been created for container gardens. These are much smaller, reaching approximately two feet tall. If growing in a container, you should prune late fall, then move the pots to a protected area for the winter. This will keep the roots healthy for new growth in the spring.

Finding new starter plants will not be a problem if you have planted a variety that is a self-seeder. Simply pull the new starts from the ground and replant. Better yet, share with a friend.

I was gifted a small 2-inch start in 2020. It was rooting in water and lived that way for several months before I moved it to potting soil. It continued to grow, and last winter, I moved it to a bigger pot. 

This year it made the leap to the garden. 

After two years of babying this start, it is on its own. Well, kinda: I have it protected with caging and still check on it daily. You might wonder why the protective wire – the deer. 

Although the butterfly bush is deer resistant, it is not trample resistant. Despite my best efforts, the deer walk through my garden daily. This year they even birthed a fawn under the tree in my shade bed.   

Another way to propagate would be to cut a small piece of branch and dab it in rooting hormone, then place it in soil. In 4-6 weeks, the new plant should have strong roots and be ready for a larger container.

If you have a sunny spot in your garden that will give the butterfly bush room to grow to its potential, I encourage you to add this easy to care for shrub to your mix. Not only will you add height and color for three seasons to your landscape, you will attract beautiful butterflies, and who doesn’t want more butterflies in the garden?