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Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Bush Care Guide

Easy to grow and maintain, colorful butterfly bushes, or buddleias, make a perfect addition to any garden--and create an attraction for pollinators. With varieties in bright pink, purple, peach, and pastels, there's a butterfly bush to fit any color scheme. Buddleia plants will attract plenty of fluttering butterflies and buzzing bees, keeping pollinators interested in your landscape. Buddleia are also known for their aromatic, honey-like scent. Read below to find out more about these garden delights, and how to grow a butterfly bush that flourishes.

About Butterfly Bushes

The butterfly bush, also known as buddleia or buddleja davidii, originated in China, and was brought to the West by gardeners interested in the high level of pollinator activity surrounding the plant. The shrub's seeds were brought to England during the Victorian era, and have since naturalized in some parts of the United States. This fast-growing shrub is considered invasive in some states, so check your local regulations before planting butterfly bushes in your garden. Chinese varieties of butterfly bushes are known as invasive species in some regions of the United States. Others are native to the US and stay smaller and less invasive. However, many varieties of ornamental butterfly bushes are considered to be in the invasive category. This semi-deciduous perennial is known for its bright colors, honey-like scent, and ability to attract pollinators with its nectar. Not to be confused with butterfly flowers, butterfly bushes are additionally characterized by their opposite-growing leaves, which grow to up to 10 inches long and have serrated edges. These shrubs are fast-growing and can reach heights of five to fifteen feet. Read below to learn more about adding butterfly bushes to your garden.

How to Grow a Butterfly Bush

Buddleia shrubs are low-maintenance, making them a great choice for beginning gardeners. Like other shrubs and bushes, butterfly bushes should be planted in the spring, so you'll be able to enjoy their beautiful blooms in the summertime. Below are some details for planting and growing butterfly bushes.

How to Plant A Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bushes are easy to grow, and that ease of care starts from the planting stage. Planting buddleia is a quick weekend project, and easily fits in with your other springtime garden chores. Butterfly bushes should be planted in early spring, after the last frost date, or before the first frost of fall. If planting is delayed to the warmer late-spring months, be sure to provide plenty of water in the weeks following planting. Choose a location with plenty of sunlight. At least eight hours per day is ideal, but be sure that your plants receive no fewer than six hours of light per day. Plant the bushes directly into your natural soil. Highly fertile soil isn't necessary for these shrubs, and they actually prefer lightweight, sandy planting areas. Aerate the soil with a trowel or claw before digging, but don't worry about adding in compost to the planting site. Plant your butterfly bush so that the previous soil line on the stem is even with the ground. Begin filling the hole with soil, working it around the roots. When half filled, tamp the soil down to remove air pockets. Finish filling the hole, creating a 'saucer' of soil around the plant for water. Water in well. If you are fall planting and live in a cold climate, adding a layer of mulch will protect the roots.

How to Care for A Butterfly Bush

Now that you have planted your bush, there are seven steps you can take for fostering its growth. These are truly low-maintenance plants, and actually perform best without much additional watering or fertilization. Below are some tips on butterfly bush care. Butterfly bushes require little water, except during very dry periods. Don't allow your plants to become waterlogged by overwatering. In the spring, apply a thin layer of mulch to prevent weeds from growing around the shrubs--but keep it thin! Too much mulch can hold too much moisture and keep the ground wet. Don't forget to deadhead! Deadhead the flowers just as they start to wither, so that the plants don't spread "volunteer" seeds. Timely seed removal after blooming can help keep your butterfly bush from running wild. Removing the spent flowers can also encourage new shoots and flower buds, keeping your butterfly bushes full. Each year, you will want to prune your bush to keep it from becoming "leggy" with tall, thin shoots. Below, let's look at how to prune a butterfly bush to keep it neat.

How to Prune a Butterfly Bush

Each year, you should prune your butterfly bushes to avoid them growing overly leggy. The best time to prune is in very early spring, or even late winter, as soon as new growth begins to emerge. Prune after you see green buds begin to form on the plants, which can be in later spring in colder regions.
  • In most climates, you can prune your butterfly bushes all the way to the ground, or very near.
  • If you live in a cold climate, wait until after the cold winter to cut back last year's growth. Cutting down foliage as part of fall cleanup can have a detrimental effect, as you're removing some of the insulation needed by the plant.
  • Wait until leaf buds have formed, and make your cuts just above those new buds. That means you're cutting to just a few inches above the ground.
  • Don't worry about your plants staying short! Butterfly bushes grow back to their full height each year.
In addition to pre-season yearly pruning, be sure to keep up with deadheading throughout the growing season. As a reminder, buddleia grow very quickly, and have a tendency to invade.

Butterfly Bush Pests and Disease Prevention

Butterfly bushes are a great option for your garden as they are mostly unaffected by diseases and pests. The best deterrent to tackle any issues that do arise is prevention. Below are some common issues with these plants and tips for prevention and troubleshooting.

  • Downy Mildew: Downy mildew arises when weather conditions are cool and damp. It appears in the form of fuzzy gray spores, typically first appearing on the undersides of leaves, and can spread quickly. To combat downy mildew, prune the afflicted areas of the butterfly bush, cleaning your tools to avoid contamination as you go. To prevent downy mildew, make sure to water your plant in the morning, allowing it time to dry out in the sun before nightfall. Leaves allowed to remain wet overnight tend to be more susceptible to mildew.
  • Nematodes: Butterfly bushes can become a host for nematodes or small roundworms. Some nematodes can be both beneficial and detrimental to the vegetable garden, feeding on bacteria and fungi that can harm plants. However, harmful "root-knot" nematodes tend to feed on the roots of plants, and such parasitic activity can destroy the roots of your buddleia and other nearby plants. Harmful nematodes enjoy wet soil, where they eat the roots of butterfly bushes. If the roots of your bush appear to be short or discolored, this may be an indication of nematode presence. Nematode females will also typically choose the roots as a location to lay their eggs. Once you have identified the problem, be sure to take measures to improve the health of your butterfly bush. Use a commercial treatment, soap bark root, or an application of diatomaceous earth to get rid of nematodes causing root damage.
  • Spider Mites: It is important to water your butterfly bush regularly to avoid spider mites brought on by drought. These yellow and orange pests are often too small to see but will leave pinpricks as evidence that they have been feeding. Spider mites can sometimes be removed manually, by spraying a strong stream of water onto the plants in the morning, especially around the leaves. Mites like to dwell on the undersides of leaves, so be sure to be thorough when eliminating them.
  • Root Rot: Root rot caused by fungus, such as rhizoctonia, can be lethal to butterfly bushes' wide, shallow root system. Avoiding root rot is usually a matter of prevention. Be sure to place your butterfly bushes in a location with adequate sunlight, and don't overwater them. In general, buddleias won't need to be watered unless your region is undergoing a true drought of multiple weeks.
With the right care, your butterfly bushes will create a pollinator's oasis year after year. Be sure to check out our tips for foolproof gardening page for more information on achieving success in your garden!

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