Butterfly Bush

Ambrosia for butterflies, blooming shrub for the garden

Can you guess which plant tops the list of “Best Plants for a Butterfly Garden”? Its name is a huge hint. Of course, Butterfly Bush Buddleia (also Buddleja) reigns Number One. This sun-loving shrub produces nectar-filled blooms that always seem to be the most popular among butterflies.

If by chance there might be a gardener who couldn’t care less about butterflies (is that even possible?), this shrub is a suitable option for a full-sun spot in the landscape. Read on.

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‘Miss Violet’

Butterfly bush is a deciduous shrub noted for its bushy habit, fragrant blooms and vigorous growth. In order for this shrub to thrive, select a full-sun location. That means eight hours of bright sunlight; no less than six hours.

When planting, keep the crown of the plant just at or above soil surface. Also, don’t mulch all the way up to the crown. Leave a little space between the mulch and the center stem of the plant.

The most important requirement concerning soil is that it must be well draining. Butterfly bush will need regular watering during the first year. Once established, it is drought tolerant. However, to encourage continuous blooming through the hot, dry summer months, water weekly or when the soil is dry to a depth of two to four inches. Signs of overwatering include weak stems, fewer flowers, and dieback. Keep in mind that butterfly bush does not like wet soil, especially winter and early spring, which may lead to root rot.

Flower power? Yep, this plant is hard to beat. Flowers are plenty and come in an array of rich, summer-ready colors that won’t disappoint. Along with butterflies, bees and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar of butterfly bush. It’s a popular fresh cut flower, too. When most blooming shrubs have reached their peak, butterfly bush keeps churning out blooms until fall. Generally, no deadheading is needed. However, prompt removal of spent spikes during the growing season likely will encourage more blooms. Whether to deadhead depends on the variety. Read the plant tag to confirm.

Pruning is easy. Avoid pruning until new growth is underway in spring; do not prune before winter.

To avoid being remiss, I need to share this. While writing this article, the term invasive came screaming into my brain, causing an abrupt halt to my work. It came to me that Buddleja has gained a negative reputation in some circles for its invasive nature. In my brief research, I found plenty to support the ban of buddleja in some parts of the country. Despite that, there is no lack of local gardeners planting buddleja in their gardens. In fact, when I inquired with the K-State Research and Extension Johnson County office in Olathe, extension agent, Dennis Patton reported that “this is not an invasive issue for us [Kansas City gardeners], and I still recommend the plant.”

Patton also confirmed my findings that growers have developed sterile types, that are available at local nurseries and garden centers. If you are concerned about which to include in your garden, talk with the local plant experts at your favorite nursery or garden center.

The inspiration for writing about butterfly bush came from the half dozen ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bushes recently installed in my garden. Created by the removal of our magnificent ash tree, what had been a shady space became a full-sun garden. When considering what to plant, buddleia was at the top, and here’s why. ‘Miss Molly’ has gorgeous sangria-red flowers that are fragrant. Bloom time is from early summer to late fall. A plus, especially when the garden starts to look a little weary toward season’s end. She’s heat and drought tolerant, and grows in a mounded habit that will stay compact. The six we planted are impressive. Mature size 48-60 inches, smaller than other buddleia varieties. We only discovered that she’s non-invasive after planting. Like Patton, it was a non-issue for us.

Naturally, there are others to consider.

New in garden centers this season is butterfly bush ‘Miss Pearl’. Her crisp, clean, pure white flowers are perfect accent for any landscape, from a cottage-style garden to a more formal garden. Like her sister, she’ll give droves of honey-scented blooms until fall, and will stay compact. Pair this white with any of the sisters to create an eyecatching garden display.

Others in the “Miss” series are ‘Miss Ruby’ and ‘Miss Violet’. Characteristics and growth habits are mostly the same, only the flower colors differ.

First Editions® ‘Funky Fuchsia’™ butterfly bush has a more rounded to upright habit. Allow more room for this one that matures to six to eight feet. The reddish-pink inflorescences are very upright and quite fragrant. Flowers average six to eight inches long and up to ten inches long on vigorous shoots.

‘Black Knight’ has deep purple-blue, almost black, flowers in elongated clusters on arching branches to ten feet tall if not cut back, and half that size if cut back. The professionals at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, indicate “This shrub will naturalize, sometimes aggressively, by self-seeding (seed dispersed by wind), particularly in areas where it does not die back in winter. Where self-seeding is a potential problem, remove spent flower clusters prior to formation/disbursement of seed.”

Lo & Behold® ‘Blue Chip’ is a real charmer. This butterfly bush as all the other wonderful qualities as those listed here, yet stays between 18 and 30 inches. Non-invasive.

Lo & Behold ‘Purple Haze’ is a low spreading beauty. Has uniquely horizontal branches that produce an abundance of fragrant dark purple-blue flowers. The flowers radiate outward and downward like a pinwheel. Grows 24-36 inches, and spreads 36-42 inches. Non-invasive.

It’s hard to beat butterfly bush for sheer flower power – these sun-loving plants are some of the longest blooming shrubs you can find. Easy to grow and once established are fairly low maintenance. There are more selections to check out like miniature and dwarf collections. Discover the perfect choice for your garden.

To view additional images of Butterfly Bush, visit the online version of the July 2017 issue at KCGMAG.com.



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