All About Butterfly Bush

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By Charlie Nardozzi, Garden expert, radio host, and author.

Butterfly bushes have become very popular due to the growing interest in butterfly gardens. These beautiful shrubs make attractive landscape plants, even when not attracting butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. The tall species types can grow 10 to 12 feet high and make a great backdrop plant in a flower border. Smaller versions have been bred to grow 2 to 4 feet tall, and fit more easily into most modern landscapes.

All About Butterfly Bush: Varieties and Uses

Butterfly bushes are abundant flowering shrubs. Starting in midsummer, on new wood that grew in spring, they flower until frost, producing blooms in a wide range of colors. The flowers also have a honey-like fragrance that's strongest at midday. There are many butterfly bush varieties available to grow. The most common types are in the Buddleia davidii group. Hailing from Tibet and China, these are the most cold hardy. These hybrids grow 6 to 10 feet tall and generally are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10. Varieties include 'Black Knight' with its graceful branches and deep-purple colored flowers, 'Harlequin' with its rose-purple colored flowers and cream colored margins on the leaves, and 'White Bouquet' with very fragrant white blooms. Some dwarf versions of this group include 'Sky Blue' with light-blue colored flowers and 'Hot Raspberry' with raspberry-pink colored flowers. Both varieties grow on 3- to 4-foot tall plants.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird visiting Butterfly BushRuby Throated Hummingbird visiting Butterfly Bush
A Ruby Throated Hummingbird in search of nectar visits a Butterfly Bush in bloom.

There are other species of butterfly bushes from around the world worth trying. Lindley's butterfly bush hails from China with green leaves, cinnamon-colored bark and 2 foot long lavender colored flowers. It can be limbed into a small tree. From South Africa comes the Loricata butterfly bush that has white or pale-yellow colored flowers. It's unusual in that it flowers on old wood, so should be pruned after the first flush of blooms in summer. Snow White butterfly bush also hails from China and can grow 15 feet tall with pale, lavender-colored blooms.

All About Butterfly Bush: In the Garden

Grow tall butterfly bush varieties in the back of your flowering border. They will make a nice backdrop to other butterfly favorites such as butterfly weed and echinacea. Also, when you cut back the shrubs in spring, they will be hidden from view by other early-growing perennial flowers. Plant butterfly bushes near windows or doors where you can enjoy the scent all summer and the sight of the butterflies. You can also plant butterfly bushes in a mixed-shrub border with shrubs, such as elderberry, smokebush spirea, and weigela, adding color and interest in summer and fall. Since butterfly bushes are deer resistant, planting them along the forest edge or in a shrub border shouldn't be a problem. In cold winter areas, don't plant butterfly bushes in windy locations, or protect them with a barrier of burlap erected in fall to reduce dieback of the stems.

Use dwarf versions in the middle or front of your garden or even in rock gardens. These won't require such drastic pruning to flower well and they’ll stay a more manageable size. Pair butterfly bushes with Verbena bonariensis, pineapple sage, purple salvia, lantana, swamp milkweed and asters. Some dwarf varieties of butterfly bush can be grown well in containers. In cold climates, these containers need to be protected in winter or brought into a warmer garage or shed.

  1. Butterfly Bush Buzz Series Ivory PP23,464, Buddleia davidii, Photo Credit Ptelea

    Buzz Ivory Butterfly Bush is a prolific bloomer, loaded with fragrant ivory spikes and generous foliage. Compact in size, Buzz Ivory grows to only 3 - 4 feet and is perfect for conta...

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    Buzz® Ivory Butterfly Bush Buzz® Ivory Butterfly Bush Buddleia Buzz® Ivory
    $14.98 Sale $9.74
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Buzz Ivory Butterfly Bush is a prolific bloomer, loaded with fragrant ivory spikes and generous foliage. Compact in size, Buzz Ivory grows to only 3 - 4 feet and is perfect for containers, small-space gardens and patio plantings. It's also a great choice for disguising your foundation or creating a secondary layer of color between taller background shrubs and perennial plantings. Placed in full sun, this butterfly bush will bloom from spring through fall. (Buddleia davidii)
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  2. Purple Butterfly Bush Black Knight, Buddleia

    'Black Knight' Butterfly Bush’s deep purple blooms create a stunning contrast to its dark green foliage. Intensely fragrant and attractive to pollinators, 'Black Knight' is perfect...

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    Black Knight Butterfly Bush Butterfly Bush Black Knight Buddleia davidii Black Knight
    $14.98 Sale $9.74
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Black Knight' Butterfly Bush’s deep purple blooms create a stunning contrast to its dark green foliage. Intensely fragrant and attractive to pollinators, 'Black Knight' is perfect for planting outside a window for a delightful show of butterflies and hummingbirds. Easy to grow, deer-resistant, and useful when planted as a hedge or privacy screen. (Buddleia davidii)
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  3. Butterfly Bush Hot Raspberry, Buddleia

    Buzz 'Hot Raspberry' produces some of the most vibrant and fragrant blooms we've seen on a Butterfly Bush. Saturated raspberry-pink flowers bloom throughout the entire growing season...

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    Buzz® Hot Raspberry Butterfly Bush Butterfly Bush Buzz® Hot Raspberry Buddleia davidii Buzz® Hot Raspberry
    $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Buzz 'Hot Raspberry' produces some of the most vibrant and fragrant blooms we've seen on a Butterfly Bush. Saturated raspberry-pink flowers bloom throughout the entire growing season, attracting loads of butterflies and hummingbirds to their sweet scent. With its compact shape, Buzz 'Hot Raspberry' is well-suited to containers and small spaces, but don't overlook this one for full-sized pollinator gardens and perennial beds. (Buddleia davidii)
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All About Butterfly Bush: Planting Tips

Keeping up with the deadheading can be a challenge on these larger shrubs since they flower so well and the dead flowers are unsightly. To avoid the problem of self-sowing, try to deadhead consistently all summer not letting the seed to set.

Butterfly bushes are considered invasive in some states (Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii), so care should be given to not let them spread into the wild. Where they're native, they're a pioneer species that moves into open, sunny disturbed lands. They can set millions of seeds in one season. In the wild, the plants eventually get crowded out by taller growing shrubs and trees. In the garden, these seeds can be a problem without these natural controls in place. While deadheading will help, growing varieties such as 'Blue Chip' and some species types such as Buddleia fallowiana that have sterile seed or low-viability seed, will reduce the threat. Butterfly bushes are less weedy in colder climates.

Bee with Pink Butterfly BushBee with Pink Butterfly Bush
Many pollinators visit Butterfly Bushes - including honey bees, bumble bees and native bees.

About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.

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