The Butterfly Bush
Everyone loves butterflies, especially children and encouraging children to go outdoors and play is so important for their well-being. So plants that attract butterflies as well as beautifying your garden from early summer to the first frost have to be among the most desirable plants we can grow. When all that comes on a bush that is hardy, very drought-resistant, pest-free and that thrives with minimal care, then this has to be a plant that everyone will want in their garden. The Butterfly Bush is certainly such a plant. Its long wands of nectar-scented flowers in vibrant colors will draw butterflies from miles around to your garden. Its arching branches bring grace and airiness to the garden as well. When all your spring and early-summer flowers have faded away, your Butterfly Bushes will just be getting started, pushing up flower-packed spikes, that can be 12 to 18 inches long, into the air and luring insects of every kind to your garden. They also attract humming-birds, which love the sweet nectar these plants produce.
Using Butterfly Bushes on your property
If you have a sunny, dry garden, it can be difficult to find flowering plants that will grow well. Many common things will droop and even die when planted in a hot, dry location, so gardeners are always looking for something special to plant in those kinds of spots. The Butterfly Bush is an ideal choice. It will grow between three and ten feet tall, depending on the variety, where you live and how you prune it. It makes an ideal background plant behind earlier-flowering shrubs, because it will grow up above them without crowding them out or interfering with their growth.
The Butterfly Bush is particularly known for the richness of its flower colors, which range from white to purple-black. There are also beautiful rich blues, pinks, lavenders and purples of every shade. These vibrant colors are so suitable for hot sunny locations and make summer a real party.
Because they are drought-tolerant, Butterfly Bushes can be planted right under the overhang of your eaves, facing south, which is always a difficult place to find plants for. They will need some water until they are established, but then they will grow and thrive, spreading their honey-fragrance through your windows and into the house.
Even if you don’t have a garden the Butterfly Bush can be grown in a large pot and it will thrive. Even if you forget to water for a while it will not suffer and a good drink will bring it bouncing back. So for casual pot-growing it is an ideal choice.
The Butterfly Bush is hardy to zone 5 and it can be grown in colder regions, even surviving many winters in zone 4 with snow cover. In colder areas it will be have some branch death and can even be killed to the ground, but it will re-sprout from the base and by summer it will be flowering again. Of course these plants will not grow as tall, but they can still reach five feet in a single season. It is also possible to dig up the plants in fall, cut them down, put them into a pot with some earth and store them in a cold shed or garage until spring. Make sure the soil does not dry-out completely during this storage period and keep the plants as cold as possible.
What is a Butterfly Bush like?
The Butterfly Bush is an open, multi-stemmed shrub growing from three to ten feet tall depending on the variety. The stems are brown in color, with narrow strips of flaking bark. The leaves are shaped like spear-heads and can be up to eight inches long. The leaves are quite thick, textured and soft to the touch. They are grey-green in color. The flower clusters are produced at the ends of both long branches and side branches.
The flowers are small and look like little trumpets about ½ an inch long. They are massed along the flower cluster to make a narrow conical shape that bends over a little at the end. In some varieties the clusters can be up to 18 inches long, but more usually they are between six and twelve inches long. From mid-summer on your bush will be smothered with flower clusters.
Different Types of Butterfly Bushes
There are many kinds of butterfly bush plants growing across the world, mostly in Asia and Central America. There are even some native American species growing wild in some southern states. However the garden Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii, was introduced into Britain in the 1890s from China, where it grows wild. Its scientific name is also sometimes incorrectly spelt Buddleia. It was introduced into America shortly after that time.
Growers mostly in Britain selected plants that we today would call traditional varieties. These are usually tall-growing, reaching ten feet or even a little more, with tall, arching stems and large flower spikes. They come in many colors, including rich, dark purples, which are especially prized. One of the best is the Black Knight Butterfly Bush, with the darkest purple flowers of any variety and exceptionally long spikes. Another traditional variety is the Royal Red Butterfly Bush, with large spikes of flowers in a rich purple-red color. A beautiful contrast to these is the Pink Delight Butterfly Bush, which has richly colored bright-pink flowers. Plant all these together for a great display in your garden and enjoy the wonderful color range.
Because of problems created by seed escaping from gardens into wild areas, breeders in recent years have worked to develop seedless hybrid varieties. They took the traditional varieties and crossed them with other Buddleja species to produce sterile hybrids that do not produce seed. One range of these plants is the Flutterby Grande series, created at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. These are shorter than the traditional varieties and vary between four and eight feet in height. The Blueberry Cobbler Butterfly Bush is part of this series and grows up to eight feet in height. It has flowers of a lovely lavender-blue color.
The Asian Moon Butterfly Bush is another sterile hybrid produced by breeders in Arkansas from several species. It has gorgeous flowers in a pale purple color and it too grows to around eight feet in height.
Planting and initial care
When you have chosen a nice sunny location for your Butterfly Bush, planting is easy. Just dig a hole twice as wide as the pot and the same depth and place your plant in the hole. Fill around the roots with some of the soil you removed and before the hole is completely full add plenty of water. After the water has drained away fill the hole with the rest of the soil. In colder areas plant a couple of inches deeper than your bush was in the pot, to protect the roots in winter.
For the first season you should water once or twice a week while your tree becomes established, but after that you will only need to water during periods of extreme drought. There are no significant pests or diseases found on these plants, so they need no special care.
There are just two things you should do with your Butterfly Bushes for the long-term. Pruning in late winter or early spring is the first thing to take care of. Cut your bush back by about one-third, removing all the thin, weaker branches and leaving a framework of strong branches to re-sprout. In colder regions you should wait until you see new buds so that you can see what parts of your plant are still healthy. Even if you have to remove the branches right to the ground your bush will re-sprout from the roots and be in full bloom by summer.
The second small job is to remove flower heads as they fade. This will encourage lots of new shoots and keep your plant blooming right up to the first frost. It will also prevent seeds being produced by the traditional varieties and spreading where they are not wanted. The new hybrid varieties will not produce seed, so this job is no essential, but still, it will keep your plant looking tidy and attractive at all times.
Should I Plant a Butterfly Bush?
This may seem like a strange question, given the beauty of this plant, its vibrant color and the gallons of nectar it provides to local butterflies, humming birds and other insects. However you may have seen some negative things about this plant and in some places, such as Oregon, it has been banned from sale. The problem is that plants produce a lot of seed if they are not dead-headed, and these seeds will grow in natural areas, so that wild-forms of this plant can be found in most states in the southern-half of the country, and up the West Coast.
Plant breeders have stepped up and solved this problem by producing hybrid varieties that do not produce seeds. Since no seeds are produced by these plants, which are grown from stem-pieces, they cannot spread from your garden. Oregon has been convinced by this and now allows these new varieties to be sold under the name of Flutterby Bush or Nectar Bush.
Here at the Tree Center we take our environmental responsibilities seriously, so we stock two varieties, Blueberry Cobbler Butterfly Bush and Asian Moon Butterfly Bush, which produce no seeds and can be grown even in Oregon. So now you can enjoy these beautiful plants with a clear conscience. Of course if you live in more northern zones where these plants need some winter care they don’t escape into the wild, so you can continue to grow the traditional varieties too and enjoy the charms of all the Butterfly Bush varieties we sell.
Butterfly Bushes are great plants to bring vibrant colors into your garden for the summer. They attract butterflies, humming-birds and many other insects and delight children with this ’butterfly zoo’. They are tough, drought-resistant plants that come back each year with no trouble and make great low-maintenance garden shrubs for any hot, dry location. With the wide range of colors available and now that seedless hybrids are also produced, everyone can grow these lovely plants to brighten their gardens with flowers as well as butterflies.