Butterfly bush – more accurately known as Buddleia (rhymes with Princess Leia) – is in
its glory this year.
Abundant sunshine, warm temperatures and a mild winter have allowed this semi-hardy, semi-shrubby perennial flower to take off.
I have mixed feelings about this shrub. On the one hand it’s a lot of work! It produces scads of twiggy new growth every year, which must then be cut back in the spring. Most of it dies back, but even if it didn’t you wouldn’t want a semi-shrub that got 20 feet tall with bunches of dead branches mixed in.
We had an easy winter in Michigan this year, so lots of the branches LIVED. I have three of these, all purple – did I mention they like to seed themselves too? – and they all needed to be cut back to about 3 to 4 feet above ground.
That’s a lot of twigs to cut back artfully, then shove into a recycling back and haul to the road. Or they burn really easily because they are dry and twiggy.
But once you handle that piece of maintenance there’s really nothing else to do except stand back and let them attract butterflies. We routinely see monarchs, viceroys, black and tiger swallowtails, red admirals, pearl crescents, spicebush and other really cool butterflies.
We make sure we plant other butterfly-attracting plants as well, including petunias galore, calabrachoa in hanging baskets, honeysuckle vine, heliotrope, coreopsis, helianthus, verbena, penstemons and others.
Buddleia davidii is very tall (6-8 feet in Michigan, taller in milder climes) and robust. This is not a bush to plant below your windows or in your front foundation. Put it at the center of a flowerbed, with lower plantings around it, at the corner of a fenced-in yard, at the corner of the pool or other away-from-the-house location.
It does not require deadheading (pruning off the fading flowers). I’m a stickler about doing this with other flowers, but it would be next to impossible with buddleia. And there’s something attractive about seeing the flowers in various stages of color and maturity.
I’ve also never fertilized or provided winter protection for buddleia. It is hardy to
You can probably get a butterfly bush for under $15, which is a bargain. Remember that it’s not a year-around star (no fall color to speak of, no early spring features and no attractive winter bark), but it blooms its butt off in August when many other perennials are slacking. - DD