July 17, 2016
The Beauty of Butterfly Bushes
In summer, I enjoy sitting by my pool and watching the zig zag flight of a wide array of butterflies as they visit the flowers in my garden. I have selected plants which I know will attract bees and butterflies to my yard and those most frequented by the butterflies are, of course, the long panicle flowers of the butterfly bush. I have planted several varieties of butterfly bushes, also known by its Latin name, Buddleia davidii.
The butterfly bush is a summer bloomer, which makes it an excellent choice for areas where we spend time outdoors during the hot months of July and August, such as around a pool or patio. This deciduous, woody shrub has gray-green to dark green leaves and ranges in height from dwarf varieties, which only grow 2–3 feet tall, to varieties that can reach 7 feet tall. This wide range of heights means that there is a variety to fit in just about everyone’s garden, even if you have a small townhouse plot. Butterfly bushes are also deer resistant, so they are a good choice for those of us who co-habitat with deer.
Butterfly bushes are covered in beautiful, long panicle flowers starting in mid-July and the blossom nectar from these flowers attracts a wide array of butterflies and hummingbirds. Some North American butterflies that visit butterfly bushes include Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Monarch, Painted Lady, Western Checkerspot and the Great Spangled Frittilary. The bushes continue to produce new flowers, especially if you cut the spent blooms, into the fall.
Currently, there are a wide variety of butterfly bushes available with flower colors to suit every taste and blend with any garden color palette including white, blue, purple, yellow and a deep magenta. Black Knight is one variety that has been around for a while and produces 12-inch long flowers in a deep purple. This variety can reach 6–7 feet in height. Blue Nanho has a soft lavender blue flower color and produces blooms measuring 12 inches, while the plant grows to about 5 feet tall. Royal Red flowers are a deep magenta color and this variety reaches about 6 feet in height. You can really jazz up your garden with the new variety CranRazz butterfly bush. It has 8-inch deep cranberry purple flowers and a more compact growth habit, reaching a mature height of about 5–6 feet.
Once you have selected a variety of butterfly bush based on the size and color, you need to select a spot in your garden where the plant will get full sun (6–8 hours of sun) and have good drainage. These plants are not particularly fussy or needy (always a good quality in my book, since who really has time to tend to a needy plant) but they do not like to sit in water or they will get root rot. They are even tolerant of poor soils.
Once planted, I always water new bushes until they are well established, but find they generally do not need much supplemental water after that. In fall, after their long bloom season finishes, they can be slightly trimmed to tidy up your yard before winter. In areas with hard winters (such as we have had recently) Buddleias often die back to the root and regrow from the base in the following spring. Be patient with your butterfly bush, since they are late to emerge in spring. After new growth emerges, I heavily prune back my plants, since they bloom on new wood. They do not require a lot of fertilizer, but I will sprinkle some Espoma Plant-tone around my plants in the spring.
Many of us who garden are aware of the conversation concerning the unwanted spread of certain plants, including Buddleia, in the environment. The new sterile dwarf varieties, such as the Lo and Behold series, have addressed these concerns. I planted a lovely purple variety, Purple Haze, and can definitely attest to the fact that this plant stays put and does not spread. Traditional, non-sterile varieties can still be easily managed by removing spent blossoms, checking annually for spread and removing any unwanted plants.
So, if you are looking for an easy care plant that has a long summer bloom period and attracts many beneficial insects–including butterflies–to your yard, the butterfly bush is just for you. It will provide many happy hours of butterfly watching and ask for very little in return!
Kathy Evans | Greenhouse Design & Sales