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What is a Butterfly Bush?

Discover interesting facts about the butterfly bush as we give you an in-depth background of these fast-growing, deciduous shrubs. We've included great tips on how to properly take care of these summer lilacs so you can easily introduce them into your garden.

Beautiful orange and brown butterfly landed on the purple flowers of a butterfly bush

Buddleia Davidii/ Buddleja Davidii

Also known as the summer lilac, the butterfly bush gets its name because there is no other plant that can attract butterflies to your garden better than buddleia davidii. This marvellous plant stays in bloom all spring and summer long, and its evergreen leaves make it attractive all year long.

This flowering plant is part of the scrophulariaceae family (figwort) and is a very popular ornamental plant all over the world. There are dozens of varieties that are cultivated for their beautiful panicles of flowers, incredible scent, and lovely colors.

Keep reading on to discover whether or not the butterfly bush could be a happy member of your garden, as we go on to discuss the characteristics of this plant, where it likes to grow, and tips on how to introduce it to your property.

If it turns out that the butterfly bush isn’t for you, don’t worry! We’ve compiled an awesome list of beautiful flowering plants from all over the world, where you will surely find the perfect candidate for your summer garden or apartment balcony green space.

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What do Butterfly Bushes Look Like?

Flowers

Butterfly bushes bear flowers in the form of terminal panicles that can reach up to 8 inches in length. This means that the flower bunch is comprised of a bunch of tiny flowers that create a loose cone shape.

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Each individual flower is very small and a beautiful light lilac flower to dark purple color. These flowers have a lovely honey fragrance to them, and this is surely what so successfully attracts butterflies to them.

Butterfly bush flowers are also “perfect”, meaning that they possess both male sexual characteristics and female sexual characteristics. Though they get help from pollinators, they are also able to self pollinate.

Dark purple flowers of the butterfly bush growing in tight clusters around dark green leaves

Leaves

A butterly bush leaf is 3-5 inches long and is a lanceolate shape. Leaves are a soft green color, and the bottom side is covered in matte soft hairs.

Growth Pattern

The butterfly bush is a fast growing shrub that tends to have a bit of an arching growth habit. Bushes are usually more wide than they are tall, with a spread of 4-5 metres and a height of 2-4 metres. Branches are long and thin, and with the weight of the heavy inflorescences, arch down into an almost weeping habit.

Bark

A butterfly bush has branches and a trunk that are covered with a pale brown bark. This bark is smooth on a young shrub, but becomes deeply fissured as the plant ages.

Full healthy round butterfly bush with bright purple flower panicles in full bloom

How do you Grow a Butterfly Bush?

If you’re looking to introduce a butterfly bush to your yard, there are a couple of ways that this can be done. You can purchase a small already established shrub from a nursery, or you can grow your own specimen either from seed or through propagation. The best part is that you don’t have to be an expert gardener to grow your own!

Seed

If you’ve either collected your own butterfly bush seeds or purchased them, it is best to follow nature’s advice and attempt to imitate its natural reproduction process.

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Butterfly bush seeds require a rather long cold stratification period of 4 weeks, and so plant your seeds between late fall (November) and late spring (February) so that the plant can experience a successful stratification period.

A butterfly bush seed should be planted in a small cup with organic rich and moist soil. They require a germination period of 3-4 weeks, and successful germination is guaranteed under optimal light conditions and temperatures occurring between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once your butterfly bush seedlings have grown 2 or 3 leaves on them, it will be time to then transfer them outside! Pick a spot on your property that is sheltered from heavy winds, but also has full sun exposure. Full sun guarantees that a plant will have a successful flower bloom.

Small green seedlings growing out of growing cups from seed propagation

Propagation

Whereas planting a butterfly bush from seed will create an entirely new specimen, planting a butterfly bush by propagating a cutting will produce a cloned plant.

Cuttings can be taken at 3 different optimal times of the year. Cuttings taken from softwood can be done in May, cuttings taken from half-hardened wood can be done in July, and cuttings taken from full matured wood can be done in October.

When choosing a cutting, pick a plant that appears to be very healthy with productive flower blooms. Side shoots with many nodes on them seem to work very successfully as well.

Take your cutting and treat it with a root hormone. Soil should be high in organic matter and should be kept consistently moist for the entirety of time it will be in its pot. Roots should start establishing themselves within 3-4 weeks.

Root cutting for branch propagation sitting on table next to a pair of shears

Where do Butterfly Bushes Grow?

Butterfly bushes are a native plant to central China and to Japan. Because of their easy care they have been cultivated and become naturalized all over the planet.

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These plants are so successful that they have actually become considered as being an invasive species in certain locations where the local ecosystem cannot adapt to its presence. The most temperate regions of the United Kingdom and New Zealand have labelled the butterfly bush as an invasive species.

These plants don’t have very specific growing requirements, and they can be found growing successfully in USDA growing zones 5 through 9. They are best suited for zones closer to 5, whereas on the outskirts of their hardiness ranges, they will die back in the winter and behave more like a herbaceous perennial.

What are the Growing Conditions of a Butterfly Bush?

The butterfly bush is a tough cookie. So tough in fact that they are hard to get rid of once they are established. Keep these tips in mind when growing butterfly bush in your yard, and you’ll have beautifully smelling lilac flower spikes in no time!

Butterfly bush cultivar with bright orange flowers growing on a stalk

Soil Type

Butterfly bushes are a very adaptable plant, and can truly exist in nearly any soil type as long as it is well-drained. Soils that become waterlogged will cause root rot, which this plant is susceptible to.

Soils can be either alkaline or acidic, though they tend to perform best with a pH level that is anywhere between 5.5 to 7.

Sun Exposure

The butterfly bush is able to tolerate partial shade, though they tend to have their most successful flower blooms in full sun conditions.

Water Level

These plants are very drought tolerant, though they are not tolerant to flood. They actually seem to perform the best when their soil is allowed to dry out completely between waterings.

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A butterfly bush should be watered every couple of weeks in the hotter seasons, whereas container plants will need to be watered every couple of days.

Crown of a large healthy butterfly bush with beautiful pink flowers in bloom

Temperature

Butterfly bushes are a rather cold hardy plant, and can survive super high heat, and can survive cold temperatures as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

If a butterfly bush is planted in an area that experiences very cold winter temperatures, cover the root zone of the plant with 2-4 inches of mulch. This way their root system is insulated and protected from winter freezing.

Fertilizer

Since butterfly bushes are such prosperous growers all on their own, they rarely need to be fertilized unless they are living in extremely nutrient poor soils.

Pruning

Butterfly bushes are very vigorous growers and they seem to appreciate heavy pruning. They need a lot of space, and can quickly overrun a garden area, so don’t be afraid to bring out those snippers!

Young shrubs can be cut all the way to ground before the winter, as this will ensure they are brand new and healthy for the next early spring season.

Mature shrubs need to be heavily pruned at least once a year, as their heavy flowers cause quite a strain on branches, and older weakened wood is known to split.

Keep in mind when pruning, that pruning right before or during the winter can be detrimental to the plant. This is because the sugar that is stored in mature branches help the plant with winter hardiness, which is vital to the survival of the butterfly bush!

Dim photo of white butterfly bush with white flowers just starting to bloom

Deadheading

The most labor intensive part of caring for a butterfly bush is deadheading. In order to ensure that the plant blooms the following year, the old flower heads must be popped off. This should be done in the summer before seed pods have dispersed their seeds.

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Intolerances

All in all, butterfly bushes are super easy to care for and there isn’t all that much that can be devastating to the plant. Just remember to pick a well drained area that has full sun, and don’t prune in the winter!

How are Butterly Bushes Used?

Ornamental

The main use for a butterfly bush is as a beautiful ornamental cultivar. A mature specimen makes for a wonderful border plant, and its evergreen foliage keeps its attractive all year long.

They have a lovely flower color, one specimen will bear a white flower, whereas another can bear a purple panicle. These flowers are filled with delicious nectar that can effectively turn your property into your very own butterfly garden!

*Here’s a hot tip: you can even plant your butterfly bush is an enclosed area on your property. By doing this, the fragrance of the plant lingers within that area, creating an absolutely enchanting space smelling of honey and lilac.

Wildlife

As mentioned before, there is no other plant that attracts butterflies to an area than the butterfly bush – this is made obvious by its name! This is wonderful if you enjoy butterfly watching, but just remember that they attract other pollinators like wasps, bees, and moths as well.

Amazing country garden with bright blooming tulip flowers, carnations, and a butterfly bush

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