Butterfly Bush Planting & Caring Tips

Insects and butterflies are drawn to the long panicles of brightly colored blooms on butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii).

When they aren’t blooming, they are still beautiful thanks to their naturally pleasing shape and evergreen leaves.

Hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5–9, can withstand a wide range of environmental stresses. Learn how to grow a butterfly bush and how to take care of it.

Butterfly Bush Planting

You’ll spend less time maintaining a butterfly bush if you plant it in the right place. The soil should be well-drained in a sunny or partially shady region.

Rot thrives in soil that is consistently damp. A butterfly bush, if grown in well-drained garden soil, does not require much fertilizer.

Allow lots of space for your butterfly bush. Your cultivar’s mature size can be seen on the plant tag.

In spite of the fact that you can prune butterfly bushes to keep them tiny, you can save time by planting them in an area where they have plenty of room to grow into their natural size and shape.

From 6 to 12 feet (2-4 m.) tall, butterfly bushes have a spread of 4 to 15 feet (1.2 to 4.6 m.) (1-4.5 m.).

How to Care for a Butterfly Bush

The upkeep of a butterfly bush is simple.

Dry spells should be watered slowly and deeply to ensure deep root absorption by irrigating the shrub.

Fertilization is not necessary unless the plants are growing in unsuitable soil.

If your soil is lacking in nutrients, add a 2-inch (5 cm.) layer of compost to the root zone or scuff in some general-purpose fertilizer. Mulch the root zone to a depth of 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm).

Cold areas, where the roots must be kept warm during the winter, necessitate this measure.

Deadheading is the most time-consuming task associated with caring for butterfly bushes. Remove spent flower clusters as soon as possible in the spring and summer.

When flower clusters are left on the plant, they mature into seed pods.

Weedy seedlings appear as the pods develop and release their seeds. Plants need to be removed right away.

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If you cut a young shrub off at the ground, it may grow back, so be sure to remove the roots as well as the top growth. Refrain from moving the seedlings to new locations in the garden.

The progeny of butterfly bushes is likely to be less appealing than the parent plant.

You can find out more about caring for butterfly bushes by visiting Gardening Know How: Planting Butterfly Bushes: Care Tips for Butterfly Bushes.

Problems with Butterfly Bushes

Root rot and the sporadic appearance of a caterpillar are two common issues with butterfly bushes.

Root rot can be avoided by planting the shrub in well-drained soil. Yellowing leaves and, in severe cases, dieback of the twigs or stems are the symptoms.

Caterpillars are almost always a part of the deal when it comes to growing a plant that attracts butterflies.

Most of the time, the damage to the shrub is so slight that you won’t even notice it unless you’re really next to it.

Unless the caterpillars’ feeding activity causes significant damage to the shrub, it’s preferable to leave them alone.

Butterfly bushes can be a source of food for Japanese beetles.

Most insecticides are inefficient at controlling Japanese beetles and more likely to harm beneficial insects that feed on shrubs.

Treat the grass for Japanese beetle grubs by using traps and handpicking the insects.


Immediately after flowering, the spent flower spikes of the butterfly bush should be removed so that the plant can continue to bloom up until frost, reducing the risk of self-seeding.

Spring cutting to the ground encourages vigorous growth and abundant blooms on this fast-growing plant.

Although the plant is an evergreen shrub in warmer climates, this is often a good idea.

Propagating Butterfly Bush

Considering how quickly this bush expands, it’s unlikely that you’d want to try to propagate it.

However, if you do, collecting the seed heads will provide you with an ample supply of seeds to plant wherever you like! (see below).

The seedless kind of butterfly bush that you choose for your garden will not allow for seed production.

Rooting branch cuttings is the most effective method for propagating these non-patented cultivars. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. In summer, use sharp pruners to cut a 4- to 6-inch segment from a healthy branch tip. Make the cut just below a healthy bud. Remove the leaves from the bottom one-third of the cutting.
  2. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone powder, then plant it in a small pot containing a mixture of peat moss and perlite. Moisten the potting mix.
  3. Put the plant in a plastic bag to hold in moisture, and set the pot in a bright location, but out of direct sunlight.
  4. In three to six weeks, roots should develop (tug lightly on the stem; if you feel resistance, roots are present). At this time, you can transplant the cutting into a larger container or transplant it into the garden.
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How to Grow Butterfly Bush From Seed

The “how to” of self-seeding butterfly bush is so obvious as to be comical. It’s simple to move the seedlings that have grown spontaneously in the vicinity of a parent plant.

Also, you can collect the seeds from dried flower heads and preserve them for use in the spring.

For the most part, you’ll be growing seeds from a sterile cultivar that has been commercialized.

The seeds will germinate and sprout within a few days if they are sown directly in the appropriate place, and mature plants will be ready to harvest by the end of the first growing season.

Potting and Repotting Butterfly Bush

However, the Lo and Behold and Pugster series of butterfly bush kinds, which are only 2 feet tall, can be used in containers because of their compact size.

Fill a large pot (made of any material) at least twice as deep as the nursery container with a mix of normal potting soil and compost.

Potted butterfly bushes that live in colder climates should be pruned to ground level for the winter so that the roots can be protected from freezing temperatures.


Winter protection isn’t necessary for these hardy plants, as they don’t require much.

Herbaceous perennials, even if they fall down to the ground in the winter, will normally come back to life as soon as the weather warms up again.

Cutting off flower heads in the fall is a good idea since it prevents the plants from self-seeding.

A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch may help protect the roots of the plant in areas where it is on the edge of being hardy.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Aside from spider mites and nematodes, which can be a concern in the South, the butterfly bush has no significant pest or disease issues.

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When spider mites infest plants, little brown or grey patches emerge on the leaves over time. Leaves may also be covered in silky webs.

As long as spider mites are left to their own devices, predatory insects are more than happy to step in.

While pyrethrin-based insecticides and horticultural oils can be used as a means of controlling pests, keep in mind that these can also harm beneficial insects. 4

Nematodes attack leaves and leave them with yellow patches. Because there is no effective therapy, plants that have been infected must be killed and removed from the environment.

How to Get Butterfly Bush to Bloom

In moderately good growing conditions (plenty of sun, moist but well-draining soil) butterfly bush will display plenty of flowers from early summer right up to fall. When plants don’t bloom, it’s because of one of these conditions:

  • Not enough sun. These are sun-loving plants that will not bloom if they don’t get at least six hours of daily sun.
  • Too much or too little water. Butterfly bush likes plenty of moisture, but not sogginess. Excessive moisture can cause root rot which prevents flower buds from forming. And drought can also cause the plant to conserve energy by withholding flowers.
  • Summer is too cool. Butterfly bush thrives in temperatures 75 degrees Fahrenheit or above, and if your summer has been unseasonably cool, the plants may withhold flowers for that year.
  • Planted too deeply. If potted nursery plants are planted too deeply, they may not bloom in their first year, though they usually self-correct by the following season. Plant nursery specimens at the same height they were growing in their containers.
  • Beetle or grasshopper damage. An unusually large infestation of feeding beetles or grasshoppers can devour the flower buds. The plants generally recover for the next year.

Common Problems With Butterfly Bush

Probably the most prevalent issue people have with butterfly bushes is the plant’s tendency to spread out of control.

For many people, removing the plant and replacing it with a seedless, sterile kind is the best solution.

Regularly removing the flower heads before they dry up and scatter seeds, removing all the stems at the end of each growing season, and removing any volunteer seedlings that you find are all ways to reduce the spread of the invasive species.

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