How to Grow: Butterfly Bushes

Learn how to grow butterfly bushes, including how to plant and grow them.

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podcast transcript

How to Grow: Butterfly Bushes

Buddleia davidiibutterfly bush


Other Name

Summer lilac


Sun Requirements

full sun


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Late summer to fall in colors of purple, white, pink, red, yellow, and lavender


Mature Height x Spread

5 to 8 feet x 4 to 6 feet


Added Benefits

Attracts hummingbirds, attracts beneficials, deer resistant


The butterfly bush as aptly named. It is a magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds and all sorts of beneficial insects that flock to this plant in late summer and fall when it’s in full bloom. This sun-lover provides great color and stature in the garden often growing from ground level to up to 8 feet tall in one growing season. The showy, cone-shaped flowers bloom on new wood each year. In warmer climates, grow butterfly bush as a shrub. In New England it can be marginally hardy in cold areas. Grow butterfly bushes as an herbaceous perennial. Even if the plant dies back to the ground in winter, the new growth that emerges from the roots in spring will eventually flower.


Where, When and How to Plant

Butterfly bushes are hardy to zone 5. Grow butterfly bushes in colder areas where they can be coaxed to overwinter if the plant roots are protected with mulch. Plant locally purchased plants in spring to summer in full sun on compost-amended, well-drained soil. Space full sized butterfly bushes 3 to 4 feet apart. Dwarf varieties grow in containers or spaced only a few feet apart.


Growing Tips

Grow butterfly bushes and keep plants well watered. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost and an organic plant food. Plants are less likely to survive cold winters if planted on poorly drained soils.


Regional Advice and Care

Since butterfly bush is marginally hardy in many parts of New England, plant it in a protected spot, cover the roots with bark mulch in late fall, and cut it back to the ground each spring. The new growth will grow quickly to flower. Deadheading also encourages more flowers to form. Butterfly bushes can self-sow readily and some consider it invasive. Weed out any new seedlings each spring and deadhead spent blossoms to prevent self-sowing.


Companion Planting and Design

Grow butterfly bushes in groups in the back of perennial flower borders. It has a somewhat randy, unkempt appearance so is best planted around other perennials that can hide some of its growth. Grow butterfly bushes where the butterflies can be easily viewed and with other fall blooming butterfly attractors such as aster, goldenrod, and tall garden phlox. Plant dwarf varieties in front of flower borders or in containers on a deck or patio. Container varieties can be treated as an annual, placed in a protected garage or basement in winter or planted in the ground in fall to over winter.


Try These

“Black Knight” has dark purple flower and better hardiness than most butterfly bush varieties. “White Profusion” has short, white flowers. A good yellow flowered variety is “Honeycomb”. “Blue Chip” is a dwarf that only grows 2 to 3 feet tall with small blue colored flowers. There are also “Lilac Chip” and “Ice Chip” in this dwarf series.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

Podcast Transcript

Butterfly, Butterflies, Swallowtail, Insect, NatureEveryday I notice an abundance of them alighting on my flowers. If you’d like to attract butterflies to your garden, grow a butterfly bush.

Buddleia davidii is the most common species of butterfly bush. This native Chinese shrub was introduced to England in the early 1900’s. It has been cultivated in gardens ever since. It grows 5 to 10 feet tall and wide with long, wispy branches and vivid colored flowers. It’s hardy to zone 5, so in colder areas you’ll have to protect it in winter or grow it as an annual. However, even if the top dies back to the ground, butterfly bushes blossom on new growth, so you’ll still get flowers by late summer Select a range of varieties, such as ‘Black Knight’, Raspberry Eyes’ and ‘Blue Chip’ — a new dwarf variety that only grows 2- to 3-feet tall. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blossoms and to control the seeds from spreading. Butterfly bushes can become invasive. Cut back bushes to one foot tall in spring.

Now for this week’s tip, got a lot of basil in the garden? Then make pesto cubes! Freeze batches of pesto in ice cube trays overnight. In the morning pop out the cubes of pesto and store them in freezer bags. It’s a great space-saving way to have the taste of basil all winter, and you’ll find a great pesto recipe at VPR dot net.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.