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Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bushes are a popular addition to the landscape. Classified as Buddleia davidii (more properly known as Buddleja davidii), they are actually perennials, though many people consider them shrubs.

Another common name for them is Summer Lilacs.

These bushes can be grown from USDA hardiness zone 5 to 10. Native to northwestern Japan and China, these shrubs have found a permanent home all over the world. They grow quickly and require very little maintenance.

If you are planning a wildlife garden, you must add a butterfly bush or two. They attract all sorts of butterflies, of course. They also attract bees which will help pollinate your other plants.

Hummingbirds find them particularly attractive as well. While it is fun to watch a hummingbird hover around a feeder, it is much more enjoyable to watch them flit among their favorite flowers.

The casual grace of these plants with their nodding flower spikes and the fluttering of all the butterflies and hummingbirds makes this shrub an interesting addition to any garden.

Characteristics of the Butterfly Bush

These deciduous shrubs may be semi-evergreen in more southern climates. They grow in a loose, weeping shape that may reach 6 to 12 feet tall. Be sure to give them enough room to spread as they can get to be an impressive 4 to 15 feet wide.

The narrow, gray-green leaves grow in opposite pairs all along the arching branches. The leaves can range from 6 to 10 inches long. The flowers bloom from late spring until frost in long cones of tiny blossoms. The weight of the flower clusters can cause the branches to arch even more.

Many varieties are fragrant as well as beautiful. Colors range from white to pink, lavender, purple and red. There is also a yellow variety. The centers are usually a nice bright orange. All of the colors have their own charms. There are some varieties such as 'Nanho' which is more compact in its growth. This variety comes in both white and purple. The clumping growth habit adds to its loose appearance.

Landscaping Ideas

Butterfly bushes are a perfect base for a butterfly garden. It works well as a large specimen in a casual cottage garden. Larger varieties can be placed behind smaller shrubs and perennials.

Those with darker flowers show up nicely against light backgrounds. They make wonderful companion plants for zinnias (Zinnia elegans), lantana (Lantana camara), and pentas (Pentas lanceolata).

If you want to support more than the adult butterflies, plant your bush near parsley (Petroselinum crispum), passion vines (Passiflora incarnata) and other plants that butterfly caterpillars eat. A mass planting of butterfly bushes is an impressive sight. If you have the room, consider doing this to enjoy the beautiful results.

Planting And Care of Butterfly Bush

Plant your bush in an area with well-drained soil in full sun. They can adapt to poorer soils as well, though they won't perform as well as they would in better soil. They are mostly drought tolerant once they are established.

Some people prefer to prune their shrubs while others let them grow as nature directs. They can be pruned back hard in early spring before new growth if you wish. It blooms on new wood, so this serves to stimulate the plant. It can also be lightly shorn in mid-June just before blooming to promote denser growth during flowering.

They can easily be propagated using cuttings or seed. In fact, in some areas, this shrub is considered invasive due to the many new seedlings that may grow on their own. Deadheading immature fruiting stalks will help prevent self-sowing and will prolong your blooming season.

This plant has very few pests and diseases to contend with. Occasionally if the plant gets stressed, you may find damage from caterpillars, weevils, mullein moths or spider mites. Fungal leaf spot is easy to treat. Apply a general fertilizer early in the spring, especially if the plant has been cut back. This shrub is not attractive to deer.

Some of the more popular cultivars include 'African Queen' (lavender), 'Black Knight' (deep violet), 'Royal Red' (maroon), and 'Fascination' (lilac/pink). Many white varieties are also available and they make a nice contrast plant. White is the favorite of some butterfly species as well such as the Red Admiral.

More Varieties of the Butterfly Shrub

The Harlequin is a dramatic sight in your landscape. The showy reddish-purple flower spikes put on a long bloom from midsummer through fall. They are very fragrant and...

Pink Delight
The Pink Delight features long spray of bright pink flowers all summer long. They are very fragrant, and attract a cloud of butterflies and hummingbirds. The fragrance has been described as similar to honey. The flower sprays are...

The Bicolor is the first cultivar to have two very different colors on the same flower spike. The fragrant orange-yellow and lavender-pink blossoms blend together to create a beautiful effect.

Royal Red
The Royal Red butterfly bush is more purple than red, but the bright flowers on this bush make it spectacular. Flowers bloom from midsummer on into early fall. Growth is vigorous. This plant...

Black Knight
The Black Knight is an easy to care for deciduous shrub. It grows to 9 feet tall if it is not pruned on an annual basis. Long spikes of tiny black-purple flowers bloom from midsummer through the first frost. The flowers are very...

Dwarf Petite Plum
The dwarf Petite Plum is a woody deciduous shrub with beautiful fragrant clusters of reddish-purple flowers.

The honeycomb butterfly bush makes an attractive addition to the garden. With graceful arching branches of honey-scented globes of clustered yellow flowers, this cultivar adds a lot of visual interest...

Petite Snow
The Petite Snow Butterfly Bush makes a striking impression in your yard. The large spikes of showy white flowers are very fragrant. Butterflies love this plant, as do hummingbirds and bees. It makes an excellent...

Adonis Blue
The Adonis blue butterfly bush is one of the most striking varieties you can find. They attract lots of butterflies and hummingbirds. The dark blue flower spikes create fragrant mounds of color from mid to late summer.

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