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Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia) - Everything You Need to Know

Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia) - Everything You Need to Know

Buddleia, or butterfly bush as it is more commonly referred to, is a woody shrub known for its ability to attract butterflies to its fragrant flowers. While it is a big part of attracting butterflies to the garden, it’s important to consider every part of the butterfly life cycle when planning your garden, to help ensure you can continue to appreciate butterflies year after year.

Buddleia: A History

Native to China and Japan, Buddleia was first brought to the western world in the late 1800s, introduced by French Missionary/Botanist Jean André Soulié (Pictured right). Named Buddleia davidii, this Jean Andre Soulie - French Missionary & Botanist species would win awards for merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in both 1898 and 1941. While the focus for modern cultivars has been on shrinking the habit of the plant, the species regularly grew up to 15ft tall. For comparison, many modern varieties grow to a maximum of 2ft in height.

Is Buddleia Invasive?

In modern times many variations of Buddleia have been classified as invasive, and the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and US States of Oregon and Washington have all classified it as such. These classifications have led breeders like Dr. Dennis Werner to develop non-invasive varieties and can be safely (and legally) grown in these places without spreading to undesirable areas. 

Why Plant a Butterfly Bush?

While the obvious answer here might be that butterflies are wonderful creatures who add a terrific sense of life to the garden, adding a butterfly bush to the garden does more than just add visual interest to your landscape, it provides a pathway to create a garden that pollinators can call home. In this way, a butterfly garden isn’t a normal garden, and while butterfly bushes are great for visual interest, it is important to include plants that support all phases of a butterfly’s life cycle. (more on this below)

Are They Bad for Butterflies?

In short, no. Butterfly bushes can be bad for butterflies if they are the only thing you plant. While Buddleia does a great job of providing nectar to a butterfly at that stage of its life, there is much more to the life cycle than just being a butterfly. Monarch Butterfly on 'Miss Molly' Butterfly Bush If not provided with plants that help catalyze the growth of caterpillars and the protection of their larvae, butterflies will struggle to reproduce and thrive from season to season. This is a problem easily solved by planting a more varied garden that supports these stages.

Several different plants support many different types of butterflies in their different stages. For example, Monarch Butterflies famously only eat milkweed in their larval stage, and red-twig dogwood plays an excellent host to the larvae of the Spring Azure Butterfly. Do the research on which plants can help support these other stages of growth to make sure you’re properly supporting the butterfly at every stage of its life.

How to Care for Butterfly Bush:

Butterfly bush is not a particularly difficult plant to care for. They thrive in full sun, meaning they want 6+ hours of sun every day. They prefer dry soil, so be sure to plant in an area that doesn’t accumulate standing water. They also do well with some spring fertilizer, growing and blooming more than they otherwise would.

For more information, our sister site ButterflyBushes.com has a great guide on caring for butterfly bushes.

Monarch Butterfly on Blue Chip Butterfly BushWhen to prune my Butterfly Bush?

Generally, the best time to prune is in the spring, so that you can see where the new growth is beginning to form and prune above it.

When does Buddleia Bloom?

Compared to everything else in the garden, Butterfly Bush is a late bloomer. Look for it to bloom near the end of spring or the start of summer. Because they are late bloomers, make sure your butterfly garden has plants that bloom at all times of the year, so that earlier appearing butterflies have a food source before your butterfly bushes bloom.

Our Favorites:

Here are some of our favorite Butterfly Bushes to help start your path towards building a beautiful butterfly garden. Don’t forget, Butterfly Bushes are just one part of a healthy butterfly environment.

Lo & Behold Blue Chip

One of the original non-invasive cultivars of buddleia, this butterfly bush is small enough to fit in most parts of your garden, and flowers enough to attract all kinds of pollinators. Hummingbirds and Butterflies will love this addition to your garden. If you’re looking for something even more space-saving, check out the new and improved Blue Chip Jr.

Miss Molly

Featuring deep pink blooms that almost appear red, there isn’t another butterfly bush that looks like this one. Developed by Dr. Dennis Werner at NCSU, this variety is noninvasive and can grow anywhere in zones 5-9.

Pugster Amethyst

Like every plant in the pugster series, Pugster Amethyst has been bred for its compact habit, meaning it only grows 24inches tall and wide. This outstanding flowering shrub can bloom for up to 5 months, adding spectacular color to your garden all season long.