Butterfly bush is a member of the genusBuddleia or Buddleja and the familyScrophulariaceae. Most of the species are large shrubs, while a few are trees. A large majority of the commercially available butterfly bushes are variations of the plant,Buddleia davidii. The name 'butterfly' has been given to the plant, as its beautiful, nectar-rich flowers attract a large number of butterflies. However, the shrub is not only appealing to butterflies, but to bees and hummingbirds as well.
Apart from its unique beauty, a butterfly bush is also known to be a low-maintenance plant, and this is the reason why it is a favorite among gardeners. This flowering plant can be grown in almost any condition. Additionally, the plant is known to be drought-resistant, and it can tolerate alkaline soils and even high levels of urban pollution. Once the plant succeeds to establish itself, it literally does not require much care and maintenance.
A majority of the species that belong to the genus buddleia, are large shrubs that reach a height of about 5 meters. A few species of the butterfly bush can also grow up to a height of 30 meters, and they are generally regarded as trees. Buddleias are semi-evergreen in areas, where minimum winter temperature does not fall beyond 20 degree F. In colder zones, where winter is harsh, the butterfly bush can be deciduous and drop its leaves. But sometimes, it can freeze or die back to the ground each year in winter, just like a herbaceous plant.
But in the next spring, this vigorous plant will grow back, and produce masses of stunning flowers. The flowers can come in an array of colors, right from white, pink, purple to yellow, orange, bluish-purple, and violet, depending on the particular species. The leaves are elongated with a pointed apex and are arranged in opposite pairs on the stem. The flowers occur in clusters, which can be about 10 to 45 cm in length, and appear in midsummer to fall. Each flower is tubular, and contains four petals. Fruits contain numerous seeds, and each fruit looks like a capsule, reaching a length of about 1 cm.
Caring for a Butterfly Bush
The soil selected for planting a butterfly bush should be well-drained. Soils that remain constantly wet will cause the root to rot, which can become evident in yellowing of leaves. In severe cases, it can cause the twigs to die out.
This shrub can be grown in almost all soil types, provided you keep the soil moist. A place that receives full sun, or a partially-shaded area can be selected for planting a butterfly bush. In general, places that receive sunlight for at least 8 hours a day are considered ideal for growing butterfly bushes.
Before planting the shrub, be sure to till the soil properly. Also add 2 to 3 layers of compost or mulch to the ground, as mulching helps retain moisture.
Dig a hole, ideally double the size of the root ball, and then place the plant carefully in it. Now, fill the hole with soil, and gently press the soil around the base of the root ball. Soon after planting, water the butterfly bush. If you are planting more than one butterfly bush, then be sure to space them about 5 to 10 feet apart.
- Proper watering plays a key role in ensuring rapid growth of this plant. It needs a lot of water in the early days, especially during the hot summer months.
- But once the shrub establishes itself firmly on the ground, its water requirements falls drastically. Infrequent watering, once or twice a month would be sufficient for the maintenance of an established butterfly bush, if it has completely adapted to the surrounding.
- Butterfly bushes usually do not require fertilization, unless they are grown in poor soil. However, application of fertilizer in spring can ensure better blooms. You can apply a general fertilizer, or one or two layers of compost in spring over the root zone.
- Fertilization should be followed by the application of a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch over the root zone. This will help retain moisture while preventing the growth of unwanted weeds. Mulching is more important in areas, where the winter is harsh.
- When it comes to pruning, Buddleias can not only sustain, but even benefit from a severe or hard pruning. Hard pruning can promote the production of larger blossoms and new arching branches. The flowers, which are the main attraction of this plant, grow mostly on new growths. Hence, many gardeners consider the period of late winter or early spring as the ideal time for pruning a butterfly bush.
- At other times of the year, like in spring and summer, only light pruning is required. So, cut off only those branches that grow out of control, in order to maintain the shape of the shrub. Like pruning, deadheading, i.e., the removal of dead and spent flowers is also important. Deadheading encourages additional blooms throughout the blooming period.
Winterizing Butterfly Bushes
When winter approaches, your butterfly bush would require some additional care, as it goes into a dormant stage in many planting zones. Butterfly bush is hardy from zone 5 to 10, but in areas colder than zone 5, the plant may die back to the ground.
To prepare your butterfly bush for the winter, first clear the base of the plant by removing all dead leaves, debris, and weeds. The next step is to prune the bush, for which many recommend cutting it all the way back to the ground. Instead of cutting it back to the ground level, you can also prune the bush to a height of about four feet.
After pruning, never forget to apply a layer of mulch around the plant, within one or two inches of the base. You can use leaves, grass, sawdust, and even wood chips for mulching your butterfly bush.
Mulching helps retain warmth and moisture, and thus protects the root ball from cold, besides preventing it from drying out during winter. However, heavy mulching is not recommended, as it can cause the root to rot.
Once the winter is over, the butterfly bush grows rapidly, as it is a fast growing plant. Just remember to maintain adequate soil moisture in the early days of growth, along with proper pruning. In return, this shrub will adorn your garden with those delicate pink, white, or violet blossoms, and attract a lot of butterflies, bees, and occasionally, hummingbirds to your garden.