How To Grow and Care for Butterfly Bushes

How To Grow and Care for Butterfly Bushes

Beginner Tips for Growing Buddleja

By Published September 14, 2017 Updated March 07, 2023

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The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into many of the plants that we have sold over the years, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.

As the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, gardens come alive with vibrant colors and fragrant scents. And what better way to add a touch of whimsy to your summer garden than with butterfly bushes? With their graceful arching branches and clusters of colorful flowers, butterfly bushes are a popular choice among gardeners looking to attract butterflies and other pollinators. But they also add a playful and whimsical element to any landscape, bringing joy and delight to both young and old. In this article, we'll explore how butterfly bushes can add a touch of whimsy to your summer garden and provide tips on how to care for these beautiful and low-maintenance plants.

Why Plant Butterfly Bushes?

  1. To attract butterflies: As the name suggests, butterfly bushes are known to attract butterflies. They produce fragrant flowers that are rich in nectar and brightly colored, which makes them attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. This can help support local ecosystems and increase biodiversity.

  2. Low maintenance: Butterfly bushes are relatively easy to care for, as they are drought tolerant and can grow in a range of soil types. They also require minimal pruning, making them a low-maintenance addition to your garden.

  3. They're aesthetically pleasing: Butterfly bushes produce large clusters of colorful flowers, which can add a bright and cheerful splash of color to any garden. They also have a graceful, arching growth habit that can add visual interest to your landscape.

  4. Long blooming season: Butterfly bushes have a long blooming season, typically starting in mid-summer and continuing until the first frost. This means you can enjoy their colorful blooms for several months throughout the growing season.

  5. As a wildlife habitat: Butterfly bushes can serve as habitat for other wildlife, such as birds and small mammals. They provide shelter and food sources for these creatures, helping to support local ecosystems.

Butterfly Bush Growing Tips for Beginners

If you're a new gardener interested in growing butterfly bushes, here are some basic tips to get you started:

  1. Choose the right location: Butterfly bushes prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Choose a location that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day and avoid planting them in areas with poor drainage.

  2. Plant at the right time: The best time to plant butterfly bushes is in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild and the soil is moist. Avoid planting during the hottest part of summer.

  3. Provide regular watering: While butterfly bushes are drought-tolerant once established, they still require regular watering during the first growing season. Water deeply and frequently during the summer months, but be sure not to overwater in winter as this can lead to root rot.

  4. Fertilize as needed: Butterfly bushes do not require heavy fertilization, but a light application of organic fertilizer in the spring can help promote healthy growth and blooming. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer.

  5. Prune regularly: Butterfly bushes can become quite large if left unpruned, so regular pruning is necessary to maintain their shape and size. Prune back in the spring before new growth begins, removing any dead or damaged branches and shaping the plant as desired.

  6. Watch out for pests: While butterfly bushes are generally pest-resistant, they can be susceptible to spider mites, aphids, and other common garden pests. Monitor your plants regularly and take action if you notice any infestations.

  7. Enjoy the butterflies: Finally, be sure to take the time to enjoy the butterflies and other pollinators that are attracted to your butterfly plants. These beautiful shrubs are not only a delight for the eyes, but also an important food source for many important pollinators.

What are Butterfly Host Plants?

Planting host plants for butterfly larvae as companions to butterfly bushes is a thoughtful and ecologically conscious approach to nurturing a flourishing butterfly habitat in your garden. Host plants serve as essential food sources for caterpillars, supporting the entire life cycle of butterflies. When you include these host plants alongside butterfly bushes, you not only attract adult butterflies with nectar-rich blooms but also provide a safe haven for their offspring to thrive.

One of the most renowned examples of a host plant for butterflies is the milkweed (Asclepias spp.). Monarch butterflies, in particular, rely heavily on milkweed as their sole host plant. By planting varieties like Asclepias tuberosa or Asclepias incarnata in close proximity to your butterfly bushes, you create a prime breeding ground for monarch caterpillars. Watching these enchanting caterpillars munching on milkweed leaves and transforming into beautiful monarch butterflies is a remarkable experience that adds to the wonder of your butterfly garden.
Similarly, other butterflies have specific host plant preferences. For instance, the Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) larvae favor plants like dill (Anethum graveolens) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), while the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) lays its eggs on spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Including these host plants in your garden creates a diverse and inclusive environment for a variety of butterfly species.
When planting host plants alongside butterfly bushes, ensure they receive adequate sunlight, water, and proper care. By doing so, you provide a complete and supportive ecosystem for butterflies to thrive, from egg to adult. Embracing host plants as companions to butterfly bushes not only enriches your garden's biodiversity but also fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of these delicate and magnificent creatures.

In conclusion, adding butterfly bushes to your summer garden is a simple and rewarding way to attract pollinators, add beauty to your landscape, and support local ecosystems. With their vibrant colors, fragrant blooms, and easy-care nature, these versatile shrubs are the perfect addition to any garden or landscape. By following the basic tips outlined in this article, even novice gardeners can successfully grow and enjoy these delightful plants all season long. So why not add a butterfly bush or two to your garden this summer and start enjoying the beauty and benefits they have to offer?

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