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.
Butterfly bushes, also known as Buddleia, are a great addition to any summer garden as they add vibrant colors and attract a variety of pollinators, particularly butterflies.
These shrubs come in a range of colors, from white and pink to shades of purple and blue, and they bloom throughout the summer months. They are also low-maintenance and easy to care for, making them a popular choice for gardeners of all skill levels.
When in bloom, the butterfly bush is covered in long spikes of flowers that are irresistible to butterflies and other pollinators. These butterfly flowers are rich in nectar, making them an important food source for these insects. By planting butterfly bushes in your garden, you can attract a range of butterfly species, including monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies, among others.
Butterfly bushes also work well in mixed borders or as a backdrop to other flowering plants. They can be pruned back in the early spring to promote bushier growth and encourage more flowers. If you live in a region with a mild climate, butterfly bushes may even continue blooming into the fall.
Tips for attracting butterflies (and other pollinators) to your garden
Designing a garden that attracts butterflies and other pollinators is a great way to not only beautify your outdoor space but also to help support the ecosystem. Here are some tips to keep in mind when designing your garden:
Choose plants that are attractive to pollinators: Butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to flowers with bright colors, sweet fragrances, and nectar-rich blooms. Plants like milkweed, echinacea, salvia, and buddleia (also known as butterfly bush) are all great choices for attracting butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
Plant in sunny locations: Pollinators need sunlight to help them find flowers, so make sure your garden is planted in a sunny location. If you have some shade, try to create some sunny spots with reflective surfaces like water features, or use reflective materials.
Provide shelter: Butterflies need shelter from the wind and rain, so include some bushes or trees in your garden that can provide shelter for them. Tall grasses and small bushes can also provide shelter and breeding grounds for butterflies and other insects.
Avoid pesticides: Pesticides can harm pollinators, so avoid using them in your garden. Instead, use natural pest control methods like companion planting or organic pest repellents to keep your garden healthy.
Include water features: Butterflies need water to drink, so include a small pond, birdbath or shallow dish with water in your garden. The water feature should be shallow enough for the butterflies to access and have a nearby surface they can land on.
Plant in groups: Planting flowers in groups can make it easier for pollinators to find them. A mass of flowers will be more attractive than just a few scattered plants.
By following these tips, you can design a garden that will attract butterflies and other pollinators, adding beauty and supporting the ecosystem at the same time.
Our 5 Favorite Buddleia Cultivars
Over the years, we have trialed a number of buddleia and found several that do great in our own Zone 7b conditions here in North Carolina. Below our 5 of our favorites. We think you'll enjoy them as much as the butterflies!
Buddleia 'Grand Cascade' - 'Grand Cascade' is a remarkable 2018 introduction from the Walters Gardens breeding program that heralds the future generation of butterfly bush hybrids. As a member of an innovative new series, it emerges from a successful cross between Buddleia davidii and Buddleia lindleyana, bringing together the best traits from each parent.
Stand in awe of 'Grand Cascade,' as it forms an impressive specimen standing 5.5 feet tall and spreading 6.5 feet wide. The flower panicles, gently pendulous, stretch a stunning 14 inches in length, offering an abundant supply of nectar for fluttering visitors. With such an extensive floral display, you may even consider importing more butterflies to fully appreciate the beauty and charm this extraordinary buddleia has to offer. Embrace the splendor of 'Grand Cascade,' a true testament to the ingenuity of Walters Gardens' breeding program.
Buddleia 'Lilac Cascade' - Meet Buddleia 'Lilac Cascade,' a magnificent addition to the cascade series of butterfly bushes hailing from the esteemed Walters Gardens breeding program. Like its counterparts, it boasts impressive, monstrous, and branched flower panicles. This beauty forms a substantial clump, reaching 4 feet in height and stretching 6 feet wide, ensuring a spectacular floral display.
From mid-June onward, 'Lilac Cascade' bursts into a profusion of blooms that are not only immense but also emit an intoxicating fragrance. The sheer abundance of flowers will leave you bewildered, as it attracts an army of butterflies to your garden. Prepare to be enchanted by the captivating sight of countless butterflies fluttering around the blossoms—it's a truly magical experience.
Buddleia 'Pink Cascade II' - Introducing Buddleia 'Pink Cascade II,' the latest and enhanced version of the beloved butterfly bush. This stunning plant showcases colossal, branched inflorescences resulting from the meticulous breeding efforts at Walters Gardens. Standing at a height of 4 feet and spreading 4.5 feet wide, it graces the landscape all summer long with 1-foot-long panicles brimming with luscious pink flowers exuding a delightful and sweet fragrance. Notably, this new cultivar has been observed to be sterile, adding to its appeal as a low-maintenance and flower-focused addition to gardens.
Buddleia 'Orange Sceptre' - This wild buddleia hybrid is the remarkable result of the late Dr. Jon Lindstrom's breeding program at the University of Arkansas. By skillfully combining the genetics of Buddleia stachyoides and Buddleia tubiflora, Jon created a stunning 8-foot-tall butterfly bush that is impervious to deer and exhibits almost year-round flowering in mild climates, reaching its peak season from fall through spring—a true haven for hummingbirds.
The plant's 1-foot-long terminal spikes of bright orange flowers, opening from bottom to top, bear a striking resemblance to leonotis. Its trunks, which retain their woody nature unless temperatures drop into the single digits, are adorned with 11-inch-long, verbascum-like fuzzy green leaves. This feature makes it an excellent choice for sunrooms, where it continues to bloom all winter long. This hybrid is a testament to Dr. Jon Lindstrom's expertise and has become a unique and treasured addition to the world of butterfly bushes.
- Buddleia 'Ellen's Blue' - Originally a stray seedling in Ellen Hornig's former New York (Seneca Hill) garden, Buddleia 'Ellen's Blue' quickly captivated the gardening world. This remarkable plant boasts a compact, deer-resistant bush that stands 4 feet tall, adorned with an abundance of blue-violet flowers (RHS 89D) in terminal spikes throughout the summer—a delightful feast for hummingbirds. Its distinctive color sets it apart from other buddleias, and the fragrance of its flowers is truly extraordinary, making it one of the most remarkable introductions of a butterfly bush.
Buddleia Companion Plants
One way to use butterfly bushes is as a focal point. With their tall stature and showy blooms, they can create a striking centerpiece for a garden bed or landscape design. Planting one or more bushes at the center of a garden bed can help draw the eye and create visual interest.
Another way to use butterfly bushes is as a border plant. They can be planted in groups of three or more to create a soft, flowing border that looks beautiful throughout the growing season. Their long, arching branches create a naturalistic effect that blends well with other plants in the border.
Butterfly bushes can also be used in mixed borders. They are versatile and can be paired with a variety of other plants to create a colorful and eye-catching display. Try planting them alongside perennials like echinacea plants, phlox, or black-eyed Susans for a stunning visual effect.
For those with limited outdoor space, butterfly bushes can be grown in containers. They make a great option for small patios or balconies. Choose a large container and fill it with well-draining soil, then plant your butterfly bush and other annuals or perennials around it for a beautiful and easy-to-maintain display.
Adding buddleia to your garden is an easy and effective way to attract a range of pollinators, particularly butterflies, to your outdoor space. With their vibrant colors, long blooming periods, and low-maintenance care requirements, butterfly bushes are a popular choice for gardeners of all levels. By incorporating these plants into your garden, you not only add beauty to your space but also support the important work of pollinators in our ecosystem. So why not consider adding a butterfly bush or two to your garden this year and see for yourself the joy they can bring to both you and the insects that rely on them.