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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Butterfly Bush

Would you like a tried and true butterfly or hummingbird magnet? If so, then the Butterfly Bush is what you want. This deciduous shrub bears dense panicles (long, slender flower clusters), anywhere from 5 to 12 inches long, summer through fall. Its long arching branches will reach heights of 6 to 8 feet, widths of 4 to 8 feet and its masses of flowers fill the air with a fruity scent.

Butterfly bushes (buddleia) need to be planted in an area with full sun and fertile, well draining soil. They may be planted or transplanted in the fall or spring. When planting, dig a hole twice the diameter of the container, loosen the soil and mix in some compost. When placing the plant in the hole, the top of the root ball should be level with the surface of the soil. When planting multiple shrubs, place them 5 to 10 feet apart, depending on the variety (check the tag). Water well. During the summer, if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, give supplemental water. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and only need moderate fertilization. Too much fertilizer supports leaf growth over flower production.

Butterfly bushes bloom on new wood, so do your pruning in the spring before new growth appears. They can be cut back to 1 foot high which will stimulate abundant growth on which those wonderful flowers will bloom. Do not cut them back in the fall as this can lead to winter injury and subsequent death. In the fall, spread mulch up to 5 inches deep around the base of the plant to help nurture it through the winter. In the spring, spread a thin layer of compost and mulch to help conserve moisture and keep the weeds away.

Dead head the spent flowers before they go to seed for a more attractive looking bush and to promote flowering. These bushes are relatively trouble-free although spider mites can be a problem on a bush that is drought stressed and downy mildew can appear during periods of cool, wet weather. Pesticide use on a butterfly bush is discouraged, particularly when it is in bloom, because of all of the beneficial insects it attracts. Sensitive skinned people may find some irritation when coming in contact with the foliage.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co