Dorothy is a master gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape and nature photographer.
Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds With a Butterfly Bush
The butterfly bush, aka summer lilac, is a gorgeous (although sometimes invasive- see below), fast-growing, deciduous shrub with hundreds of blossoms that act as somewhat of a "beacon" to butterflies and hummingbirds.
When Does a Butterfly Bush Bloom?
This shrub's purple blossoms will bloom from summer to autumn. It should bloom even in the first year after it's planted.
If you have done your research and have decided that a butterfly bush is the perfect addition to your garden area, keep the following tips in mind when planting:
- A butterfly bush needs full sun and well-drained, fertile soil.
- Plant your bush in spring or fall, paying close attention to your local frost dates.
- You will need to loosen the soil and mix in compost (dig a hole that is twice the diameter of the plant container that you have purchased).
- The top of the rootball should be level with the surface of the soil when you place the plant in the hole.
- Plants should be spaced from 6–10 feet apart (depends on the variety you have chosen).
- Water thoroughly.
How to Care for Your Butterfly Bush
- Deadheading. To encourage new shoots and flower buds, remove spent flower spikes (deadhead). In fact, many states require deadheading of this plant to keep it from spreading volunteer, unwanted seeds. You need to deadhead the flowers right when they start to wither to avoid this spread.
- Watering. In the summertime, water your plants if rainfall is less than an inch per week; otherwise water freely during the growth period and sparingly when not in a growth period.
- Fertilizing. If you fertilize a butterfly bush too much, it will promote leaf growth over flower production, so easy does it!
- Mulching. In the spring, you can apply a thin layer of compost and mulch to your butterfly bush to help retain moisture and control weeds.
- Cutting back. There is no die-back involved with a butterfly bush, so you need to cut them back all the way to the ground each spring. (They bloom on new wood each year so no need to worry about cutting them back too far). Even if you live in an area where winters are mild allowing the stems to survive, cut them back to the ground to encourage abundant growth of stems on which the flowers grow.
- Pruning. The shrub is low-maintenance, so to encourage flowers and a compact shape, you need only to deadhead and perform annual pruning.
How the Bush Changes as It Grows
Your beautiful bush should grow and bloom very well, even in its first year after initial planting. If you live in a warmer climate, the bushes will grow into trees, developing trunks that peel (don't worry—peeling is normal).
Are All Butterfly Bushes Invasive?
There are butterfly bushes available that are of a non-invasive type, so do some research before you decide to plant something that you may later regret. I recommend you contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for more information regarding these plants and to find out what is available in your particular growing zone.
I might point out now how important it is that you NOT dig up pretty plants that you may see beside the road, as they may be invasive—or worse, endangered.
Things You Can Do to Stop an Invasive Plant
- Become familiar with the National Invasive Species Information Center's database.
- You can provide the best food/shelter for native wildlife in your area by planting native shrubs and flowers. Not only are they easier to maintain, but they can protect the environment from the spread of harmful, noxious weeds.
- Learn to recognize the invasive species in your area, and by all means - point them out to others who may not recognize them as being invasive.
- Again, don't stop and dig up "pretty" flowers you see growing beside the road. They could be invasive, or endangered, both of which can cause you problems.
- If you happen to notice invasive plant life on your property, do everyone a favor and dig it up, or better yet follow the instructions from your own's state's invasive species program. If you have a severe infestation, you might have to resort to herbicides, but invasive species cost the United States economy $120 billion a year, according to the Nature Conservancy, so don't hesitate if it becomes necessary. (If you decide to use a herbicide, make sure and use the correct one for your particular problem/situation).
Butterfly Bush Is Not a Host Plant for Butterflies
The butterfly bush, despite its name, is simply a nectar plant that does not support the life cycle and reproduction of the butterfly, which can take anywhere from a month to a whole year, depending upon the type of butterfly. If you want to keep the butterflies coming back, you might want to consider planting some milkweed or another host plant that does support their life cycle.
Try Planting Both Host and Nectar Plants in Your Garden
If you include both host plants and the nectar plants that the butterflies love, you will attract a much wider selection of butterflies and, at the same time provide the important environment that will support their entire life cycle.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on June 08, 2017:
Thanks! Happy hunting.
RTalloni on June 08, 2017:
Nicely done with lots of information. We were talking just yesterday about these plants. I'm definitely going on a hunt for the non invasive butterfly bush.