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Pruning Buddleia Davidii aka Butterfly Bush

Buddleia davidii is called Butterfly Bush as it attract butterflies like crazy. The taller ones need pruning to keep the branches from snapping off. Pruning a Buddlea davidii, aka Butterfly Bush, requires no finesse but must be done to keep the plant looking good & flowering. Here's how to do it.

Pruning Buddleia Davidii aka Butterfly Bush

Who wants butterflies in their garden? Hand raised – I sure do!  Butterfly Bushes are host plants providing food, shelter and a place for the ladies to lay their eggs. The commonly planted Buddleia davidii has a very vigorous growth habit reaching skyscraper heights if left to its own devices. Here’s the pruning of a very tall Butterfly Bush along with how and when to do it. 

A wee bit of an exaggeration but they’ll grow to about 13′ tall here in temperate areas of California and get rangy in no time flat. If they get too tall, then they’ll snap in strong winds. Pruning these Butterfly Bushes is pivotal if you want to keep them looking good in the garden.

I love pruning because it’s where the opposing forces of good and evil come together for me.  When I have a pair of pruners, lopers or pruning saw in my hand I feel like I’m doing something naughty and agressive but I’m actually doing good.  The Buttterfly Bush is one plant that satisfies my roguish urges and can take a good hard pruning year after year.

Buddleias grow like crazy in England too.  I remember taking a train out of London’s Waterloo station heading south and seeing them for the first time growing right alongside the railroad tracks and growing out of the sides of buildings. That’s how tough these scrappy little buggers are.

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This is my client’s Buddleia davidii which you’ll see in the video below. It has been thinned a lot & pruned down for many years now. It still comes back with a vengeance. This particular plant is left  to grow tall because the back patio is on the other side of that fence & the multitude of flowers can be viewed while dining or sitting outside. See all the new growth at the bottom? This plant could actually be taken down to 1-2′. from the ground.

Buddleia davidii is a woody shrub with soft stems. It grows in climate zones 5-9 and is hardy to -15 degrees F.  If you experience freezing temperatures, they can be pruned right up to early September but make sure it’s not a severe one.

The new growth is tender and a hard pruning late in the season could damage the plant.   Do the hard pruning in early Spring to 1-2′ from the ground.  Go ahead – the plant needs it!

Here in coastal California the Butterfly Bush stays evergreen and can be pruned at almost any time of year. In late January I would give it a severe pruning before the spring growth started appearing. There’s nothing aesthetic about this kind of pruning.

Just cut them back hard anywhere from 1′-5′ from the ground straight across – no fancy haircuts here.  The taller you leave it, the taller it will grow.

I did 3 more much lighter prune jobs throughout the season right after each flowering cycle.  I would thin it out and take them 2-3′ feet down from the flower.  A repeated word of warning: they easily break in heavier winds if they get too tall.

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Here’s an option if you want butterflies but shy from gorilla pruning: Buddleia “Lo & Behold”. It only grows to 3’x3′. I’ve heard that only one pruning is needed in the Spring.  Plus, no rangy, flopping branches in the wind.

Buddleias are great to have in the garden to attract butterflies and their flowers have a light fragrance.  If you crave the taller varieties then be sure to sharpen your pruners!

You”ll need to do this before tackling a Butterfly Bush:

A Quick & Easy Way To Clean & Sharpen Your Pruners

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7 comments:

  1. My Buddleia has been getting tight curling on the tips of limbs, even the parts that would be blossoms. Is this a caterpillar that has been growing within the ends of this shrub?
    It almost looks like a pest but want to know which type of butterfly would lay eggs if that’s what it is?

    thank you,
    Karen Novak

  2. Hi Karen – Thank you for visiting our vlog. The Buddleia is both a host (the butterflies will lay their eggs on it) & a food plant for certain species of butterflies. For this reason, buddleias are not the most attractive shrub in the garden – they’re oftentimes “chewed up”. What type of butterfly it is depends on where you are. What you’re seeing is normal so don’t do any kind of spraying. Nell

  3. I’m interested to know what butterfly lays its eggs on the Buddleia. I n Southern California it is a nectar plant for butterflies.
    The damage Karen in seeing is caused by a bud worm.

  4. I’m in Santa Barbara and I have NEVER seen any kind of butterfly eggs/caterpillars on my Buddleia, going on 8 years now. There are about 8 species of butterflies that come to my garden and not one of them uses the Buddleia as a host plant. I, too, am curious as to which butterflies utilize Buddleia as a host plant. I looked and looked online and this was all I could find re: Buddleia as a host plant: ” . . .the leaves too feed the larvae of some butterfly species.”

  5. Hi – Buddleia is mainly a nectar plant & attracts butterflies to the garden. I was told that swallowtails will occasionally use it as a host plant. Nell

  6. Good information Nell!
    I have several butterfly bushes. Lavender and one that is yellow. They are as you said tall and leggy. They do make a nice shade tree with support tho. Unfortunately my yellow one got powdery mildew this year and is not looking to good so I’m glad you’ve given the permission to prune it down hard.

  7. Hi Dawn – Thank you – glad you found it helpful! The taller varieties of Butterfly Bushes get so tall & rangy that they really need a good pruning. The one you see here was planted before the newer, more compact varieties got introduced. You’re so right – the taller ones do throw some shade. Nell

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