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.
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.
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: