Buddleia sp. (Butterfly bush)
buddleia bush

Zone: 5 to 9

Soil: sand to loam

Light: Full sun to part sun

Bloom colour: Range of colours

Bloom period: Early spring or July to frost

Height: 2 to 15 feet

Moisture: Usually dry to medium

Attracts: Butterflies, moths and hummers

Notes: Most people only buy one species - Buddleia davidii. Even though it attracts many beautiful pollinators, native plant gardeners should avoid the temptation of planting butterfly bush. There are other plants that attract lots of butterflies without the environmental disadvantages. I was hesitant to include this on my recommended list because this plant is an invasive species that does well in disturbed and riparian areas. However, I would rather gardeners know how to manage this plant properly should they decide to plant it because it is widely available. A single butterfly bush could easily produce a million seeds in a single season. The seeds can remain viable in the ground for many years so when the ground is disturbed, the seeds germinate. In Great Britain, this plant can be seen growing in many places, yet it is a native of China. I can understand the joy of watching insects on this plant, but I do not think the extra effort required to keep this plant from becoming an environmental problem is worth it.

To avoid causing environmental problems with this plant, it is essential to deadhead and to cut off every flowerhead by October before the seeds have a chance of maturing. If you do not have the time to do this, then be responsible and buy another plant to attract butterflies. or look for a buddleia plant that does not produce fertile seed (Two varieties mentioned here include Blue Chips and Buddleia x weyeriana).

I would really recommend taking a pair of clippers to this plant on a regular basis. Cut the whole flowerhead off when there are just a few flowers left. This will greatly extend the flowering season of this shrub and it will prevent seed production.

If you are looking for a native alternative to Buddleia, then consider a combination of Agastache foeniculum in front of Agastache scrophulariifolia. These plants are of similar height and flower at the same time of the year. Agastache is not as beautiful as Buddleia, but most people are merely looking for a plant to bring in butterflies. In my garden, Agastache is even better than Buddleia in attracting Monarch butterflies and various other insects. Even the exotic Zinnia and Tithonia would be a much better choice than this plant for attracting butterflies.

There is a lot to like about Buddleia plants. They attract various different pollinators that we love to see in our garden. Buddleias produce large flowers with a lot of nectar and several species of butterflies are strongly attracted to them. To a lesser extent some other insects may also be attracted to the flowers. Buddleia davidii blooms for an extended period and are easy to grow. They can grow 10 ft high and a little pruning will prevent the lanky look. The best of these larger varieties in my opinion is still pink delight or potters purple, but there are plenty of other colours to chose from.

Your garden space may restrict you to growing compact cultivars, but you should understand that the larger specimens are much more attractive to butterflies. You can compensate for this by planting several smaller specimens in your garden. The Nanho series was quite common in nurseries, but they have smaller flowerheads that make less of an impact. The humdinger series are small enough to be planted in pots and will attract butterflies that happen to be passing by.

The best of the mid range butterfly bushes comes from the English Butterfly Series, which includes Peacock, Purple Emperor and Adonis Blue. They can grow to 8 feet. These three varieties have a compact form with large flower panicles. If you want to go with miniature, you can try Blue Chips, which only grows about two feet high. The breeder claims that the flowers on this cultivar are almost sterile eliminating the need to deadhead.

Other buddleias worth mentioning include Buddleia alternifolia which grows to 15 ft high and blooms intensely for a month in May. It weeps like a willow and blooms on old wood so it must be pruned after flowering. There is also the yellow honeycomb Buddleia x weyeriana which should be treated in exactly the same way as Buddleia davidii.

In Ontario, Buddleia will die back to the ground during winter (although it leaves might survive in southern Ontario in a sheltered microclimate). Cut off any remaining flowerheads in October and then cut it back to about 10 inches in early spring. Even if your plant does make it through the winter, cut it back anyway to maintain good form.

On a personal note: A teacher in my school set up a small butterfly garden which included 3 butterfly bushes. He believed that the bushes would not become a problem because the garden was isolated and surrounded by concrete buildings. Five years later, I noticed a butterfly bush growing under the bleachers on the other side of the school building. I have given up planting this in my beds. I keep one in a pot to make comparisons with other plants, but that too will eventually have to go as I spend too much time clipping back the flowerheads. I simply do not want to worry that my plant will become someone else's problem.

Buddleia davidii
Pink Delight
Buddleia davidii - Pink delight
Hummingbird on butterfly bush
Hummingbird on butterfly bush
Hummingbird sphinx moth on Buddleia
Hummingbird sphinx moth on Buddleia
Potters purple
Buddleia davidii -Potters purple
Buddleia davidii - Whiteball

Blue chips

Buddleia davidii - Blue Chip

Buddleia with painted lady butterfly
Buddleia davidii 'Blue Chip' with a Painted Lady butterfly.
Buddleia with fiery skipper
Buddleia davidii 'Blue Chip' with a Fiery Skipper butterfly.
Camberwell Beauty Red spotted purple
Buddleia davidii with Mourning Cloak butterfly Buddleia davidii with Red spotted purple butterfly