• Buddleias never drop their flowers

    by  • July 28, 2011 • Garden, Plant Profiles, Sierra Foothills • 8 Comments

    Butterfly magnets and how they grow

    Butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii, is a fast growing, vase-shaped, usually gangly shrub growing 6 to 10 feet tall. They attract several types of butterflies like crazy and do well in the Sierra Foothills because they need little water, bloom when most flowers are fading and grow to an impressive speedy size in the garden.

    When I read on the website of Mountain Valley Growers, that Buddleia never drops its flowers I was interested.  I had planted two tubes of the common form of Butterfly bush from the Coarsegold Resource Conservation District, in 2006, at one their plant sales in town. Now, I had to find out…

    Swallowtail matches a bit of the lavender-blue flowers

    Swallowtail matches a bit of the lavender-blue flowers

    Helping Buddleias to behave

    In their care and pruning instructions Mountain Valley Growers say that buddleias can be pruned ‘to the ground.’ That intrigued me since, when I read this is in Fall of 2010, the two were well established and getting quite, …well. gangly.  Normally, I just deadheaded the flowers themselves, so since I absolutely love garden experiments, I decided this time to prune one and leave the other,… and just wait and see. 

    In early February, one was cut down to 18”, quite drastic and bare looking. I dumped a load of leaves on to camouflage the bare sticks. I left the flowers on the un-pruned bush to test out the statement that they never drop.  Never?  We’ll see… 

    Here are the results:

    Buddleias, one trimmed back hard in February

    Buddleias, one trimmed back hard in February and one left standing

    These two bushes set at the corner of the house where the sidewalk winds around make you feel as if you’re not going to fall off the hill. Trimmed, you feel a bit exposed rounding the corner.


    Two Buddleias in mid May

    Two Buddleias in mid May

    By May when warmer weather arrives, ‘the sticks’ have recovered and show signs of robust new growth.  The untrimmed bush is as tall as ever even after the rain, cold and snow of winter in my Zone 7 garden.

    Two Buddleias in mid June

    Two Buddleias in mid June

    Both plants, above,  are filling out but the untrimmed one’s new growth is coming from the tips of old lanky branches, while the pruned one’s branches and leaves are fresh, thick and new.

    Two Buddleias in July 1st

    Two Buddleias in July 1st

    Both bushes, above, at the first of July have very different silhouettes.


    Buddleias are nearly the same size in mid July

    Buddleias are nearly the same size in mid July

    Now in mid July, both bushes are blooming and about the same height though very different.  It’s now when you can see the benefits of the pruning. I may not prune them both so radically next Spring, but I will do both.  I actually like the wildness of the lower bush down the hill, so may just do this every other year.


    Buddleia flowers in mid July

    Flowers in mid July on the pruned buddleia

    The thing I don’t like, and now notice, is the look of the old blooms from summer of 2010, which did hang on even through this years flowers.  The new blooms seem much smaller and round instead of the long cone shaped panicles of the pruned bush. the photos below taken mid July will show this.


    Flowers on the untrimmed plant

    Flowers on the untrimmed plant


    Old flowers still hanging on

    Old flowers still hanging on

     On the trimmed plant, shown below, you can see the fresh foliage.  Now, you see the results of my garden experiment…what do you think?  Will you change your pruning habits for Buddleias?


    Buddleia foilage is all fresh on trimmed plant

    Buddleia foliage is all fresh on trimmed plant


    Buddleia flowers in mid July

    Buddleia flowers in mid July

    Why have butterfly bushes in your garden?  They make a great anchor to a butterfly garden. Placed in the back they form a tall, wide background for other butterfly attractors like Milkweed, California Aster, Honeysuckle, Seaside Daisy, California Fuchsia, Lupine, Scarlet Monkey Flower Penstemon and Sage.




    No, not in our Sierra Foothills.  You may hear that buddleias should not be grown anywhere in the US, for the reason that they are invasive in the Pacific Northwest (you so invasive there that you’ll see them happily growing along the 5 Fwy in Seattle), but the Northwest has a much different climate and a lot more moisture than we.  No problemo!

    Spelling lesson

    Do you spell buddleia, buddleja, Buddlea, differently each time? It was named to honor botanist Reverend Adam Buddle, so knowing that, it should be easier to sort out. Even though plant ‘namer,’ Linnaeus’ spelling was buddleja, most now spell it buddleia.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    8 Responses to Buddleias never drop their flowers

    1. August 1, 2011 at 9:51 pm

      Old flowers on some plants look amazing wonderful as they age and change color throughout the year. But I’m in agreement with you that this isn’t one of those plants. I’ve only tried buddleia once, and it developed into a scrappy plant. Pruning like you show would have helped it!

      • August 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

        They’re great plants for California, I think, James. In Seattle though, they line the freeways, totally gone wild. There are dwarfs, as well for smaller gardens.

    2. August 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      I used to grow these plants in the Central Valley, but they’d often overwhelm the garden there, getting too tall and lanky by late summer. I did find that cutting them down to the ground each year improved their form and habit somewhat, but it just wasn’t one of my favorite garden plants. I suppose because I trimmed it mercilessly, I never noticed the persistent blooms. I find it interesting that B. davidii is not considered in invasive species here in California, and yet it is banned for sale in Oregon due to its invasive habit, and tendency to naturalize in the wild, I wouldn’t have thought our climate was that different.

    3. August 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Sue,
      I have many, many Buddleia in my garden. The grey foliage and scraggly form look very much at home in the foothills. I don’t prune the ones away from the house. They get giant. The ones near the house I cut back to stubbs every year. Checkerspot butterflies use it as a larval host plant. I know you’re near me. Do you get Checkerspots on yours?

      • August 31, 2011 at 6:07 am

        Wow, hi Katie! I am near you, pretty near, couple miles south of Bass Lake. I’m so glad to find someone else who has a blog in this area. No, I’m not sure I have Checkerspots…I have Buckeyes and Swallowtails and I have seen a Monarch recently and a Skipper. We had a swarm of California Sisters a few years ago in May that was awesome to see,…they were everywhere, especially down by our seasonal stream area, sitting on the damp rocks. I’ll check out your blog and I hope you come back lots to comment and share your knowledge with me! I’ll look up checkerspots.

    4. May 4, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      i enjoyed reading about the Buddleias. My local nursery owner said he was not allowed to sell any, but when he heard I was looking for plants which would attract butterflies (and bees) he GAVE me some cuttings. Since I’ve been keeping bees in the last two+ years, my wife and I have become tuned in to wild pollinators. We wanted to be sure our honeybees were not displacing native pollinators. I just transplanted the rooted cuttings in my hugelkulture bed, along with meadowfoam, Wallflowers (Erysimums), and lots of borage. I’m trying to make that a good area for pollinators. Do you think I’ll get any Monarchs? I’ve seen skippers, Swallowtails, and Painted Ladies.

    5. Sue Langley
      May 4, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks, solarbeez…yes, probably, if not instantly. I’m experimenting now with hugelkultur,..very interesting…

    6. Pingback: Our favorite butterfly plants | Flea Market Gardening

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