Plant Buddleja for Butterflies

 In Plant breeding, Plant Focus, Pruning
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Buddleja x davidii ‘Pink Perfection’

If you want these fabulous insects to visit your garden then you must plant Buddleja for butterflies!

“I’ve watched you now a full half-hour, self-poised upon that yellow flower”. So begins William Wordsworth’s poem ‘To a Butterfly’. This captures the fragility of these beautiful insects which visit our gardens in summer.

But hold on, before you exit and say I’ve no room for such a vigorous and fast growing shrub, there are compact varieties available now!

Known appropriately as the ‘butterfly bush’, Buddleja are fantastic magnets for attracting butterflies and moths too!

Their heavily scented showy blooms are freely produced at the ends of every shoot. When these terminal blooms finish a pair of smaller blooms often open further back down the stem. This extends the flowering season so that the show continues well into the end of summer.

Which Buddleja are grown?

Tortoiseshell butterfly on Buddleja bloom

The most widely grown Buddleja [aka Buddjeia] is Buddleja x davidii. This is the type that you would be most likely to find in your local garden centre.

There are many other species and lots of them are tender. They require a warm wall or even conservatory in which to grow!

Not so davidii types. These originate in central and western China and Japan where winters can be cold.

For years gardeners and growers have sought out new flower colours with little thought to plant size. It’s true that there are now plenty of different bloom colours to choose from.

But in recent years the main focus has been on developing dwarf growing varieties! I’m sure that this trend will continue but already we have some great compact varieties much better suited to today’s smaller spaces.

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Buddleja x davidii ‘Buzz’

Take for instance the ‘Buzz’ series. ‘Buzz’ Buddleja are so small that they can even be grown in pots.

So this gives us the chance to play with colour combinations in the same pot!







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Felicity Down pruning a Buddleja bush hard back

One thing that needs to be done, and done at the end of every winter, is to cut them hard back.

This pruning is easy as every shoot should be cut back hard to a just above a pair of buds close to the centre or trunk of the shrub. It seems harsh but will pay off since the best blooms are always produced on new growth.

Whilst Buddleja bushes will grow on the worst soil they are in fact hungry feeders and will repay being fed with a general fertiliser at the time of pruning. Use Growmore, Vitax Q4, farmyard manure or chicken manure pellets.

Don’t plant Buddleja for butterflies where the soil is cold and wet as they will not grow well there.



Plant Breeding and Selection

Whilst the focus is on dwarf growing varieties here, in North America Buddleja are regarded as an invasive species.

There the search is on for sterile Buddleja which will not seed themselves around and smother the native vegetation.

Fortunately, here in Britain this is rarely a major issue but one only has to look out of the train window this month to see the potential that the beautiful butterfly bush has to colonize!

Of course, a sterile flower means no seed and that means no seed for birds from these bushes in winter. Finches and other seed eaters feast on Buddleja seeds in winter and I always leave some seed heads un-pruned for that reason.

Take part in a National Survey

If butterflies and moths really interest you then take part in the Big Butterfly Count in summer. Download the free app, take a seat near a Buddleja and start counting!

You’ll be taking part in some important research work that will help us understand and help these beautiful creatures to thrive.

Plant other butterfly friendly plants

Other plants that you might like to grow with Buddleja are lavender, ice plant [Sedum], cone flower [Rudbeckia], Sneezeweed [Helenium], Michaelmas daisies [Asters] and Verbena.

If you prefer to grow edibles then plant chives, marjoram, thyme and mint since all these are

Large tortoiseshells on Ice Plant – Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’

favourites with butterflies, moths and bees.

There is a list of more plants you could consider growing here.

Besides giving colour over a long period they act like fueling stations for butterflies, moths, bees and other beneficial insects. They provide these insects with the valuable energy from the nectar they need.

With almost 60 species of butterfly resident in the UK and dozens more flying across from Europe our gardens can play a vital role in ensuring their survival.

Therefore with these plants you can have a colourful and easy to maintain garden too!

My favourite Buddleja 

  • Buddleja x davidii ‘Black Knight’ – darkest purple/black
  • Buddleja x ‘Pink Perfection’ – large soft pink blooms
  • Buddleja x davidii ‘Santana’ -red blooms with golden yellow variegated leaves
  • Buddleja ‘Buzz Sky Blue’ – dwarf
  • Buddleja ‘Buzz Magenta’ – dwarf
  • Buddleja x ‘Lochinch’ – soft lavender blue

Three colours of Buddleja ‘Buzz’ in the same pot. [photo credit T&M]

Why not take a big pot and plant three different colours of the Buzz dwarf Buddleja together to get a great scented and colourful potful? Remember, these are hardy shrubs so you will get a great show that attracts butterflies every summer too!

Buddleja are remarkably easy to grow and are a great plant for experienced and first timer gardeners alike! So whichever category you consider that you are in I hope that you will plant Buddleja for butterflies.

I recently blogged on more things that you can do to encourage butterflies and moths in your garden. Read about it here.


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