Butterfly Bush Varieties and Care

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Find more than 500 top-performing, multi-season plants in “Powerhouse Plants.”
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A swallowtail butterfly feeds on the flowers of ‘Harlequin’, whose cream-edged gray-green foliage makes a striking display before and during flowering.
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Conspicuously reddish in color, the flowers of ‘Masquerade’ (‘Notbud’) stand out against the variegated foliage.
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The variable cream variegations of ‘Florence’ are ideal background for its pale blue flowers.

Find plants that look good for more than just a few weeks of the year in Powerhouse Plants (Timber Press, 2013). Author and plantsman Graham Rice shows you how to get the best value from plants that work hard for you, changing beautifully and dramatically through the seasons. In this excerpt, learn which butterfly bush varieties you should plant in your garden.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Powerhouse Plants.

Butterfly Bush

deciduous shrub

spring to fall foliage

summer and fall flowers

attracts butterflies

A cascade of late-season flowers and striking foliage on easy, resilient shrubs

Buddleias are grown for their fountain of flowering plumes in summer and fall, but the attractive foliage of a chosen few elevates them to genuine powerhouse status. Even amongst these, careful selection and sometimes observant care is necessary; most are forms of B. davidii, vigorous shrubs that start out relatively upright then arch over as the flowers open.

Variegated butterfly bush varieties spring first to mind, making an impact from early spring when the new leaves first start to stretch and display themselves. Avoid ‘Variegata’, which often produces green shoots that will soon dominate the shrub. A better choice is the gray-green foliage of ‘Harlequin’, a variegated form of the popular ‘Royal Red’. The leaves have a yellow edge as they first open, fading to cream in summer, and make a colorful background to the reddish purple flower spikes. ‘Harlequin’ too may revert but less often than ‘Variegata’. ‘Florence’ features both pale variegation and pale flowers.

‘Masquerade’ (‘Notbud’), also derived from ‘Royal Red’, is even more stable and the flowers are more reddish than ‘Harlequin.’ But the real pick is ‘Santana’, with irregular yellow margins becoming creamy relatively late in the summer and providing a bright contrast to the purple flower spikes.

In an altogether different style, ‘Silver Anniversary’ (‘Morning Mist’) features bright silver foliage, which may remain on the plant all winter in favored areas, and honey-scented white flowers in late summer and fall.

Buddleias are amongst the best of all garden shrubs to attract butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds (which feed on their nectar) and butterfly larvae (which feed on the foliage). But it’s important to note that, in some areas, buddleias are considered invasive and planting them is not recommended. Heed local advice.

Butterfly Bush care essentials

• Choose partners that relate to the foliage or flowers—or both. Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) will harmonize with the foliage coloring and contrast with the flowers, as will heleniums and the larger rudbeckias.

• Happiest in full sun and in any reasonably fertile soil that is not consistently wet. Hardiness can be improved by planting in well-drained soil with shelter from strong winds.

• Prune buddleias in spring as growth begins. Cut back hard to about 6–12in/15–30cm to promote very strong upright growth, later flowering, and large plumes. Cut to 2–3ft/60–90cm for broader bushier plants with smaller but more numerous flowers that open earlier.

Butterfly Bush varieties

Buddleja davidii ‘Florence’
6–10 x 4–8ft
1.8–3 x 1.2–2.4m

Buddleja davidii ‘Harlequin’
6–10 x 4–8ft
1.8–3 x 1.2–2.4m

Buddleja davidii ‘Masquerade’ (‘Notbud’)
6–10 x 4–8ft
1.8–3 x 1.2–2.4m

Buddleja davidii ‘Santana’
6–10 x 4–8ft
1.8–3 x 1.2–2.4m 

Buddleja ‘Silver Anniversary’ (‘Morning Mist’)
5 x 4ft
1.5 x 1.2m

Read more: For more from Powerhouse Plants check out Hydrangea Varieties and Care.

Reprinted with permission from Powerhouse Plants by Graham Rice and published by Timber Press, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Powerhouse Plants.

Published on Nov 12, 2013

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