Buddleja Help!

Providence, RI

Hi there. Sorry, I realize there's another thread on this, but I didn't want to hijiack their post.

I bought a home in August from an avid gardener, and I, personally, know very little about gardening and end up killing anything I touch. I'm a wildlife biology student and have limited botanical training, but I'm not hopeless (I hope). I have fell in love with the plans in the yard and really am trying to learn what they are and how best to take care of them.

After hours of googling, I've discovered I have a few butterfly bushes in the back that have purple flowers, not really dark purple, but your basic purple. I also have a really tall one with white flowers that monarchs find irresistible. the bees tend to like the purple ones better. I'm sorry I don't have a photo of it, but I do have a video I shot of the butterflies, where you can really see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3xABXySsyE

I'm in Zone 6 I think and it's been a pretty mild winter here in Rhode Island and my question is the best way to go about caring for them now so they'll be better than they were last year. Should I prune them down? And what exactly does that mean? Just snip the plant at it's base? The purple ones are much smaller than the white one and right now just look like dead stalks sticking out of the ground. the white one lost all it's flowers, but still have brown, conical remnants from where the petals once were. It's obviously not as tall and full as it was in the summer and fall, but it still seems like a substantial little shrub.

Do I dump some good soil on it when it starts to really warm up around here? Or do I mulch? Both? Will it need fertilizer? It's adjacent to another plant that I'll need to spend a little time in the ID forum to figure out what it is. On it's other side is a hydrangea, which I'll also need to start another thread on care. If you checked out the video, you'll see a big cedar in the background, but we had to have it removed because it was in all sorts of power lines and starting to grow onto the house and take over, so it's no longer competing with that...

The landscaping was really beautiful, part of why I bought the home, but I want to educate myself before I become in over my head.

Any advice will be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks in advance!


This message was edited Feb 6, 2008 5:09 PM

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I would wait until spring, then cut them back. In your zone, I think they'll normally die back over the winter, so any branches that you see on there now are probably dead, it'll come back by sending up new growth from the base. If you want the plants bigger though and you had a mild winter, then you could hold off on cutting them back and wait to see if any of the branches green up again, then prune out the dead ones (out here if you don't prune them, they can grow into trees, but in colder climates they usually die back every winter and start from scratch in the spring)

In terms of care, I would never dump soil on top of anything unless you've had problems with soil eroding away from around the roots--if you bury plants too deeply, you can cause them to rot, so you don't want to do anything to increase the soil level. They probably don't need to be fertilized either, they're pretty low maintenance in that regard, they'll do fine without much attention from you. Fertilizing won't hurt them so if you're fertilizing the rest of your garden you don't have to avoid them, but I honestly never fertilize mine and they do just fine. Mulch is always good, just don't pile it right up to the base of the plant, leave a little room around it.

Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

Hi SharkB8--welcome to DG. One other thing about butterfly bushes--if you keep the spent flowers pruned off they will bloom longer. I don't keep mine up as good as I should but do a half-way good job of it and I'm still rewarded with blooms through the entire summer and into early fall (I'm in zone 8). Like ecrane said, you can prune them. I prune mine every year in late winter (probably later for your zone) mostly to keep them from getting too tall for me to keep the flowers deadheaded. Once they attain the height I want, I prune them back to about 1/3. BTW, you came to a good place to get all your questions answered. Everyone here loves to help so just ask away.

Providence, RI

Awesome! Thanks guys. They really are beautiful plants and we love seeing the shadows of the monarchs on our window shades!

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Hi Shark, like you, I am in a cooler area UK, but I have a good selection of Butterfly bushes or Buddleia as they are also commonly known as, because you live in the cooler regions, your shrubs will still be fine, they just go dormant in the winter months, the leaves dry and drop and the flower heads where they carry millions of seeds will scatter seeds everywhere, but either cut off the flower heads in autumn to prevent seeds forming, or leave this till early spring, by then you will see tiny grey leaf shoots appear, this is the best time to prune/cut back, the new shoots are an indication that your shrub has survived the cold winters and is ready to throw up new growth,
To prune/cut back, all you do is take a good pair of secateurs and decide where you want to shorten the previous years growth too, I give mine a good prune, leaving about 12 to 18 inches of old wood , find an outward facing leaf joint, cut above this at an angle away from the bud, this angle prevents water sitting on the new bud and rotting it, step back every now and again to check which parts you still wish to prune, and try to aim for an open shrub from center out, this allows plenty of light and sun to get into the middle of this years new stems so they get good light for good flowering, they can be cut back to the ground and still re-grow again, but would take a whole year to recover. After the flowers finish and start to fade, if you cut of all the dead flowers (called dead heading) then you will probably get a second flush of flowers to watch the butterflies even longer, these flowers wont be as large as the first, but the wildlife will still find them. for winter, I give mine a mulch of leaf mould or compost, whichever I have plenty off at the clean up time end of season, come spring, I scatter a handful of Blood/Fish and bone meal around the area where the roots have spread, this gives them enough food to build up good long arching flowering stems for the summer, as Ecrane said, dont put mulch or compost too close to the growing stems or you could prevent air circulating and stem rot or fungus could attack and get into the growing tissue on the bark/stems.
the last thing about finding which plants you have in your garden is to look in the library or book store for books on plants preferably ones like general or with plenty coloured pictures, this I find easier as I can read and re read the descriptions any time I have a moment, especially in winter, then you will learn how to recognise most of the plants in your yard, keep in mind that one family of plants like buddleai has a vast number of different types, but general descriptions are a good starting place to allow you to search the site or plant finders sections. hope this helps, but do remember, we all on this site like to try help identify others plants too. good luck. WeeNel.

Providence, RI

Thanks, WeeNel!

First of all, I envy your location. I was in Edinburgh just over a year ago (retracing my roots - no pun intended).

We have a good friend whose fiance is from Chester, England and we had them over for our housewarming party. As we were walking them to their car after the party, Alex, her fiance, says "Oh my gosh! You have a buddleia?"

I say, "A what?"

"A buddleia!"

"Come again?"

The he explained how he had one when he was little and he loved it.

It this the type of plant that I could clip and give to them?

Thanks again for all of your advice.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

You can start them from cuttings. Now's not the best time to try though--the plant is dormant and given the zone you're in, chances are some of the branches that you see on it now are dead and won't come back in the spring, so you'd be better off waiting until you know what parts are alive. I've never tried to propagate these so I don't know whether you can do cuttings right away in spring or if you're better off waiting until summer or fall. And if they're not good at starting cuttings or if they want to be able to enjoy a larger plant sooner, I imagine every nursery in your area probably carries a selection of them, they're pretty common and easy to find.

south central, WI(Zone 5a)

Hi;, I mulch mine with chopped leaves and evergreen branches, so that the new leaves that start at the base, don't get hit by our predictable late frost. I do a partial cutback, so the branches don't split to the base due to snow, ice etc.
My white one (that passed on) was 3 times the size of my purples....and then I moved it..still beating my head against the potting shed.

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