How To Prune Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

Butterfly bush, aptly named for its ability to attract a flurry of colorful winged visitors, is a treasured addition to any landscape. Its large cone-shaped flower panicles come in an array of colors that release a sweet honey scent, attracting butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and more. But without regular pruning, butterfly bushes can become sparse, and flowering can diminish, leaving next to nothing for pollinators. So keep pruning to keep the butterflies coming to your garden for years to come! We'll show you how to get started.

When should I prune butterfly bush?

The best time to prune butterfly bush is in the spring, after the final frost but before new season growth emerges. Doing so removes any dead stems and shapes the shrub while encouraging vigorous growth for the season ahead. Some pruning can be done in the fall to tidy up the plant for spring, but it is only necessary if you live in a warmer climate (gardening zones 8 and 9).

What's the difference between pruning and deadheading?

While these terms may be used simultaneously, they are entirely different. Pruning is a technique that targets unproductive areas of the plant, like leggy, diseased, or dead growth. While deadheading is the process of removing any spent flowers during their peak growing season so that new buds can emerge. Both are beneficial to helping your butterfly bush thrive!

Step #1: Gather Your Tools

In order to properly prune your butterfly bush, you need to gather the correct tools to get the job done. First, you'll need a pair of bypass pruners to create clean angular cuts for small stems and shape the shrub. Next, you'll need bypass loopers to prune on large, woody stems with new growth emerging. Gardening gloves are optional. 

Before you begin, it's also important to double-check your butterfly bush variety and assess how much pruning it needs: dwarf varieties like Buddleia Pugster® or Lo & Behold require little to no pruning due to their smaller habit.  

Step #2: Prune above healthy new growth & remove stems

To prune your butterfly bush, make an angled cut above where you see large leaf buds or new healthy growth is emerging. Since butterfly bush blooms on new wood, the bigger the bud you're cutting back to, the more vigorous growth you can expect! Next, prune out dead stems or leaves and shape the plant's habit. It may appear a little woody at first, but that's okay: bright flower panicles and vibrant foliage will soon fill up any bare stems.

A little worried about not seeing any flowering soon after pruning? Not to worry: butterfly bush is one of the last plants to bloom in summer and requires little more patience than other show-stopping shrubs. Learn more about late-blooming plants HERE.

Step #3: Examine and water thoroughly

After you've finished pruning, your butterfly bush will be extra thirsty. While this shrub is traditionally drought tolerant, it could use extra watering directly after maintenance. Do so deep and thoroughly when watering, and continue watering about one inch per week during the peak growing season. Then these beauties are good to grow! 

Butterfly bush is truly a low-maintenance plant, but if you wish to tidy things up during the peak growing season, you can do so by regularly deadheading any spent flowers. This will remove any unsightly growth and encourage vibrant new flowers to appear more rapidly.

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