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What to do With Butterfly Bush in Winter

Wondering what to do with your butterfly bush when winter comes? You're not alone! Here are three easy tips for success.

pruning a butterfly bush in spring. A hand makes a cut on a butterfly bush using a pair of Fiskars pruners.

 1. Pruning

 Fall is not the time to prune butterfly bushes. Though they may be lightly   trimmed in autumn to remove any flower heads (and along with them, any lurking  seeds) and neaten them up a bit, spring is far preferable for pruning. There are two reasons for this. One, leaving the plant intact helps protect the dormant buds that are waiting for next spring and two, pruning after the new growth starts to emerge lets the plant tell you exactly where to cut. Just look for where healthy buds are emerging, and cut just above them. No guesswork required!                                       

a small butterfly bush blooms, surrounded by straw

2. Mulching

While most plants benefit from a 2-3" layer of mulch over winter, this may exacerbate winter damage on butterfly bushes. The key to getting a butterfly bush through winter (especially in USDA zone 5 and 6) is well-drained soil, particularly when the temperatures are low  but the ground is not frozen. Because mulch conserves water in the soil, heavy applications of mulch may lead to root rot. The best solution in cold climates is to put a light layer of mulch over the roots but instead of applying it all the way up to the main stem like you would on other plants, taper off the thickness so that the few inches immediately surrounding the center of the plant are bare and free of mulch.


3. Fertilizing

Here's a definite don't for winterizing butterfly bushes. Fertilizer pushes new growth, which is exactly what you don't want to happen to a butterfly bush in fall or winter. If you want to fertilize a butterfly bush, the best time to do that is in early spring, when the ground is thawed. The best type of fertilizer to use is a granular rose fertilizer, like Espoma Rose Tone. One application in spring should be sufficient in most areas, though if you want more growth, you may make subsequent applications in late spring and early summer.

In short, there's actually very little you should do to butterfly bushes in winter. How easy is that?!