18 Aug 2010

Butterfly Bush – Buddleja davidii – Growing and Flower Harvest Tips

Buddleja Bicolor

[Buddleja x weyeriana ‘Bicolor’ – Butterfly bush hybrid]

Awhile back, I planted the Buddleja above to attract hummers and butterflies, and after I found out that this particular cultivar posesses the heavenly scent of sweet honey, I began to partake in smelling hits and have been cutting them for enjoyment indoors.  For designs, Buddleja flowers create an arching, wistful line and the foliage is similar to salvia with a silvery-gray color and a velvety texture.  While they go well with lisianthus, zinnias, cosmos, allium, iris, agapanthus and grasses, I think they also are good to use for contrast to the waxy textures of  callas and lilies.  They typically don’t last very long, about 4-5 days, but this is plenty of time to enjoy them indoors during a long summer weekend.

Selecting & Harvesting

If you are cutting for a special occasion or for gift giving, it may help to water the bush thoroughly the night before you plan to take flowers.  Cut early in the morning or late in the evening as you would for any other garden flower cutting.  Even though this plant is considered an herbaceous perennial, as a cutting flower, it is treated like a woody plant.  Choose half-open blossom heads and cut at an arm’s-length, into the wood.  (If you want to cut shorter, you’ll have to experiment for yourself on how to handle them.)  After cutting the stem diagonally,  lightly scrape off the brown wood until you see a hint of green (it’s easy to go too deep with these, so scrape lightly) and then vertically split the stem about 2 finger-widths up the middle.  If giving the blossoms to someone, I will condition them in hot water and preservative to ensure sap does not clog the stems (which can cause wilt) and I’ll let the bucket sit overnight  (sometimes outside when nights are cooler than the house) to fully hydrate blooms before using them.  If it’s just for me, I sometimes skip the hot water step.   Always remove any leaves that will be submerged.


When the bush is in bloom (from July to November here), you can keep it blooming by deadheading.  When I don’t deadhead, I’ve found the plant to bloom for only a couple of months.  When I deadhead, I see blooms for 4 to 5 months.  I usually deadhead by pinching the topmost spent blossom and one emerging blossom to encourage larger flowers.  The emerging blooms, usually just below the terminal (see photo) will open in a week or two.  For the most part, you’ll find that for every one you deadhead, you’ll be rewarded with 2 blossom heads (albeit sometimes smaller).  If you’re going for a larger flower head, pinch out all but one of the emerging blossoms on a branch.  Deadheading early evening is something you’ll probably most enjoy because you’ll have close encounters with all the birds and insects that visit this bush.

For me, this bush couldn’t be more trouble-free or rewarding; my experience with it has been very similar to caring for salvia.  A hard cut back in the winter (down to about 10-12 inches) will keep new growth bushy, and will bring many summer blooms because buddleja blooms on new wood.  Cutting back a 5 foot bush down to a foot can be daunting, but don’t worry, buddleja will quadruple in size during one summer.  More pros: it tolerates heat, drought, and alkaline soil.

Do choose a sunny site (preferably somewhere you can enjoy it from indoors), and this plant won’t disappoint.  One summer I had placed a large market umbrella in the yard and left the umbrella out all season.  The cast shade caused the bush to become leggy and it didn’t bloom much.  This plant definitely looks and performs best when growing in full sun.   Site it well and you’ll be rewarded with sweet honey scented  blooms, butterflies, hummingbirds and all sorts of winged things.

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03 Nov 2007

Bi-color Buddleia

It was a windy day when this skipper photo was taken.  The sun was high and harsh. I had been noticing curled up worms around and in the lawn and now wonder if they were skipper larvae.  So many visitors partake in multi-colored buddleia honey– if only to be winged for a day!

skipper on buddleia

November: still going strong with profuse blooms.