Butterfly Bush Standards

A summertime delight of the Faire Garden is the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii. Although considered an invasive in some areas, we have not found them to be difficult to control. The height, up to ten feet unpruned, adds great vertical interest to the shrub border. But we prefer to grow them as standards, removing the lower limbs and giving the one trunk a strong metal stake for support of the large trusses of small flowers. A bumblebee is enjoying B. ‘White Profusion’.
The white flowers are many and this variety is the most prolific of bloomers of our group. The fragrance is honeyed and perfumes the air on still summer nights.
This is how we grow the butterfly bushes here. The metal stakes are fence posts, found on the property but readily available at home improvement stores. Driven deeply into the ground they support the heavy blooms during wind and rain, when there is wind and rain that is. After some of our colder winters, the whole stem will die back to the ground, but a new leader will be selected from the fresh spring growth and trained against the stake with the old trunk cut off. Sometimes I leave the old trunk standing to fool the eye into thinking it is growing the flowers until the young one gets thicker. This is for aesthetics only. You can see the narrowness of the stem here, but with plenty of fullness at the top. These shrubs bloom on new growth so the diligent pruning to keep them somewhat rounded pays off in more flowers. A copper wire holds the top to the post, for those strong wind gusts that occasionally pop up.
A view of the same white butterfly bush from below, taken from under the deck. A big advantage to growing these large shrubs as standards is the planting area beneath them. Even though our garden is not tiny, we don’t wish to waste the precious soil in any way. The butterfly bushes appreciate ample sunshine and good drainage. They are not heavy feeders but would be more lush with a little more rain than we have been getting. Under normal conditions, rather than the extreme drought we are suffering through, they are considered drought tolerant. The sun easily penetrates the foliage and flowers to allow any type of sun loving plant to thrive underneath. Shown here in the yellow/white garden are some of the fancy echinaceas, Harvest Moon and Summer Sky, along with white nymph salvia and Icicle veronica.
The view from the deck looking down on the same bed shows the butterfly bush in the jungle of foliage. Look for the stake to find it in the middle of the photo. Click to enlarge to see what else is in this bed and the surrounding area. Straight back is the carcass of ferngully and to the left is the new arbor at the property’s edge. Admittedly the garden is pretty wild and wooly. Seeing it in a picture brings that thought home more that seeing it is person everyday. Macro versus landscape. ;->

Moving on to B. ‘Pink Delight’, planted up around the knot garden at the top of the hill. There are three standards there, two on each side of the bench and one at the end by the shed. That last one appeared as a seedling and was trained using the aforementioned method. There is another seedling growing in the middle of the path. I am waiting to see what color the bloom is, it already is budded, before deciding its fate.

This is the newest tree, the stem is quite thin, but the flowers are coming along. It takes about three years for a small cutting to start looking like a tree instead of a stick. These root very easily,in addition to seeding about. I just stick the prunings in the ground and hope for the best. The pink color is not showing up well because these are all spent blossoms. I need to do some pruning on this guy. Normally I prune for shape, taking large branches off to keep the top more compact. But since this is a younger plant, I need to let it grow on a little more before shaping begins in earnest.

Pink Delight grows quite large and the blooms are also big, when we are not in a drought. No extra water makes it up here, dragging the hose to the top of the hill is just too much for me anymore, so these are not as lush as the ones closer to the house and hose spigot. Those are the breaks, guys. The large trunk was cut down last fall on this one, it had gotten too large to manage. A new shoot came up from the roots and has been trained up the post. I need to prune those long branches, but the drought has me holding back on that chore. No need to stress these shrubs any more than the lack of water is doing already.

The third of the three, looking a little sad. He should perk up now that the curly willow was cut down. Of course because the willow was left with a six foot trunk, leaves are growing back. We have decided to keep these trees, there is one on each side of the bench, pruned to the trunk each year until we get sick of doing that, then out they go. We should have known that these willows would grow so quickly, from cuttings from our Texas tree, but were trying to fill this space in the beginning stages of the garden. Unfortunately our television dish was unhappy with the size of the willows also, the final thumbs down to their existence. The boxwood hedge and butterfly bushes were being shaded in addition to having all their moisture sucked up by the thirsty tree roots. They should grow better now that the willows have so little foliage to nourish. We hope.

Next up is B. ‘Potter’s Purple’, growing in the shrub border amongst the decidous azaleas. This gives some summer color to the area at the five to eight foot level. The hummingbirds visit this one frequently. It gets extra water when the azaleas and tree peonies are given a drink.

Another shot of Potter’s Purple with the gold mops chamaecyparis in the background, a good combo.

It is a little too sunny in this photo, but you can see how the standard allows for the daisy ‘Becky’ and some purple monarda to grow well underneath it. The blotches of red are gaillardia ‘Burgundy’. There are tall garden phlox nearly ready to open under there also, mauve and white. The trunk is a couple of years old on this one. It produces a good system of nourishment to the flowers and leaves. But as the trunks age, they don’t do as well providing for the tops and need to be renewed. I just let one of the suckers grow tall, cutting the rest, sometimes I let two grow to see who is more robust. It is a process.

Here is a two year old cutting of Potter’s Purple in the black garden. He has recently been pruned of side branches that were too low, leaving the leader to carry on. Red yarrow is blooming underneath, with rosemary on the left and calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ on the right in the background. Just to the right is the foliage and a couple of hanging on crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ red blooms. We are growing B. ‘Dark Knight’, but his blooms are not open at present, he is still small and not very vigorous.

B. ‘Royal Red’ is a bit of a misnomer on this one. Red is not the word we would use to describe this color. He is not as vigorous as some others, but is still having his best year so far. Sometimes all the pruning is not welcomed in the weaker of the cultivars. The lack of water is affecting them too.

Royal Red backed by gold mops and supported by echincea ‘Ruby Star’.

Of all the colors, this yellow B. ‘Honeycomb’ is our favorite. However, this one is the most likely to be killed to the ground during winter, and is then slow and small during the growing season. That happened this year, the photo is of a potted plant being brought to one of the offspring. By the time this is published she should already be the proud owner of Honeycomb, so the surprise will not be spoiled. But the flowers are exquisite, so we will keep our sensitive fellow anyway. There have been new introductions in the butterfly bush world, more compact and winter hardy varieties. We may try those in the future, but for now we appreciate the stature of these oldies who are sometimes goodies. Coming soon, the standard trained pee gee hydrangeas!

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43 Responses to Butterfly Bush Standards

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a fun way to grow butterfly bushes Frances. I had never thought to do this. I might try this next summer.

    I have never seen a yellow butterfly bush. This is also something I will seek out.

    We don’t have trouble with them spreading everywhere either. I wonder if our colder winters keeps them under control.

    Can’t wait to see your Pee Gees. I have killed a couple of Pee Gees in the past. I wasn’t even trying to grow them as standards.

  2. Frances, says:

    Hi Lisa, thanks for the early morning call. You are nearly always the first commenter, you get a gold star! ;-> The butterfly bushes are such great plants, but their size and messy appearance are a minus. They are still sort of messy trained this way but at least stuff can be planted underneath, especially spring bulbs. I usually prune them back hard to lollipops in late winter. The pee gees are fun and also huge. I killed one by moving it, don’t do that. Nice to see your smiling face this morning.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Frances, I love the way you grow your buddleias, I don’t have any – my husband says he hates them! But you temp me. How tall are your stakes?

    Lovely post, thank you. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  4. tina says:

    You have some rain coming, we got about four inches last night. Yahoo! I never thought of grow buddleia as a standard and like it very much!

  5. Rose says:

    I’ve never seen butterfly bushes pruned and trained this way–I like the idea that then you can underplant them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a yellow one, either.
    My last butterfly bush died, and I’ve thinking about where to put a new one. A butterfly “tree”, however, opens up a lot of options. Thanks for the ideas!

  6. Gail says:


    Lovely. I think that growing the Butterfly Bush as a standard would help in a smaller garden…the big turnoff has been their hugeness in my small sunny spot.

    The yellow is stunning! and did the offspring like it? I imagine so.


  7. Laurie Fischer says:

    I have been trying to do this the past couple years with my butterfly bush. With a small garden, I need to keep it under control as it likes to reach over to my neighbors garden. I want it to grow into tree form so there is more room underneath. Thanks for sharing this as it helps me to see what I have to do and what I was doing wrong.

  8. Cinj says:

    I like that way of growing them too. I prefer taller bushes to look like trees too. I’ve been eyeing up some butterfly bushes in the catalogs, but I haven’t gotten around to buying any yet. I think I may for next year though.

  9. cindee says:

    I love butterfly bushes(-: They are so pretty. Yours are just beautiful!!!

  10. Bobbi says:

    Wow – what else can I say? I have just stumbled across your blog and it’s been love at first sight. Nice photos, great posts – you’ve got it all. I’ve blogrolled you, so I’ll be checking back in. Keep up the great work!

  11. Frances, says:

    Hi Sylvia, hope you can change hubbies mind, these are not as wild looking as shrub grown ones. It’s fun to prune them too, maybe that could be his job, and his trees. The stakes are six or seven feet tall, one foot in the ground. Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Tina, four inches, that would be great. So far just pop up showers yesterday, three tenths of an inch. Give the butterfly standards a try, they are fun.

    Hi Rose, thanks. Do try it, butterfly bushes are on sale late in the season usually, you could get one, plant it, then do the training in spring.

    Hi Gail, thanks. You would like it for the space it takes up. The offspring chickenpoet did indeed love it, she had mentioned wanting that one. She spends quality time online studying catalogs. I wanted it to be a surprise, and it was.

    Hi Laurie F., so glad this was of help to you. There is die back on occasion as was mentioned, but the roots are very hardy. Good luck with yours and thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Cinj, they do look neater like this, although taking more maintenance. It’s fun though. Good luck with your new ones.

    Hi Cindee, thanks, glad you like them.

    Hi Bobbi, thanks and welcome. So glad you have enjoyed your visit, and thanks for the link.

  12. Nancy J. Bond says:

    The yellow is my favorite, too. What a lovely bush.

  13. Titania says:

    Wonderful, perfumed plants, Buddleias. I have never grown them as standarts. They look great that way. Do you know Buddleia nicodemia, yellow butterfly bush with grey foliage and yellow flowers (not as showy as the one you have posted). This bush grows huge, weeping and is a fantastic sight if one has the space for it.

  14. Skeeter says:

    Did you see Butterfly bushes staked or did you come up with that idea on your own? I must say this is a first for me and what a wonderful idea! Love the yellow and would like to add that one to my collection. I have a two day posting about the butterfly bush scheduled for Tina at “In the Garden” for Sat & Sun so be sure to tune in! I may need you to ID mine for me! No tags at Big Box store but a bargain price!

    I know you have Mole/Vole issues but do you have a snake problem? I am shocked as to how thick your garden grows! Wow, what a garden, you have there a pure paradise!

  15. Frances, says:

    Hi Nancy J., the yellow is the prettiest flower, but the least flower producing of the shrubs, so seen from afar, it is not that showy. Thanks for being here.

    Hi Titania, that budd. nico sounds wonderful. I can imagine a weeping tree form, though it might be hard to keep pruned. All of our types have the grey leaves, it’s one of the things I love about them, for they are evergreen, good winter interest. Thanks for stopping in.

    Hi Skeeter, I can’t wait to see your post, it sounds like a special one knowing you have worked so hard on it. I am not good at the ID on the butterfly bushes though, all the purples look alike! I have seen snakes here, so try and stay on the paths when I’m just looking. To work in the beds, I am covered head to toe and wear boots. It is a jungle, imagine what it would look like if we had some rain! Thanks for the paradise comparison, it does gives us loads of pleasure and something to keep us busy.

  16. Frances, says:

    Hi again Skeeter, I forgot to answer your first question. I first trained the butterfly bushes in our Houston garden. We had moved from an acre to a tiny subdivision yard, we paid extra for the larger lot. What a laugh. Anyway, I say the yellow butterfly bush at a nursery and fell in love with the color. It had a strong trunk system already and I started cutting the other stems away to save space in the tiny yard. It looked good so I decided to go to one stem like a tree. It didn’t need staking, the stem was strong enough and I kept the top pruned, it grew year around there. We had an underground sprinker system and the soil was sandy. They do well here too, but not quite as vigorous and lose leaves during the winter. I just like the way it looks and don’t want to use the space to let them be bushy. Thanks for asking.

  17. Amy says:

    I’ve admired butterfly bush for many years, and often wished I could grow them here. I love the way you’ve pruned yours into standards – what a great idea! The yellow blossoms are my favourite too 🙂

  18. Skeeter says:

    We have sandy soil also and they do seem to like it! During really cold winters, which we dont often have down here, they drop all leaves but this past year, they kept their leaves with a mild winter. I pruned them back one fall and found out from Mother-in-Law that was a no no. She said they may die from winter and I should only prune them in spring. I just knew I had killed them but nope, they came back strong the next spring! They really like where I have them planted. Now I only prune in Spring! LOL

  19. Skeeter says:

    Oh forgot to tell you…
    Guess what the Saint and I spotted in the yard today???
    A white tailed Dragonfly! I could not believe it! I yelled, “look, look at the white tail dragonfly” Saint thought I had lost my mind but understood my excitment when I told him about your posting on them. How ironic!

  20. Frances, says:

    Hi Amy, I am so glad you were able to get into your veggie garden. You have been a good patient. I am sorry your climate is too cold? for the butterfly bushes. Is there something similar that attracts butterflies and blooms in the summer?

  21. Frances, says:

    Hi Skeeter, welcome back. Don’t you feel like an informed gardener knowing the name of that dragonfly? The stuff we learn from the blogs. When I write about things I like to research then learn new stuff too. I wish we had more sand in our soil, but adding compost seems to be the best solution for the clay. And chopped up leaves too. Glad your bushes are thriving. I have cut mine too late in the fall and had some top damage too. I wrote myself a note in the journal, no pruning after August! But I have been known to not follow my own advice.;->

  22. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com says:

    Hi, Frances,

    I just introduced a pink butterfly bush into this garden this spring. Only one blossom so far. I also had never seen them pruned like this before. Interesting! Maybe I will consider! I’d also never seen the yellow one before. I think purple is still my fav. So rich. I’m looking forward to the hummingbirds and butterflies I know it will attract.I think north of here (WA? Canada?)they really are troublesome, but it’s easy to keep an eye on the pink one here, and I will. xox

  23. Frances, says:

    Hi Kathryn, thanks. The pink ones has nice large flowers and lots of them. The blue/purples look great in the garden, the white has the most flowers and the yellow the least. Not really invasive, but some places they are. I do so much pruning that not many seed heads form, maybe that is why. But I do find the occasional volunteer, especially in the paths, maybe they like to be stepped on. ;->

  24. Phillip says:

    Frances, you enabler you! I’ve never thought about doing it this either and I’ve been growing butterfly bushes forever. I must try this. Do you have the fountain butterfly bush (alternifolia). It is one of my all-time favorite shrubs and I don’t understand why more people don’t grow it. I first saw it at the Biltmore House (they have one the size of a small shed) and fell in love with it. The only sad thing is that it only blooms once a year. I have tried to grow the Honeycomb twice and both times it died. I have just given up on it. Great post!

  25. Phillip says:

    I also meant to comment on the toughness of this plant. This spring I found a buddleia growing through the cracks of my stone patio. I pulled it up and plopped it in a pot thinking that it would be dead the next day but no, it survived. I gave it to a friend who planted it and it is now 3 feet tall with white blooms.

  26. Frances, says:

    Hi Phillip, thanks for calling me an enabler, a high compliment from someone who has such a scrumptious garden himself, one of my very favorites with all those dripping roses. Yum. I don’t have any of the species buddleias and will have to look for them. I like the weeping habit. I think the white is the easiest and the yellow is the most difficult to grow well. As you say they are super tough, in our climate anyway.

  27. Skeeter says:

    After viewing them twice, they remind me of Crepe Myrtles!

  28. Frances, says:

    Hey Skeeter, thanks for multiple viewings. I thought I was the only one who did that. ;-> They are cone shaped like the crepes, good call.

  29. Skeeter says:

    I peek in when i have time… LOL.

  30. mss @ Zanthan Gardens says:

    Wow! Those are amazing. I think I like the deepest darkest colored one best. Lovely. Thanks for the “how to”, too.

  31. Frances, says:

    Hi again Skeeter, keep on comin’.

    Hi MSS, thanks for visiting. The dark one is a beauty.

  32. Kate says:

    Love that yellow butterfly bush best of all. I’m a little jealous that yours are doing so well. Mine have not had a good growing season though I’m not sure why. I’m taking better care of them this summer than I have in the past. Maybe they don’t like the attention??

  33. gintoino says:

    Lovelly flowers Frances. I had never seen them in yellow. I think they are my favorite too 🙂

  34. Shibaguyz says:

    My partner LOVES his little butterfly bush. I think next year we will use your method of pruning to train it up a little more. I hated thought of taking it out but this just saved the whole thing! THANK YOU!!

    talk to you soon…
    The Shibaguyz

  35. Meems says:

    Hi Frances,
    You have given me some things to think about and possibly implement with the two (my first) butterfly bush I planted last fall. Even though I have been trimming them back constantly from the ground up this spring/summer I never thought of staking them and training them tree style.

    We don’t have the white and yellow variety sold around here… it isn’t even easy to find the purples/pinks but one of my favorite smaller garden stores carries them occasionally.

    Your garden reminds me of mine in places where it looks/feels a bit like a jungle with all the rapid growth of summer. I know mine looks much better in person than in photos in some areas. Even so, I appreciated seeing the bigger picture of your garden… you have so many wonderful plants and areas in your garden.
    Hope you enjoy your weekend.
    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

  36. The Garden Faerie says:

    Thanks for posting your lovely butterfly bush photos. Mine are in suboptimal positions (on a long mental list of things to transplant in fall) where they don’t get enough sun, so they are not blooming yet. I think they’re a must for any faerie garden!
    ~ Monica

  37. Eve says:

    The Honeycomb is my favorite too. I know what you mean about watering. I am just not going to lug around that heavy hose either. I really need to look into a better water system. Right now I do a lot of moving around sprinklers and that is really a waste of water. So much of it just disappears into the air. We are on our own well, but even so, it seems a shame to waste water like that.
    Your pictures are all so beautiful.

  38. The Giraffe Head Tree says:

    Butterfly bushes are a favorite of mine, and yours are lovely. I have never seen a yellow one before. Looking forward to seeing your pee gees! I had to leave mine behind when we moved. Lovely post!

  39. Barbee' says:

    Hi Frances, what a clever girl you are! You get to enjoy the blossoms of the shrubs, yet still get to have the plants below. Rather like having your cake, and eating it, too.

  40. Frances, says:

    Hi Kate, thanks and glad you liked them. I’m not sure what you mean by taking better care of them, mine are appreciating extra water, but we are in a drought. They are not in rich soil, maybe they like it lean?

    Hi Gintoino, thanks for stopping by. The yellow is very popular with the readers, it is very photogenic it seems.

    Hi Shibaguys, thanks and welcome. It is worth a try to stake it, make sure the stake is very strong and good luck.

    Hi Meems, thanks for those kind thoughts and words. My garden looking like yours is a high compliment. I agree, they look better in real life, movement and texture stand out more, but jungle is the right word. We have had some rain and stuff is just taking off to make up for lost time, I guess. The tree form is working for me, kind of like moving the whole bush to a second story.

    Hi Monica, you are most welcome. The fairies are big fans of the butterfly bushes too, and sun seems to make for more flowers for sure.

    Hi Eve, Thanks for stopping by. The hoses are getting a rest for now since we have had some rain the last day or two. Thank goodness.

    Hi Deb, glad to see you and thanks for the support. Sorry you had to leave your shrubs, maybe you could plant another?

    Hi Barbee, thanks so much. Did someone mention cake? ;->

  41. irisbean says:

    Can anyone help me with my 2 BB’s that are not growing this year? I have a 3rd that is going like gang busters but my 2 others have about 2 branches on them and they haven’t produced anything else and it’s 7/22! They grew to about 4 feet last year (their 1st year) and were mulched with plenty of organic matter. help please!

  42. Cathy says:

    I have several butterfly bushes, and bought my first yellow one two years ago. I nearly lost it the first winter due to heavy snow! It did bloom beautifully last summer, but now this spring, the only green leaves I see are only at the base of the bush. Will leaves eventually begin to appear on the branches, or do I need to prune it way back? My other butterfly bushes are coming back and are full of leaves all over them. Thanks for your input.

    Hi Cathy, thanks for visiting. I have found the yellow butterfly bush to be a little less hardy than some others. After you are sure the upper parts will not be leafing out, cut down to new growth.

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