Pruning butterfly bushes

Butterfly bushes do not need to be pruned except to control size

I have a question about my butterfly bush. I have read not to prune it back until early spring, and then again I hear to prune it to the ground in the winter. What is the best approach? Also do Butterfly bushes need to be pruned every year and is it too late? We pruned our bushes last year and they were beautiful but took forever to get tall again. I would like them to fill an area in our yard and would like to know the best way to care for them.

Regarding your butterfly bush (Buddlia), you are safe to prune it at either time as long as it is late winter moving into early spring. Avoid pruning though in early winter. The reason being, the stems are hollow and any water that accumulates in the stem and subsequently freezes will cause the wood to split. That’s not a good thing. Butterfly bush bloom on new wood so as long as you have plenty of sunlight, you’ll get lots of blooms throughout the summer by pruning in the spring.

Butterfly bushes do not need to be pruned every year. In fact, you only need to prune them when they get too large for the space allotted. But since butterfly bushes only bloom on new growth many gardeners prune them severely each spring to encourage lots of new growth and lots of flowers.

You can prune this shrub back to twelve or twenty-four inches high. For most plants, that’s a drastic reduction. But these plants can not only take it, they’re often better off for it. This way, you retain some of the growth from last year which will fill in that area of your yard more quickly and provide you with plenty of flowers. Remove the spent blooms periodically during the summer to encourage additional new growth and subsequent flowers until frost.

If they have already started to leaf out, you can still prune them back some, but if you prune below new shoots, it will take much longer for it to fill out this year. A fertilizer application in March or April and again in June or July will help to encourage growth. I suggest a generous helping of compost or all-purpose organic fertilizer. If you’re inclined to use synthetic products, a tablespoon of 10-10-10 for each foot of height is appropriate. Sprinkle it around the shrub out to the drip line, but no more.

6/29/15 Update: Comments are currently turned off for this post due to the volume of questions and answers already included. Please scroll down and you will likely find your question and answer listed below. Thanks!


Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, Compost Confidential blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

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  1. Sara says


    I haven’t seen an answer yet for my question. I started growing my Buddleia Davidii in March from seed and it is about 6-8 in long now. I noticed they tend to grow up as bushes. Mine currently is hanging over the pot on one side, kind of leaning. Do I need to attach it to a stake to help it grow up? Its green and healthy, no flowers yet either. I imagine it will be a while until it flowers.

    Thank you for your time!


    • says

      You could help train it Sara but supporting it to a stake. But if you do nothing, it will like grow “up” as the wood matures and reaches for the sun. But no harm training it. Just don’t attach it so tightly that you eventually girdle it as the branch thickens.

  2. L Fiske says

    I live in Brooklyn NY. I was sure my butterfly bush was dead and then this week some shoots came up from the roots. There is no new growth from the existing wood above ground. This has never happened before with this 4 year old plant. I’m glad I got lazy last weekend and didn’t replace it!

  3. Taylor says

    Hey there. Last year my husband and I purchased an absolutely splendid black knight butterfly bush. This thing was huge. At least 5 feet tall and filled with gorgeous blossoms. I live south of Boston and as everyone heard, this was the most brutal winter ever. I fear the worst has happened and it has met its demise. If it hasn’t started pushing leaves out at this point, is it safe to assume that it’s actually dead and now time to dig it up and see if the nursery will replace it, or should I give it a little more time?

    • says

      It’s likely dead but if you have the time, give it 3 more weeks. Otherwise, it needs to be replaced. Scratch the bark near the base of the plant to see if you can notice any green on the branch where you made the scratch. If so, that’s a good sign.

    • Stephanie says

      Hi Taylor,

      I’m west of Boston and same deal. Have you seen any green yet? Mine looks like nothing more than dead wood. I’m going to try the scratch test too, but at this point it looks all but hopeless. I lost a Spanish Lavender too that said it was winter hardy to zone 5B. Both were just gorgeous last year. Bests of luck with yours and here’s to a milder winter in 2015!


  4. Tyler Gwilliam says

    I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. We planted a butterfly bush in the summer and trimmed in back to about 2 feet tall in November. The remaining stems are now brown and appear dead and we have not seen any new growth. Should we try trimming back to the base and see if we can get new growth, or is the damage done because of the fall trimming and subsequent winter freezing?

  5. Jenn says

    Can I still prune? It’s mid April and my bushes are pretty high. At least 15 feet high and many large woody stems.- about 6″ diameter.

  6. Nancy says

    I live on Barnegat Bay in NJ. It is very windy on my property. I planted 2 butterfly bushes last spring. (We are in the migration path of the Monarch butterfly and I thought it might be good for them.) They are still brown but I believe they made it through the winter.Do you have any advice related to special pruning needs in windy areas? The soil is sandy and although I added a good bit of soil when I planted, I am sure it is a sandy mx by now, Should I adjust the type and frequency of fertilizing?

    Thanks for any advice.

    • says

      Nancy. I don’t have any extra advise for windy conditions except to make sure the ground doesn’t dry out too much. The wind will tend to do that. But no extra attention needs to be given to type of frequency of fertilizing. Pruning back should help with a flush of new growth and flowers this summer.

  7. Jennifer says

    Hi! I just want to thank you all for all the great information. We purchased an older home that came with the remnants of what I’m sure was a gorgeous yard about 15 years ago, but now is just a random collection of plants and shrubs that have not been taken care of. I have a massive butterfly bush that I am planning on pruning this afternoon. I’m gonna bring it down about a third and see if that will promote some new growth. It’s lovely, but I think it looks a little sparse. Cross your fingers!!

  8. Jocelyn White says

    I have a butterfly tree we will call it. A neighbor was going to toss it and I planted it on the side of my house. It has grown to 15 feet tall and has one very large trunk with branches shooting out wildly from all sides. The only pruning it has ever had is branches that blocked the path. There are green shoots all over the tree but the majority on newer grown all at the top of the tree. I have no idea how to prune it to get it more manageable. ideally how large should it be? How should I go about getting it more manageable with lower blooming glowers

    • says

      You can cut this back significantly if necessary in late winter or early spring. Prune to desired shape, allowing for enough room for new growth. Your butterfly bush should flush out with lots of new growth in spring and bloom this summer, assuming you have sufficient sunlight. While pruning, be sure to use sharp tools. Cut out any dead or diseased branches, any that are crossing or inward growing. The more open you can make your plant (without going overboard), the better off it will be this summer.

      • cynthia says

        How do you know which branches are dead or diseased? I have flowers dry still from last year, can I cut them off?

        • says

          Scratch the bark surface to look for greenish tones in the tissue underneath. You can also start cutting away from the top down and observe the coloration of the tissue of the exposed branch or stem. If you see a outer circle of green just beneath the bark layer, the branch is alive. If you don’t see anything upon the first cut, work your way down the branch until you find signs of life and prune to that point.
          You can also bend a branch. If if feels springy, then it is likely alive. If if snaps, well then it’s obviously dead.
          Lastly, look for signs of leaf buds down the branch that are sprouting or show signs of life. That is another indication.

  9. MArgery says

    Hi-I have trimmed my butterfly bush back to two feet, but the roots are coming out of the ground, very woody, and taking up tons of space in my little garden area. I was new to the area when I planted it and did not do enough research to know how much space they could take up. I would like to cut up half of the root ball since it’s still dormant. Living here in the PNW there will be plenty more rain before spring so I’m not worried about water. Do you think this will kill it? I’ve seen these bushes transplanted, mangled and mauled in bad prunings and then thriving (it IS the PNW) so I’m thinking it will be ok if I also fertilize in the spring. Thoughts?

    • says

      I agree. This is a great time to do this type of procedure. Roots are the lifeblood of the plant so keep this in mind as you remove parts of it. While you’re at it, go ahead and do some pruning to balance the reduction in root mass to what’s growing above ground. With it being winter and you living in the PNW, I think you will be fine. One last step after you reduce the roots and replant: add a 3 layer of mulch over the root zone as an added layer of protection.

  10. says

    Your advice to Jasmine in October 2014 regarding 3 different Budlia and their different growth rates might also consider that the smallest with least growth was planted next to a Giant Sunflower. It is my understanding that Sunflowers are heavy nitrogen feeders which might also factor into the different growth rates.

  11. Sue says

    I am new to having butterfly bushes, live Reno, NV. Right now they look a little helter skelter (going every which way), how do I know what to prune? I have read other posts, and I get the vibe I should not do this too soon, more in the March-early April, however we are having a warm winter (again I’m told), any help would be appreciated.

    Thank you.

    • says

      Sue, with butterfly bush, they can handle more severe pruning than many other types of plants. In general, you never want to take off more than a third of the shrub at any one time. Otherwise, it can be too much on the plant to adequately recover. But with butterfly bush, they can handle cutting back even to the ground or close to it. However, I would not advise that.
      Cut it back as much as you need to get it back into the size and shape you want, considering the new growth that will be happening in spring and summer.

      As for timing, late winter or early spring, before it starts to send out new growth is best. Now might be a little too early for my taste but in your area, this might be a good time. Just try to time it so your just a few weeks from plants beginning to break dormancy.

  12. ben says

    I have a buttferly bush that is over ten years old, it came with my house, and it is about 13-15 feet tall. It has a big thick base, and it is basically the size of a tree in the middle of my back yard. Should I cut back the branches all the way to the base? I noticed the last few years it has not been having as many flowers, but I have never pruned it.

    • says

      Cutting it back some would generate new growth and invigorate the plant with the likely outcome of more flowers this season. But, consider other options as well. Are you fertilizing the base of the plant around the drip line? A general all-purpose fertilizer or nice topdressing of compost would help a lot! Also, is this plant being shaded out a little more each year by the tree canopy above it? Reduced sunlight exposure will have an effect on the amount of flowering you get.
      Overall it sounds like your plant is very healthy otherwise. But cutting it all the way back to the base is not necessary nor advisable. Cutting back by 1/3 or at the most 1/2 would be my preference.

  13. Debbie says

    I have a butterfly bush that was attacked by a gopher. There is still substantial root left. What is the best way to try and save the plant?

    • says

      Hi Debbie. Just make sure the roots are surrounded by soil. Backfill if the roots are exposed and water it so the soil fills in around the roots and the air pockets are eliminated.

  14. Karen P says

    I have a butterfly bush I planted in the summer this year. I water it as often as I can. I live in Florida zone 9. There are a lot of brown twig like that I pruned now (nov) was that wrong. It is only 2 ft. Should I water more and not prune this again? Hopefully it’s ok.

    • says

      Hey Karen. It’s best to prune this in later winter or early spring but living in zone 9 may allow you to avoid the problem that can arise of stimulating new growth on plants by pruning, only for them to be damaged by a cold snap. So now that you’ve done it, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best. I think you’ll be ok. If you experience any dieback, prune back again in late winter or early spring, below the dead branches. You should get new growth from new buds below the damage.
      As for the watering, just make sure the soil never gets too dry. Moist but not wet is a good rule of thumb in general.

  15. Regina Mascia says

    Hi Joe,

    It is already Nov. 11 here on Long Island. The cold temps will be here in 2 days from the arctic express headed here. Is it too late to transplant my butterfly bush? I purchased my first one this past spring but wanted to move it because I planted it between a concrete brick wall that surrounds our vegetable garden and a wooden swing. I think the worms got to it and were eating the leaves before I got to it and sprayed the concrete/wood. Or should I wait until next year to transplant it to a better spot?

    • says

      Go ahead and transplant it now Regina. Fall is the very best time to transplant trees and shrubs during their dormant state. Just make sure the soil never dries out completely as the roots will need a small amount of water, even through winter.

  16. Jasmine says

    Greetings. I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts and comments during my search. I have not found one similar to my question, so here it is:

    in 2011 I bought three small butterfly bushes (I believe the Buddlia – probably about a foot high, if that) and planted them in front of my cottage. I also planted other flowers around them: daffodil and hyacinth bulbs, and giant sunflower seeds. There were two other bushes, that I’m pretty sure were purple haze butterfly bushes. They were low to the ground, kinda viney but not spindley.

    Well, the giant sunflower went nuts and took over the right side of the flower bed, and the three butterfly bushes, which were planted evenly spaced across the bed, not differ greatly in size. The one on the left if huge, the middle one is a bit smaller, and the one on the right is much smaller. My flower bed is about 7 feet long I’m estimating.

    I cut them back early spring this past year and they grew back great, but still differ immensely in size. The two purple haze bushes have died. (They were planted in between the butterfly bushes). I did not plant sunflowers this past year, as I realized it probably took away from what the bushes needed to grow, hence their smaller size. The daffodil and hyacinth bulbs are still on the right side, and a star gazer lily is on the left, which peeked out this season, but with the rate my butterfly bush grew, I’m not sure it will be peeking out anymore.

    Is there anything that I can do to help the smaller bushes grow to match the size of the large one? Should I transplant the stargazer lily so that it doesn’t get lost?

    Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Jasmine. There are several issues that can explain why sizes vary from one plant to the next.
      First, they may not be the same variety. It’s more common than people realize that plants are often mislabeled. So you might have different varieties that can explain the variation in size.
      Next, the growing conditions may vary enough, even within a small space, to affect the performance of indiv. plants. Sunlight, and soil conditions are the main culprits. If conditions are not the same, you will notice differences, even when plant varieties are the same. Until you equalize the environmental conditions, differences can exist. If light is the same reaching each of the plants, you may need to dig up the underperforming plants to inspect the roots and soil conditions.
      Are the roots spreading, or still in that tight circular pattern that occurs when they outgrow their nursery container?
      Bottom line is that you have to put on your detective hat and investigate what is different or unique to cause the variance.
      And to your last question, root competition between plants can impact how other plants in the area perform. But a stargazer lily to a shrub shouldn’t have a huge impact. Yet, if you’re unable to identify the other possible issues, then go ahead and move the lily. You need to address every possible scenario if you want to get to the bottom of it.

  17. Ralph says

    This past winter of 2014 was brutal on most butterfly bushes as you know. I live in the snow belt of northeast Ohio and we got battered by this past winter. I had two beauties – pink delight and black knight (up until this year) that are 8 and 14 years old that never came back this summer, but most of the roots are still green. Besides heavy mulch that I do every year and prayer, is there anything else I should do to prep these plants for the winter? I planted two new butterfly bushes this summer and plan to heavy mulch these also. I use the fallen leaves in my yard for the mulch – maple and oak leaves.

    • says

      Ralph, if you can afford the real estate to let these plants be, it would be interesting to see if any new growth emerges from the still green roots. But I’m not encouraged that over the entire summer, you didn’t see any of that. My hunch is that they are beyond the point of recovery unfortunately. I hope you’re able to prove me wrong. If so, please be sure to tell me. We’d all like to know.

  18. Margaret says

    I planted 6 butterfly bushes last spring. I live in central Ohio. The bad winter got one of them. The rest are now over 6 ft tall. I was told to cut off the blooms when they turn brown. I did that and now they dont seem to be blooming as well. Please help. They are beautiful bushes and i would hate to lose them. Also They were small last year so we didnt prune them but this year they are huge. When should we cut them back? And should i keep cutting the blooms when they die off?

    • says

      Do your heavy pruning in late winter or very early spring. Otherwise, just let them go until then. The spent blooms are good food sources for wildlife and will fade away soon enough.

  19. Laura says

    I have five butterfly bushes that I’ve had for several years and they’ve always bloomed prolifically and reliably. One died over the winter, two came back normally, but two grew back vigorously but without a single bloom. They grew quite large, but the leaves are very fine and they didn’t produce a single bloom all summer. What is going on??

    • says

      Give them another season Laura. It can take a while for plants to fully recover from such a drastic winter. I think you should see more consistent results next year.

  20. Lori Sumner says

    Hello. I have a butterfly bush in my flower bed that came with the house. I plan to transplant it and even researched it so I would know when and how I should go about moving it. What I’m unsure of is, will it do just as well in my yard? The people who flipped this house before we bought it just threw a bunch of different plants in the flower bed not really knowing much about them. I knew that butterfly bushes get pretty big and it is already leaning over a little so I want to get it out of there so it can grow big and healthy like it should but I am not a gardener LOL and I am not sure if it will thrive in a yard or if it has to be in an actual flower bed. Any help will be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    • says

      Lori. It should do fine in your yard. The best time to transplant is fall. Just keep it watered until it’s established. They do best in full sun. If so, it will be full of blooms next summer. Enjoy.

      • says

        Last fall I bought 2 small butterfly brushes and planted them alongside my garage. I live near Columbus, OH and we had a terrible winter. In the spring all I had were too small bushes that looked absolutely dead. Around June 1st one of the bushes had a very small green shoot coming out of the middle. In July it was about 1″ tall and I dug out the other bush as it showed no signs of life. Moving ahead to the end of August, the bush was about 8″ tall and FINALLY had blooms. About 2 weeks ago a little sprout started to grow up from the ground about 12″ away from the bush. It now has blossoms. In addition, there is another sprout starting about 6″away from the original bush. Even the most surprising is that in the other location in my yard where I removed the dead bush a sprout has appearded about 8″ from the original planting. My question is does the butterfly bush usually reproduce in this manner and will these shoots grow to full size? If so should I move the new bushes further away from the original bush?

        • says

          Lynn, it’s very possible the new shoot is a sprouted seed. Butterfly bush is considered an invasive plant by some because it is so prolific once it flowers. They will continue to grow, and you can prune it spring to induce new growth to make it bushier if you like. As for moving them, feel free to do so if you like. Giving them plenty of room for sunlight and air circulation will help them thrive. So moving plants when they become too crowded is not a bad idea.

  21. Nina says

    Hi Joe!
    Hope you are having a nice day! Thanks for all the great info! I would like to try growing the 3 in 1 buddleia bush. I have read that the plant is just three bushes planted in one s/pot. I have an existing buddleia that is 2years old, about 4ish ft tall. In your opinion, if I planted another 2 bushes very close, as close as possible, and cut back to 18″/2feet early spring; could I possibly achieve the same intertwined effect of the 3 in1 for next year? Or is that too dangerous to the root system of existing buddleia, better to try with plants of the same age? Thanks for your advice! :)

    • says

      Hi Nina. Interesting question. I think you could give this a try without irreversible damage. Any roots you lose from the existing plant should recover since you’re not taking out huge amounts of soil to insert the new ones. I do think you need to start out with all plants about the same size, mainly so the existing one doesn’t shade out the new ones. But, here’s what I’m wondering. Since the existing plant has an established root system, even if you cut it back, it will likely respond faster to regrowth. If so, it will shade out the new plants that also need plenty of sun. Consequently, you may not get the stunning results you are hoping for from the new plants because of the competition.
      It would be an interesting experiment though that wouldn’t have dire consequences to the existing plant. You could try it for a season or 2 and then take out the new ones if it doesn’t work.
      Of course the best results would be to start off with 3 new plants of equal size and age in a new spot. Let us know what you end up doing and how it works out. Good luck.

  22. Jody SuRez says

    Hi, I planted a butterfly bush last spring. During summer of last year we enjoyed the flowering and butterflies coming and going! But this summer, bees have taken over very few butterflies, and to our dismay the flowers are smaller than last year and no so vibrant in color. Some of the flowers are brown closed to the branch. What to do? We have small grandchildren and do not want to have them sting by bees!! We live in the Westchester area of New York
    Thank you for your help.

    • says

      Hi Jody. I think part of the problem is the toll this past winter took on butteryfly bushes everywhere. I also think the bees were just as common last year but not as noticeable due the larger flowers and more butterflies. Bees will always be attracted to the flowers. Fortunately, you don’t need to fear them. Yes, it’s possible to be stung but honeybees are non-aggressive and most interested in collecting pollen. If they sting, they die and they know that.
      I would also provide a balanced fertilizer around the base of your plant and water it in. Something like 10-10-10 would be good. Alternatively, you could use a fertilizer that has a high middle number, such as 0-50-0. This is the for phosphorus and is the nutrient most helpful to plants to promote flowering. Apply per the directions on the package.

    • says

      I. Have a small butterfly bush in a flower pot. It is in good shape and I do not want to it to die. Should I leave it in the pot for the winter or transplant it in the fall? Thanks, Diane

      • says

        You could do either Diane. But in extreme cold temps, the bush could die. Otherwise, you can bring it indoors for the winter, moisten the soil slightly throughout the winter, and you should be ok to move outside in early spring.

  23. Barbara O'Donnell says

    I became very interested this year in monarch butterflies. I purchased a butterfly bush from our local nursery. It actually had the caterpillar on it and soon it became a crysallis. After 10 days, out came a beautiful monarch and after several hours, its wings were dry and strong enough and away she flew.
    However, much to my dismay, all the leaves on the stalks (about 9) have fallen off now. I live in Florida so it’s very hot and wet in the summer. What do I need to do? Prune it back? Give it fertilizer? Help!!

    • says

      Sounds like it might just be a watering issue Barbara. Under normal circumstances, leaves should not all drop off at this time. You could add a little balanced fertilizer, but the lack of it was likely not the culprit to the leaf drop. You could prune it back some as well to stimulate new growth. But the root problem should be addressed first. Good luck.

  24. Ronee says

    Hi! I have 3 very large butterfly bushes that have bloomed the last 8yrs of us living here, yet this year they all appear dead with not one bloom or sprout on them. I live in PA and we had a really hard winter this past year, and I was wondering if that could have been the cause? Also, is there any chance that they could come back next year? I sure hope so because I love them and really miss seeing all our beautiful butterflies this summer! Thanks.


    • says

      Ronee, if you don’t have any new growth by now, I’m afraid your plants are dead. The only consolation I can give you is that you are not alone. Many people lost their beloved butterfly bushes this year. The winter was especially brutal and more than these plants could take in some cases such as yours.

  25. Heather says

    Help!! I had two butterfly bushes die last July all of a sudden….wildly leaves to brown and dead out of nowhere…..replaced one this year and now that one is starting to do the same. I’m zone 7…sunny space and a recently tilled up area. Other plants in our butterfly garden are doing great!

    • says

      Heather, I think something is going on with the soil. Either too much water or not enough. Even though you might think you are not watering that much, could it be that the area is collecting a lot of water? Or, there is not enough. Same symptoms. Dig up the plant and take a look at the roots and see what you can find out.

    • says

      Tony, the branches don’t require support. Although some forms are smaller and spread out more, staking is unnecessary nor worth your time. I’m not sure it’s worth it to cover your plants in winter either. Especially when they become very big, this effort becomes impractical. However, if it’s small and you care to do this, covering would not hurt and could make the difference in your plant surviving. This past winter, I lot of people lost their butterfly bushes to the extreme cold, but for the most part, they are very resilient. Cutting them back in early spring or late winter is all that is usually needed.

  26. Kelly says

    Living in the northeast – we just had heavy rains and some more to come. My butterfly bush can easily come out of the ground – can I relocate it to another part of the yard where it will have more space?

    • says

      Yes, summer is not the best time to transplant, but since your plant can easily be removed, it sounds like you’ll be able to get a lot of the roots with it. That’s important. It’s also important to make sure you keep your plant watered in the new location until it’s fully established. Thats usually the challenging with moving a plant in the summer. But, don’t overwater either. Keep an eye (or finger) on the soil moisture. If it feels dry, water it. If it’s moist, don’t.
      You could also cut back your plant a bit to reduce the topload while the plant settles into its new home.

  27. heather says

    We have never trimmed our butterfly bushes and this year they…. along with many other perennials…. just dont look great… lots of dead branches… never seen them look so sad… usually very full and lots of flowers.. they are about 7 years old… im in Massachusetts. .. any advice on here forward for care.. Thanks, Heather

    • says

      Hi Heather. I would go in and selectively prune the dead branches back to a main stem or trunk. So step one is to remove dead branches. Step two is to remove sad looking or broken branches. Cut them back to a main stem or all the way to the ground as well. If you need to reduce the height or tame other branches, go ahead and do so now also. These plants are very forgiving when it comes to pruning. Keep in mind, by pruning in mid-summer, you’re sacrificing some of your blooms, but I’d trade that for a healthier plant. It’s the better decision in the long run.

  28. Paula says

    Hi, we live in Napa, Ca and have a Butterfly Bush planted in amended clay soil. The plant is about two years old and the tallest spike is about 5 ft. The plant bloomed this year, about 8-10 very small flower spikes. The rest of the plant is thin and fairly light green dry looking leaves. I’ve seen that they need a lot of water and also seen that they need little water :-(. We’ve left it alone and not trimmed it..and water well about once a week. Fertilize twice a year. It’s planted in full sun. Shouldn’t the plant be more full and thick? WT are we doing wrong? Is it the amended clay soil that isn’t working for it? Wild we be better off moving it into a half barrel? Thanks for any advice you can give us.

    • says

      It sounds to me like it might be root bound. When you planted it, did you notice if the roots were tightly wound in a circular pattern? If is, and you don’t break up this pattern before you plant it in the ground, it doesn’t matter how much you water, the roots won’t be able to take up the water they need. However, the more you water, especially in clay soil, the greater the change that the saturated soil can drown the plant. Either way, it’s a losing situation. My advise is to dig up the plants and check the roots. Make sure they are not tightly bound in that circular pattern. If so, you’ll need to break that up. Cut or pull them apart so roots are unencumbered and are able to spread out. Then replant an water well.

  29. April says

    I just moved into a house that had a MASSIVE butterfly bush that hadn’t been pruned in a few years. Is it still ok to chop it way back? I love how big it is but want to rangle it in a bit and promote new healthier growth.

    • says

      Yes April. You can cut cut it back now. But only cut back what you need to now that it’s mid July. Fortunately these plants respond well to pruning so you’ll be ok and only likely sacrifice some of the blooms. But the best time to cut it back by more than a third is later winter or early spring.

  30. Rose says

    Hello Joe,
    I have a butterfly bush that we thought was dead. However now we have three or four stalks that have emerged from what we thought was the dead root. The stalks are probably 4 feet long with narrow long leaves. We are letting it grow just to see what it turns into. Very green flexible stalks. I wish there was somewhere to post a picture. We also have a new butterfly bush coming up off of some dead wood so I know what new looks like. Have toy ever seen anything like what I am describing?

  31. DeAnn says

    My butterfly bush is growing, but not as tall as last 2 years. It grows leaves and has started blooming, then a healthy looking limb will wilt and lay on the ground. A gentle tug and the limb comes off. No sign of pests. I have sprayed with Captain Jacks, but it hasn’t helped. Any idea what the problem might be and if I can save it? Thanks.

    • says

      I wonder if something is going on with the roots. My first suspicion is voles. Look around the base of the plant and see if you see any small holes, about the size of a quarter. Voles feed on plant roots among other things. But a common sign of a problem is that you will have a perfectly healthy plant and all of a sudden, the branches or entire plant looks wilted and pieces will break off as you’ve described.
      Otherwise I’m not sure DeAnn.

  32. Miriam says

    My husband cut my buddlia down to about 10 inches above the ground in late spring and I am seeing no new growth. I am so sad. Can it come back? Should I get a new one? It is all brown.

    • says

      Miriam, if it is still all brown and dead looking now, it is dead or at least worthy of replacement. A severe pruning is something buddlia can handle most of the time. But, this past winter was exceptionally hard on them. Many people lost their beloved buddlias from this harsh winter.

  33. Marieke says

    I apologize if this was mentioned already. I read through almost all of the posts and found many helpful answers to questions about this past bad winter and my questionably dead butterfly bush. You mentioned cutting it back and looking for green. I haven’t seen green or any shade but the center of many of the branches are white and moist. Is this a sign of life?






    • says

      Yes George, cut the dead wood out. It’s no longer contributing to the plants success. That’s all you need to do. It will bloom just fine later this summer I expect.

  35. Deb says

    Am I doing something wrong? I leave a post/reply but don’t get an answer. Help!

  36. Mary says

    Hello! Thanks for all the wonderful info on butterfly bushes. I didn’t see my problem mentioned when I scanned the replies, so please forgive me if its already been covered. I live in the Savannah, Georgia area, and have one beautifully blooming mature butterfly bush, but i also have a new butterfly bush that is blooming, but the first half of each bloom shaft is brown….the part closest to the stem. Rain has fallen a couple of days each week since I planted it, so I haven’t watered it much, but I have a little bit. The ground is a good draining soil, not clay. I did water it regularly when I first planted it. What can I do to help it? Thanks so much!

    • says

      Hi Mary. I know it’s been about a month since you asked your question and I apologize for the delay in responding. How are the blooms now. Have they adjusted? Are they more consistent now? My suggestion was to give it time for the weather to stabilize. I think it will self-adjust. Please let us know. Thanks.

  37. Jane Derry says

    Thank you for this site, you answered all my questions!!! I didn’t even have to ask them. lol!!!

    Cut back to 2 ft tall, mulch and let the warmer weather do its thing.


    • Deb says

      I’m still wondering why my new leaves have holes in them? Insects eating them? Can’t see any, but what should I do?

      • Steve says

        May be small mites or other insects. Try spraying Neem Oil over the entire plant. I use Garden Safe “Fungicide 3”. It’s safe for all plants, fruits, and vegetables. It’s a Fungicide, Insecticide, & Miticide in one solution.

  38. Julie says

    Hello, I live in south central Indiana and I am having the same problem as everyone else with two of my butterfly bushes. One of them is definitely dead, but the other one has leaves sprouting from underground, at the base of the plant (nothing is sprouting from the stems). I haven’t done anything with the plant (i.e., no pruning) since it was transplanted last spring.

    An experienced gardener friend of mine told me that the plant is actually dead and the leaves I’m seeing at the base are “volunteer runners” and not the plant per se. She also added that this growth pattern is characteristic of severe cold damage and the plant will never be the same, so I should get rid of it.

    Your responses to similar comments, however, would seem to suggest that the growth at the bottom is the actual plant growing back again. So, now I’m not quite sure what to do–should I remove or keep it?


    • says

      Julie, I have had success from new growth emerging from the base. However, I think the best thing to do is give at least one plant a chance to “come back” and see if it recovers eventually. I think it’s just a matter of how much time you want to invest to find out. However, even if your existing plants come back, they have to recover from almost nothing. They are fast growing but you may want to skip the wait time and replace it with some that are already well on their way. Those will just have to settle in to their new environment as the roots get established. For what it’s worth, I would leave one existing plant to see what happens, or dig it up and plant it somewhere else to see. Then you can buy two new ones. But experimenting is part of the process and where I learn the most. Please report back. I’d love to hear. Thanks.

  39. Cindy says

    I pruned my butterfly bush on May 27th. I cut out most of the old dead wood and branches. The bush is about three feet tall and approximately ten years old. With the combination of my pruning and the rains we’ve received this week, the branches have fallen to the ground. My husband just tied the branches up to try and save the bush. Any suggestions? Is my bush destined to die? Thanks for your help.

    • says

      I don’t think its dead. If the “branches” are from new growth and you see new leaves, I think it’s just that they are not woody enough yet and the weight of the water brought them down. If in your pruning efforts you did not damage those other new branches, I think you will be ok. tying them up should be ok for a little while, But if they are not damaged, they will rise back on their own as well. Send us an update once you know for sure Cindy. thanks.

  40. Lisa says

    Joe, this is my second attempt to grow a butterfly bush. I have it in a different location now, thinking that was the issue. It is now May 26th and the bush shows no sign of awakening from the winter. I do live in Michigan, if that delays the awakening even a bit more. Thanks.

    • says

      Lisa, let’s hope it’s only weather related but I’m concerned that it’s nearly June. Do as I’ve described in previous comments and you’ll be able to know one way or the other. Good luck!

      • Deb says

        Off topic, was wondering about insects on the butterfly bush. Mine is doing everything everyone else is talking about, but my new growth has holes in the leaves. What would cause this? Insects?

      • Michael says

        I am in Western N.Y. and my butterfly bush is not fairing well either. Our winter was extremely harsh. There is new growth at the base but everything above 8″ I think is dead.

  41. dolores says

    I just bought Neem oil…for my rose bushes. Does anyone have any experience with it.My roses have black pots on them and it will just be a matter of time before the leaves start dropping off. That was my experience last year. Thanks

    • says

      Dolores, mix the neem oil with water according to the directions on the bottle, pour into a pump or spray bottle and coat your rose leaves. I know a avid rose grower that has the most beautiful garden full of them in hot, humid Atlanta. Here main weapon of choice for keep her black spot to a minimum and plants looking great is neem oil. Good luck.

  42. dolores says

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one with Butterfly Bush trouble. I think mine is dead. The branches are very dry and snapped when I bent them. Had another one in a previous house for 5 years ….no problem. Was it the bad winter? I’m from Massachusetts. Can I plant another one in it’s spot?

  43. mandy says

    I think my bush is dead. No leaves, no flowers, just brown. It was cut back severely in the laterish fall, it still had flowers (without my knowing) I had planned to pick off the dead stuff when it went dormant, and prune in the spring. It has been fine for 6 years, usually would have some signs of life by now. The butterflies are even stoppiing by alot and che c.f. king it out for a few seconds and I am sure they are wondering too. Is it dead? Can I save it?

  44. Patty says

    Thank you for this helpful article and your responses to the comments. I thought my butterfly bush was dead too after this winter, but just pruned it way back and found new growth at the bottom.

  45. Bobbie says

    I live in Maryland and have three butterfly bushes that usually bloom beautifully for me. I prune them back to about 18-24″ every April. This year I have absolutely no new growth on any of the three. They all get lots of sunshine. Again as with everyone in the east and northeast this winter was very cold. My bushes are at least 10 years old. I am wondering if the combination of cold and age could have killed them. At what point to I dig them up and plant new ones?

    • says

      Bobbie, it doesn’t sound good. Lots of people are having problems this year but here we are at the end of may and you have NO new growth, even from the base? If you cut back your shrubs and don’t see any green growth beneath the bark, I’m not hopeful. Keep cutting back until you see living tissue. If you never see any, it looks like you lost them to me. That’s not good news I realize but you are certainly not alone this year.

  46. April says

    I have two butterfly bushes on opposite corners of my yard. I cleaned them up in December by just cutting back the dead growth- didn’t do any major pruning. I live in Maryland, Zone 7, and one of the bushes is finally starting to see leaf growth. The other bush is not showing any signs of life. The bush that is sprouting new leaves does get more sun. We did have a really tough winter, so I am wondering if I should give the bush with no signs of life a little more time. Would doing a prune now be helpful or is it too late into spring?

    • says

      I think part of your issue is the one that is not sprouting yet is a sun exposure issue. However, this was an exceptionally tough winter. It is possible that one survived and the other didn’t. If it hasn’t budded out yet, you won’t hurt a thing by cutting it back now. It will also allow you to see if the wood shows signs of life further down the stem. If it’s alive, you’ll get new growth soon and flowers later this summer.

      • Julie Miller says

        I found this page searching as to When the butterfly bushes will look alive again. My zip code is 46808, I think it’s zone 4, but don’t quote me. I have 6 of them and they are all on the south side of the house. I keep looking for sprouts of new leaves, but so far I haven’t been lucky. Like the previous person mentioned, we seemed to have a rough winter here as well. Can I do something to encourage new growth???
        Thank you.

        • says

          Hi Julie. The only thing I know to do to encourage new growth is pruning. By now, there should be some signs of life, especially at the very bottom of the plant, right at the base. As a rule, even with pruning, new growth will not occur until temperatures are warm enough to signal the plant out of dormancy. Remember, as much as we’d like to take control, Mother Nature is always in charge.

  47. says

    Hi, Joe! I’ve tried to determine the answer to my question from your response to previous comments, but I seem to not quite fit into any of the scenarios. I am in south central Indiana, my bushes range from 2-5 years old and were cut back from 6 ft to 3 ft in late fall (probably 6 wks prior to the first frost). They show no signs of budding. Should I continue to wait or should I cut back further?

    • says

      Yikes. That’s a tough time to cut back plants. You could be on the verge of budding out now, but I’m concerned about the timing of your cuts. If it’s still not budding out, go ahead and start cutting back a few branches a little at a time. Look for green tissue once you make the cut. You may have to cut back a lot to find where the plant still has live wood. If that’s the case, you will likely have to cut everything back. Or, it will eventually sprout on it’s own from the the point on the branches that are living.
      But I always like to know what’s going on. I would definitely makes some cuts to see if you can determine the fate of your plants. If you keep cutting back to the base without seeing green living tissue, and you’re patient, it may sprout from the base. Look closely for sprouts about now. It should happen soon if it’s going to happen at all.

    • Leah says

      I am in Northwest Indiana, and it is the same with my bushes. I hate to cut them back so much, but I guess I must. I think the winter was extra hard on them. Some look completely gone, no hope at all.

  48. Alexis says

    Hi – I am in Zone 5B in Illinois. We had a REALLY tough winter (just like everyone else, really) – temps for nearly a week were down around -20 to -10°F (absolute temps, not wind chill).
    I had two gorgeous butterfly bushes last year that were a good 6-7 feet tall with a wonderful 6 foot spread on them.
    As of now (mid-May), there was absolutely zero growth on them whatsoever.
    I just pruned them back to the base essentially (the wood was bone dry – even the branches that were a good two inches in diameter, it cut like butter and no life) and noticed what *may* be new shoots coming up from the ground in between the existing branches – but I am unsure what the immature leaves/shoots look like.

    Might there be hope even with this unusual winter and do you have images of baby shoot/leaf growth so I can verify it’s not just weeds growing up?
    I inherited these bushes when I bought the house in the fall and I have not worked with them in the past.


    • says

      I hope what you see growing up from the base is in fact new growth from your plants. That is in fact the only place it could be coming from based on what you’ve described. The growth should look pale gray or or sliverish with thin serrated leaf margins. They should look completely different from anything else around and it should be growing up right at the base of the main plant as if attached. You can also compare the new growth to other suspect weed growth nearby. I think you’ll know either way.

  49. Nathan says

    For everyone not sure if their bush will come back I’ve had mine for three years, and this last most current winter was really harsh and before the cold I trimmed mine back but only a little cause I want the bush to get it’s full size potential. Currently it looks like a 5 foot thing of dead twigs with only new growth at the bottom much like everyone else. But just this past week we’ve had some really nice sunny weather and mine has just started new growth about a foot away from the top, so everyone just hang in there!

  50. Samantha says

    My butterfly bush also has no signs of life yet. I am happy to prune it, but as a novice gardner, I’m not exactly sure what that means. I have electric clippers. Will that suffice or does pruning require something more delicate?

    • says

      Yikes. Don’t prune or cut with electric clippers. These are hard on the plant, make ragged cuts and are worse than a bad haircut. Invest $15 or so in a pair of hand “pruners” at your local garden center. In fact, to be more specific, get “bypass” pruners, vs. “anvil” pruners. Bypass pruners are designed to allow the blade to cut the branch, similar to scissors. This is much better for pruning live (or potentially live plants). Anvil pruners on the other hand, simply crush the branch to the point of cutting it. Never use this type of pruner for anything but dead branches or cutting down shrubs for good. I don’t even own a pair of anvil pruners or loppers, nor do I intend to. If you are unsure which is which, go to a good independent garden center in your area and ask them. They typically have avid gardeners that work there who will be able to direct you and answer any other questions you have. Good luck.

  51. Caitlin says

    I have had my butterfly bush for 3 years now. I have done no pruning since last year around this time. My bush has not shown any new buds or new growth yet this year. Did the cold winter and late frosts kill it off, or do I just need to wait longer?

  52. Bruce says

    I sure hope the harsh winter and prolonged arctic vortex didn’t kill my three butterfly bushes. Long Island NY – These bushes are 5+ years old and I cut them back each spring. This year, none of the branches had any green. How much longer do you think before I give up hope. No growth from the base at all Hopeful in Holbrook….Bruce

    • says

      Hoping you see growth by now Bruce. Check my replies to others sharing your concern and you’ll be able to tell if you can still remain hopeful in Holbrook.

  53. Eva Marino says

    Hi there! I read all the comments and I am very worried for my butterfly bushes. They were highly prolific and SO beautiful and seriously almost 12 feet tall. Last november the yard crew that does my fall clean up said to me “you can cut butterfly bushes almost down to the ground without harming them, they are so hardy”, so I let them cut them way down. They are about 3 feet of bare wood right now. I live in New Hampshire and we had just as brutal a winter as anyone, but it did start late, so november was still pretty warm. I am heartbroken to think that my gorgeous two butterfly bushes are gone. We have had only highs in the low 60s and it has been pretty cold here still, but how can I tell if my plants are gone? Thank you so much for all of your thorough information.

    • says

      Oh Eva, I know that you are sick about this. Although your yard crew is mostly right about their claims, I would never do that kind of pruning in November unless everything was completely dormant by then. Best to wait until late winter or early spring. Although we can’t go back in time, at least in the future, wait to do the heavy pruning util then.
      As far as telling if you have life in your plants, please see recent replies by me to this same question. You best chance of life will be emerging new growth from the very base of the plant. Other options are to cut back some of the branches a few inches at a time to find living “greenish” tissue in the branches as you work your way down the plant. You could also scratch the surface to remove a layer of outer bark, hoping to see green underneath. These are good signs. And finally, as we approach June, my hope is that you are seeing new buds beginning to branch out or show signs of life.

  54. Ken says

    My butterfly bush has no signs of new life yet. I live in Northern Ohio, by Lake Erie. I cut it bak to 18 inches in April of this year. Everything seems to be very late coming back, could this be the same issue?

    • says

      Wait it out a couple weeks Ken. It’s still early for your area and you have time. Worst case cut it back more in a couple weeks. Also, you should still see new growth emerging from the base of the plant soon.

      • kelly allen says


  55. Angelina Grooms says

    I pruned my butterfly bush by 1/3 in late winter. I live in southern Ohio, and all my other plants are now budding or blooming. My butterfly bush remains bare, although I’ve noticed some new growth and shoots forming from the roots. Is it too late to hack the bare wood and branches down a bit more? It is still roughly 4 feet tall, and I’d like it to fill out and have as much new growth as possible.

    • says

      It looks like the new growth emerging from the base of your plant will be what replaces any old wood damaged by cold weather. For now, I’d cut back the apparently dead wood by another 1/2 to get back to any living wood, if it’s even there. If no bud sprouts within a couple weeks, then go ahead and cut down the old wood to the base and allow the new growth to flourish.

  56. Gayle says

    My butterfly bush was planted last year and bloomed beautifully. However this year in early April it appeared to have already begun to bud when we had a freeze. Now the only thing showing is from the very base of the bush. Should I prune it severely or what should I do?

    • says

      The new growth likely suffered from the late frost. Watch it another week or two to make sure no new growth is emerging from those branches. If you see new growth lower on the stem, cut back to just above the newly emerging buds. If not cut back the branches by 1/2 or more to promote new growth. Your goal is to cut back to where the branch is still viable. If the entire branch is dead, then cut it all out. You will get new growth from the base and that will serve as your new shrub.

  57. Ellen` says

    I live in Philadelphia PA. My butterfly bush has not shown signs of new growth yet, I seem to be in the same boat as others. Should I try pruning now, or just wait and see?

    • says

      Hi Ellen. Check my other recent replies. Many people are experiencing this problem. It’s still early enough to wait it out but cutting it back now to obvious new tissue will stimulate new budding if you want to expedite the process.

  58. Walter says

    I heard that chemical fertilizers (e.g., 10-10-10, MiracleGro, etc.) should not be use on plants that attract butterflies. Rather, “natural” fertilizers should be used. Apparently this is not true since Joe Lamp’l recommend 10-10-10. I would welcome recommendations of natural fertilizers for butterfly-attracting plants – maybe cow manure, mushroom compost, Milorganite?

  59. donnie mitchell says

    We have a butterfly bush that is about 10 yrs. old. Had it pruned last year in late winter. this year it has not come back. I am wondering why? it looks like it is dead. Should I give it more time? It is now mid April

    • says

      I don’t know where you live Donnie but my thought is you need to give it more time. If it isn’t showing new growth by late May, it’s dead I’d assume. Double check by attempting to break a branch. If if snaps and is bone dry, it’s dead for sure. Start over. Your pruning timing was right. The weather has been brutal. That could be the problem.

  60. Donna says

    I have a butterfly bush that is a few years old. I noticed that last year and now going into the spring the plant has this white looking powdery substance on the branches from the ground up into the branches. What is it. Also the plant does not seem to give that many flowers. What should I do.

  61. Aimee says

    My butterfly bushes look dead. I haven’t pruned them. I don’t see green. I live in southern ohio. How long should I give them? Is there something I should be doing?

    • says

      Give it a few more weeks to around mid-may. If everything else around you is sprouting and your butterfly bush is not, I’d take that as a bad sign Aimee. You can replace it or cut it back and see if it responds. I’d do the latter. Cut it back and see if it sprouts. If not, get rid of it and start over.

  62. Elise finland says

    I live on the south east coast (right on the water) in the states. My butterfly bushes were about 10 years old, we had been trimming them here and there you know the usual. our bushes just got to be huge so we cut them to the ground. this was in the end of November. all of our other flowers have started growing back but our butterfly bushes have not… Do you think they will?
    Thank you,

    • says

      Hard to say Elise. May be too early but keep an eye out for new growth. November (fall) is not a good time to do heavy pruning. Time will tell. If they don’t come back, it was likely the timing of severe pruning. Although they can take it in late winter, early spring, pruning also stimulates new growth. If new growth occurs and then gets nipped by the cold, it can cause damage to the rest of the plant. In winter, when the plant is already dormant, you avoid that risk.

  63. Tiffany says

    I aggressively cut back a badly cared for (or, “left natural” depending on how one sees it) butterfly tree bush last November from about 5 feet to about 12″ in Philadelphia region. This winter was terrible! What are the chances it made it? Am a little worried because it appeared very old. I was only trying to help! Thanks!

    • says

      Keep an eye on it Tiffany. November (fall) is not a good time to prune, especially severely. But now all you can do is wait to see what happens. Look for new growth soon. Give it time though. Buy mid-May, you should see new signs of budding at least if it’s going to make it. Got my fingers crossed for you.

  64. sherry richmond says

    I would like to know what kind of fertilizer to use on my butterfly bushes , also my hydrangea do not seem to get flowers what to do

    • says

      Use an all purpose balanced blend of fertilizer Sherry. You can find organic or synthetic options (like 10-10-10) at your local nursery or garden center. I like to use compost too. The key to a healthy, blooming butterfly bush is to prune it back in later winter or early spring and provide full sun or as close to that as you can get. The less sun you have, the less blooms too.
      For your hydrangeas, if you are pruning, make sure you are pruning at the right time. Some varieties produce flowers on new wood, like Hydrangea paniculata, while others produce their flowers on old wood, so pruning would need to take place in the previous summer to get blooms the following year. The classic mophead hydrangea is a classic example of this. Also if they are in too much shade, that could be a contributing factor. Although hydrangeas are more shade tolerant, they still benefit from several hours of morning sun at least to perform their best.

  65. Angie Printup says

    Joe, we have a butterfly TREE. It’s about 8 feet tall and very bushy at the top and top heavy where it’s hanging down to the ground. Had it about 5 years now. We live in zone 7. I’s now 2nd week of March. Can we just cut off all the bushyness down to about 5 feet and let it re-grow? I’m so afraid I’ll stunt it’s growth but it’s more of a tree than a bush but I need to thin it out some. :-)

    • says

      Don’t be afraid to prune your butterfly bush aggressively Angie. They are remarkably forgiving and will allow you to tame its shape. If you have lots of sun, you’ll have lots of blooms this summer from the new growth. Do what you need to do and now is a good time. Let us know how it turns out later this summer.

  66. Belinda says

    Hello. I planted a dwarf butterfly bush last summer and it did very well but its laying down on the ground. It’s about 4 feet in diameter and only 18 inches high. It should only grow to 3 feet tall but what should I do to get it to grow up and not out?

    Thanks for all the great info!

    • says

      I would see how it does this year since you only planted it last summer. If it again only grows to about 18 inches then I’d say that’s all it’s going to do on it’s own. If it’s cultural habit is to grow low and out, which it sounds like it is, then the only way to change that is to force the growth up with staking or some sort of support system like one would use for a tomato cage. I doubt that’s what you want! But again, it may not be in the cards for this dwarf plant’s growth habit to go up. The other suggestion would be to prune the shrubs branches that are growing out next to buds of branches that appear to grow inward or up. By removing outward branching close to buds or branching that are headed vertical, then you will promote that growth instead. Good luck.

  67. Karen Baumgarten says

    You mention that late winter is when best to prune. I live in Southern Oregon where it can freeze into early May. So, when should I prune my butterfly bush, which is in a half barrel, to avoid the danger of splitting the wood?

  68. Tari says

    Hi, so happy I found this site, my question is that I live in an apartment and outside is a big beautiful butterfly bush, actually one large one and directly across the sidewalk are 2 more. So for the past 5 years that I have lived here, the landlord has had to prune it every year, to make room for the sidewalk, the bushes kinda grew together creating an archway. Today, in January, my landlord had it pruned again, this time, 2 of the ones we severely cut down to the ground, making my heart so sad. They kept the larger one up and just trimmed up it real good. My question is will the others grow back? In reading your posts it sounds like they will, but I’m just so sad about it., it was such a beautiful home for birds and pretty to look at?

    • says

      Sorry to hear that Tari. You’ll know later this summer if the severely pruned butterfly bushes will grow back to their full glory. They can and time will tell. It’s rarely a good idea to prune so severely but in this case, it does have the potential to rebound. Keep us posted please.

  69. Andy says

    Hi Joe

    I’m in zone 7 and have a butterfly bush that is over 6 feet tall, the lower part is predominantly bare branches and the top half leafy. I would like to prune it by 50% or more (cut back more than the rule of thumb) in January or February so that it will have growth on the lower part and the top. Is that considered doable to promote growth? Or will drastic pruning stunt the plants growth or worse scenario annihilate the plant.

    • says

      It’s doable Andy, at least with butteryfly Bush. They’re very tolerant of pruning. Do while dormant and you should be fine. Also, sounds like you might have some tree canopy shade competing for sunlight? At least the look you describe sounds as such. If so, consider limbing up any overhanging branches to let in more light. Otherwise your plan should be fine. Good luck.

  70. nathan says

    I bought 2 mini butterfly bushes the ones that dont grow tall put them in about sept, they have tons of flowers even still blooming now nov 8 do i need to cut the flowers off deadhead them? or just let them go? someone at the garden center said to deadhead the spent flowers to the first big green leaf?

    • says

      You can do that Nathan but at this point, I’d wait until late winter or early spring. Better to prune when plant is in full dormancy or just coming out of it. Pruning now could induce new growth right before cold weather arrives and you don’t want that. The good news is, butterfly bush responds well to heavy pruning and blooms on new wood. You should have lots more flowers next summer.

  71. Bethany Ostenson says

    We moved into a house here in Northeast Tennessee this summer with three huge butterfly bushes. They are too big for their space and need to be moved desperately. Should we move them now or wait till early spring? If we move them now is it okay to prune them back as well? They are so tall I am afraid that we will not be able to move them without pruning them but I see that the best time to prune is late winter.

    • says

      Now (fall) is def. the best time to transplant. I would make this the priority. If you find that you need to prune now also, I think it would be ok. If you can wait until early spring, that would be best. However, in this case, you make have no choice and I think your plants will still be fine by next summer. Since we’re coming into the dormant time of year anyway, your butterfly bushes will work on re-establishing their root system first. then new growth, so if you need to prune now also, go ahead. Just do as little as necessary and let you plants establish in their new home first.

  72. Casey says

    My husband decided to prune our butterfly bush without asking! We live in zone 6 and I am concerned about the bush dying. Is there anything I can do to lessen the chance? It is not completely to the ground.

    • says

      Nothing you can do now but make sure the soil stays moist and if you don’t have mulch under the plant now, go ahead and add a 3 inch layer around the base out to the drip line. That will help in a number of ways but mainly will reduce overall environmental stress. They are forgiving plants when it comes to pruning so lets hope this story has a happy ending. Good luck.

  73. Paula Parker says

    We purchased a home in Western North Carolina about a year ago, with a beautiful well developed butterfly garden. The home had not been lived in for some time and the gardens were begun in 2005, and not well tended for a long time. My question is, as the butterfly bushes now appear to be trees with 3 inch limbs, how much can be pruned safely. They have overtaken the garden and all the plantings beneath.

    • says

      The general rule of thumb when it comes to pruning is to never prune more than one third of the total volume at a time. But, butterfly bush is one tough plant and very forgiving if you prune, even severely, at the proper time. You have two options. If you want to try and do this all at once, you can take it town to the desired height in late winter. By summer you should have lots of new growth and soon after, new flowers. You do run a small chance of losing your bush depending on its age and other conditions. But since you mentioned how much could your prune safely, I’d take the three year approach. Again, in late winter, cut 1/3 of the bush, down to the desired height. In year two, take another third, and in year three, the last third. By then, you’ll have a totally renewed bush and a more manageable height. As you prune, just try and balance your cuts so the bush still look respectable and you’ll have the best of both worlds. Good luck.

  74. Kira says

    Hi, we just purchased a house that has a butterfly bush that needs some trimming. It is about 7-9 feet tall and about 3-4 feet wide. We live in ohio. When is the best time to trim it down?

    • says

      The best time to prune it back is late winter or early spring. I wouldn’t do it now since new growth will likely occur as a result of your pruning and there’s not enough time for the new foliage to mature before cold weather arrives. Best to wait at this point.

  75. Mary says

    I planted two, not too big, clearance purchase butterfly bushes at the end of summer 2012 between the parking lot sidewalk and my business building. They grew to phenomenal size this year, 7+ feet tall and probably 6 feet across. They are way too big for the space they are in. Is it possible with drastic pruning to make these “fit” where they are planted or must I transplant them out of there and find them another home?

    • says

      Drastic pruning will be a temporary fix but you will be dealing with this problem every year. Butterfly Bush is a fast growing shrub. Even drastic pruning only tames it temporarily. Best to dig it up this winter and relocate it. You can also prune it then as well.

  76. Lynn Antolick says

    I planted two young butterfly bushes this summer (one in June and one in July). They are only about 12 inches tall and have blooms on them. I live in Northeastern PA and am concerned about what to do with these bushes when it becomes cold and starts to snow. Do I leave them alone and just hope they make it? Should I wrap them with anything? From what I’ve read, I think I should wait until March to prune them, but when that time comes: since they are so small, how far back should I prune?

    • says

      Dieback of the top growth won’t be a concern. Make sure you have a good 3 inch layer of mulch at the base to protect the roots over winter. Then in March (late winter to early spring), you can cut back the branches to where you have healthy tissue. Based on the size of your shrubs, that may be very close to the base. Butterfly bush is a shrub that can handle heavy pruning and should come back strong as temperatures warm up.

  77. Jessica says

    Hi, I planted my butterfly plants in a pot around May. They’ve been growing in a pot outside throughout the summer, and now that summer’s coming to an end I figured I should plant them into the ground. I’ve been researching a lot and have read about pruning, and I don’t know if now would be a good time. They’re about 1-2 foot stalks, with green leaves. There have been no budding or flowers yet, and today I went outside to check on them and there were tiny pieces of pollen on the top inch or so of the stalks. What does it mean? And would it still be a good idea to plant/prune them now? Any advice will be much appreciated!!

    • says

      Hi Jessica. I would plant it in the ground now. Fall is the perfect time for planting to give the roots plenty of time to establish without a lot of stress on the above ground growth. I would not prune it though until very late winter or early spring. Just let the plant focus on establishment right now and not new top growth.

  78. Angie says

    I live in zone 6 (Ohio). My son and I purchased butterfly bush seeds that came with a small egg shaped terrarium this past January. We cared for it and after the last frost, (around mother’s day), we planted it in our front yard. We planted it in a location where it would get regular sunlight throughout the day. We have had an unusually cloudy summer. It is now early September. The bush has grown to have 2 main branches that are about 2′ tall and with a few shoots that are about 1′ tall, it is full of nice green leaves (some are close to the base), but has yet to bud. My concern is whether or not this bush is established enough to make it through winter. We have nutured this plant for 9 months and has been our special project, we would hate to lose it during the winter.

    • says

      Angie, I would allow this plant to grow in the ground where you planted it. Once the plant is established enough to put our flowers, it will do so. I’m not surprised that this year not much happened but that is not a concern. Just keep an eye on it, make sure it gets sufficient water (but not too much) and be sure to mulch the base of the plant with about 3 inches of cover. Don’t be concerned if during the winter this plant does incur some die back on the branches. The mulch should keep the plant base alive worst case and once it warms up, you should see lots of new growth emerging and I suspect you’ll even have flowers next summer as well. I’d also fertilize in spring with a balanced organic fertilizer and again in mid summer. Assuming you have plenty of sunlight, I think you’re plant will be fine. Good luck.

  79. April Spear says

    I just moved and transplanted my butterfly bushes in the middle of summer (I know a no-no). They now look horrible. I do think they are alive but my question is… should I cut them back in this heat or leave them be.

    • says

      Leave them alone. Although there are lots of articles out there about cutting back transplants to reduce the stress, more recent data says to leave them alone. When you prune, this stimulates new growth. But with a plants that have just been relocated, the roots are not established in their new home yet. If recently pruned, plants are trying to put on new growth and establish themselves with new roots. That’s a lot going on. By not cutting back at transplant, then the plant can focus on establishment first.

  80. Marietta says

    My butterfly bush keeps looking limp; the leaves look wilted, so I assume it needs more water. Another one nearby has lots of yellow leaves, and according to your answer above, I might be OVERwatering it. Could they possibly need more sun? The limp-looking one is in the shade some of the day. Thanks!

    • says

      The more sun the better, but shade wouldn’t cause wilting leaves alone. But yellowing leaves is often a sign of too much or not enough sun. Given your question, I’d go for more sun. When Plants aren’t growing in their preferred environment, lot’s of stresses start to impact the plant adversely.

      • Marietta says

        I wonder if they need to be fertilized? They are looking particularly limp today, and watering doesn’t seem to perk them up at all.

  81. Kay Osborn says

    Hi. I have a medium sized (5 – 6) butterfly bush that seems in poor health this year. There have been many leaves turning yellow (I try to pluck them off when I see them) and the majority of the flowers are brown instead of purple. What should I do?

    • says

      It’s hard to say without seeing the overall environment. Could it be that your plant is getting too much water this year. Overall yellowing leaves can be a sign of that. Otherwise I can’t tell you from her Kay. I suggest you take a clipping of a branch that demonstrates what’s happening to your extension service office or a local garden center that might be able to diagnosis the problem.

  82. Emily L. says

    Hi there! I’ve read everyone’s comments and your responses, but didn’t see the answer I was looking for. I have three butterfly bushes next to my house (in Western NC) that have exploded in size in the past several weeks (they are approaching 8 feet tall all of a sudden) and they hang out into the driveway to the point where I cannot back my car completely in. It is 6/22/2013, is it too late to cut them back without damaging them? I really would like to, but I don’t want to hurt them, and they also haven’t flowered yet and don’t have any buds either. I’ve sprayed them with neem oil since some of the leaves look like they are being chowed down on a lot by bugs, but the bugs are still munching away. I am just not sure what to do about the pruning and the bugs… any help would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance!!

    • says

      Hi Emily. Although heavy pruning is best addressed earlier in the year, it is not too late to do some now. I would cut back as needed without going overboard this time and save your more aggressive pruning for late winter / early spring next year. Keep in mind, although they haven’t flowered yet, whatever you cut back now may not grow back in time to flower again this season. Fortunately though, these are fast growing plants and with your large root mass, they should respond quickly to new growth. Sunlight and weather will dictate how much though.
      As for the bugs, neem oil is still a good repellent but it won’t kill anything. Insecticidal soap is good but you have to make contact with the pest for it to work, and it’s not effective on pests with hard shells like beetles. If you resort to spraying a synthetic (or any) insecticide please wait till late in the day or dusk to avoid inadvertent contact with any beneficial insects.

  83. Laura says

    I have a butterfly bush that has started to outgrow it’s space. I didn’t realize that it was safe to prune them until recently, but am concerned that it’s now too late to do it this year. It’s late May, and the the bush is very green, though no blooms yet. Is it still safe for me to prune it? If so, how far back? Thanks!

  84. Sally Knox says

    Help!! Is it just a cold spring causing my two new butterfly bushes to not be budding? I’d planted them last summer and they grew and bloomed like crazy! I’d read to prune in the spring after no further chance of frost. Well, we just got 5″ of snow, which is now gone, on 5-3-13. I checked my bushes and the branches are all dry and brittle. Should I cut them off 12″ above the ground and hope for new growth? Shorter? Don’t prune? I’m confused by everyone’s opinions.
    Thank you.

    • says

      You could make a test cut by taking one of the branches that seems dead at the end and cut back a few inches at a time until you see green tissue in the the branch tip. Cut back to there and you’ll eliminate any dead wood that may have occurred in the latest cold snap. However, if you do nothing, it will still branch out on its own from that part of the wood that is still viable. But by cutting back, you can stimulate new growth and more branching. So, you can take the proactive approach or the ‘wait and see’ approach. If in a few weeks you don’t see any new budding or growth, then do cut back until just above the first signs of life.

  85. gg says

    I have dreamed of having a nice huge butterfly bush for years and have heard too many things about when and how to prune…help? some say there are two kinds; those that grow on old wood and those that grow on new. By reading your answers it sounds like there is only one kind and cuting simply depends…Right now the Bush is about 4 ft high and looked strong but I just noticed many healthy looking new growth coming up at the bottom. Should I cut all of the old wood off or should I follow the rule of only cutting off a 1/3 of the old wood? Thank you for your help….maybe my dreams will finally come to fruition with your help!

    • says

      No need to cut down the old wood. But if you cut it back, it will resprout and send up new growth quickly. Another approach you could do is to eliminate 1/4 to 1/3 of the old wood each season. You are always striving to have the best shape and healthiest wood. If nothing else, prune out the interior branches that are crossing or rubbing or growing inward so that you allow as much light into the plant as possible. Butterfly bushes are fast growing and bloom on new wood. With enough sunlight, they should bloom just fine this summer, no matter what you do (within reason).

  86. Susie says

    I live in Southeast Michigan and have had a butterfly bush for approx. 6-7 years. Last year was the first time I decided not to prune and with our really early warm weather, it sprouted leaves and then we had a hard frost. I cut all the frosted parts off and it came back beautifully. This year, however, I have left it and I don’t see ANY green sprouts anywhere on the bush. My next door neighbor said hers is the same. Am I getting worried too soon? I know it’s only May 1, but I don’t want to lose this gorgeous bush!! Thanks!!

  87. ShemShem says

    We have a butterfly bush that was amazing last summer at our beach house in Ocean Beach, Fire Island, NY. It grew to 6 feet and attracted many butterflies. Super Storm Sandy came in October and pushed in about 3 feet of ocean water to the garden it resides in. Then the salt water quickly retreated back out to sea. Right after the storm, we cleaned up the area and made sure the roots were fine and the winter pruning done. It is now the end of April and, although the Winter has been harsh with temperatures warming up only now, we don’t see any life on the bush; no buds or green at the bottom. Branches, where pruned, are brown with a white center. Other plants and trees in the garden are starting to show life. Should we assume this butterfly bush is a victim of Sandy or should we be patient and hope it’s just dormant and will soon “wake up?” I appreciate any feedback. Thanks.

    • says

      Give it time. Soil temps need to warm up and plants are just starting to wake up where you live. If you’ve provided great soil conditions, adequate water (not too much) and good sunlight, then they should be fine in time.

  88. Lynn says

    Last summer we added two butterfly bushes to our garden. They survived their first summer, but this spring all of the top wood is brittle and dead. There seem to be little sprouts at the base, which might indicate that the root is not dead. Can we safely cut the bush down to the root stump and save the bushes?

  89. tyler weseman says

    I recently planted two butterfly bushes in a small garden , can I prune them down to two inches to keep them under four feet?

  90. says

    great info
    im ready to prune my butterfly bush now

    ? can a home gardener make more bushes from the one you have?
    propagation is what im asking..

  91. Amy says

    I have a butterfly bush that has really outgrown it’s space. I plan on trimming it back this week, and will be giving it to a friend. When would be the best time to dig it up and move it? We are in ohio, zones 5-6.

  92. julie says

    Hi my name is Julie.. We just bought a house in April 2012 and we have a butterfly bush in front at corner of house. The bush is huge with limbs laying over and the wind this past summer has beat it alot. I’m gonna say the bush is probably 6 ft at leat, maybe 7. It is beautiful but like I said it is leaning over all over the place due to it being so big. It is now November 12 2012 and we was wondering how and when to prune or cut it back and how much? I would appreciate any help. it is starting to get cold here now and we have had a couple of frosts but the last few days has been in the 70’s.. Please let me know what we should do.. Thank you for all your help..

    • says

      Hi Julie. Your butterfly bush is very durable. It could take a pruning now, but I’d wait if you possibly can until later winter. If you prune now, you could run a moderate risk of die-back but even so, come spring, you could cut below the damage and still see new growth. As a rule of thumb, you want to try and keep your heavy pruning to cutting back by no more than a third of the total mass. But with this plant, you can pretty much cut back to the size you want and know that it will grow back quickly over the summer.

  93. Don says

    I would like to USPS a seedling to an out of state relative. I would appreciate your suggestion on proper shipping. Should it be enclosed in a vented box or shipped open with a tag?
    Kind regards, Don.

    • says

      Hi Don. I get lots of plants by mail. In my observation, the ones that survive and look the best upon arrival are watered well right before shipping, and packed in nicely into their shipping box. However, it isn’t necessary to provide a vented box. Just tuck in enough paper or packing material so it’s snug but not compressed. Then, notify your recipient of the estimated time of arrival and make sure they open the box and remove the plant as soon as possible after that. But, allow time on the receiving end for the plant to reacclimate. Don’t place it in direct sun until the plant has recovered from the shipping. But do make sure the root ball is sufficiently moist. That should be all you need to ship your plants successfully. Good luck.

  94. Pat says

    We bought a house in September that has a huge butterfly bush in the front… it is almost the height of the house (5 yrs old). How much and when should I prune?

    • says

      Pat, these plants can take a severe pruning better than most. But now that we’re well into summer, I’d wait if you can to prune next winter when the shrub is dormant. Then, you can prune back by about half. Normal rule of thumb is to never remove more than a third of the plant, but these can take a bit more.

  95. Kevin says

    I have two white butterfly bushes that I bought and planted last year. This past Winter they took a beating with the heavy snow in the Northeast,but fortunately they came back and now stand about 7 feet tall. My issue is they have anincredible amount of buds (now end of July) but no flowers have bloomed yet. My concern is should they have begun flowering earlier since it is now approaching August? The nicety about this is once they do bloom, I don’t think I’ll see green given the vast amount of flower heads showing up.

    • says

      Fear not Kevin. Mother Nature is a funny woman and everything is on her time. She often keeps us guessing. The fact that your plant is full of blooms tells me the flowers will burst into full glory soon. Anticipation is often worth the wait!
      Thanks for your question and best regards.