Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To prune or not to prune, the truth about Butterfly bush

There seems to be some conflicting advice on how much pruning a butterfly bush (buddleia) can take. Pruning in general scares the heck out of me. I love flowers and am always mindful that pruning too much, incorrectly or at the wrong time of year will prevent vigorous blooming.
I usually err on the side of not pruning. This tactic often backfires because shrubs and trees can become too woody or choked with old growth to bloom well. Such was the case with my butterfly bushes last year. I was treated to a beautiful display of cheery purple flowers the previous year so I decided to leave well enough alone and didn’t prune them. To my dismay, the plants became a bit too large for their space and produced about half the blooms they did the prior year.

Many landscapers and gardeners advice cutting them to nearly to the ground in late fall through March. There is a word of caution to mulch the plant if you reside in colder zones. Doing so will keep the growth in check and encourage the plant to flower profusely. Others advise against such a severe pruning fearing that growth can be inhibited.

pruning can be done in Spring when new growth begins
 Here are the steps that everyone seems to agree upon:
  • hearty in zones 5-10
  • prune vigorously any time from late fall to early spring in all zones
  • Cut away any older wood that no longer produces leaves or buds
  • Mulch after pruning in colder zones 9-10
Since I was still a bit skittish and it was technically April when I finally got a chance to attend to the bushes, here’s what I did:
  1. cut away any limbs that had no green buds at all
  2. cut any growth over about 5 ft tall
  3. cut away any growth longer than 2-3 feet

Here’s what my tree looked like after pruning
All of the resources I read assure me that it is difficult to do any real damage to Buddleia by pruning them. The worst that can happen is that I won’t see much blooming this year. I guess the butterflies and I will just have to wait and see.
photos by Brandie Shaw

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