September 24, 2008

A New Maintenance Plan for Buddleia (Butterfly Bushes)

There is an abundance of buddleia (butterfly bushes) in my gardens. These tough shrubs are not only magnets for butterflies and bees, but they also provide good privacy screening while serving as anchor shrubs in the garden. For full sun, they can take the hottest locations with minimal watering once established. Deer resistance is a requirement in my outer garden, so I make use of buddleia as flowering shrubs that deer won't eat. Zone requirements vary with maintenance of buddleia. My experience is based on my zone.

Here in zone 7, I always cut my buddleia back to about 12-16” in late winter in order to control the size and promote blooms. During the past few summers, I’ve made little effort to deadhead these shrubs during the growing season because the pruning is very tedious. I also have to deal with the bees who aren’t thrilled with my cutting off the shrub while they’re on a nectar meal! I've had them follow the trug full of cuttings all the way to the compost heap!

What I’ve learned this summer came out of using drastic measures to save a group of buddleia that were nearly blown over during a severe thunderstorm. At first, I propped up these leaning shrubs. But soon I realized that to save the buddleia, I was going to have to cut off the top weight. Using my cordless Black & Decker HedgeHog Trimmer, I literally whacked at least 2 feet of shrub off the top and sides of the ‘Royal Red’ buddleias. I then took my small hand pruners and cut back to leaf joints on the most noticeable branches. I did this during the first week of July, which is a really hot time of year! I decided that I had nothing to lose with this extreme deadheading session.

Within two weeks, all three buddleia were blooming beautifully and abundantly! So when another ‘Royal Red’ was recently disturbed by 13” of rain and substantial winds, I used the same severe pruning strategy. So, now in autumn, I have fresh blooms and lush foliage on that buddleia.

Next year, I will continue to cut back the buddleia in late winter. But, I’m also marking my calendar for the last week of June as a reminder to prune the buddleia in my garden with my new “extreme deadheading” regime. Given the results of the latest September deadheading, I will no longer be afraid to cut back buddleia during the growing season. Sometimes we learn new gardening techniques through necessity!

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Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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