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Butterfly bush performs in landscape, container, vase
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Pay attention as you're scurrying about this early summer and you will notice one of our finest shrubs blooming and attracting butterflies by the scores. The buddleia's fragrant blossoms attract butterflies and look great as cut flowers. It is referred to as butterfly bush in the United States, and summer lilac in its native China.
One thing that is becoming increasingly popular is to use buddleias as the focal point in large, mixed containers. This is a wonderful idea that will only gain in popularity over the next few years. Proven Winners is introducing the variety Emperor Blue for this very idea. Also use it to enhance the flower border.
The buddleia became very popular at the turn of the century and is enjoying widespread revival. While we refer to it as a shrub, in the landscape you find it most often used at the back of the perennial border where the large, arching canes can gracefully hang forward with their gorgeous blooms.
Most of the cultivars for sale are hybrids of Buddleia davidii. This variety blooms on new growth and comes with the recommendation to cut back hard in late winter. It will send out vigorous new shoots and bloom all summer until the first frost.
Cutting back works well, but I also have seen specimens with large trunks that were allowed to reach over 7 feet in height. When you see these in bloom, you certainly cannot find fault with this method. Cut old blooms to keep flowers producing. Sungold (Buddleia x weyeriana) is a popular yellow-blooming variety.
Data from Auburn University research a few years ago showed the possibilities for using buddleia blooms as cut flowers. Researchers cut 15 stems of 10 varieties and placed them in a vase in a home environment. A typical floral preservative was used.
Sungold, Lochinch, White Profusion, Royal Red and Pink Delight had the highest number of days of vase life. Black Knight, Empire Blue and Nanho Purple had the fewest days at 5 1/2. While that may not be suitable for the cut flower trade, it makes them perfect for a quick arrangement when guests are coming for dinner.
Charming Summer had the largest blooms, or panicles, reaching 7.9 inches in length, followed by Pink Delight at 6.9 inches, Royal Red at 6.1 inches, White Profusion at 6 inches and Nanho Blue at 5.4 inches.
Empire Blue didn't score as well for the vase, but its color is extraordinary. It has deep violet-blue blooms with orange eyes. It is funny how Mother Nature works with color schemes!
On a 3-year-old plant, it is possible to harvest 60 to 100 stems. Suggested harvesting time for maximum vase life is when half the flowers on the inflorescence are open but before the open flowers start to fade. Flowers should last from five to eight days if properly conditioned.
Buddleias are beautiful, undemanding plants that can be used as a specimen or planted in mass. They are easily transplanted and survive most stresses, including people like me who have a propensity for moving plants at the wrong time of the year. Plant them in well-drained soil. Once they are established, watch for the flight of the swallowtails.
If using in a mixed container, plant the buddleia first as the center plant and then layer around, filling in pockets and including those plants that cascade over the rim.
The butterfly bush also is very easy to propagate by cuttings. In mid-summer, take 4- to 6-inch cuttings, stripping off the lower set of leaves. Dab on a little rooting powder and you are off to the races. Buddleias and lantanas are ideal plants not only to give you color for the intense summer heat, but also to offer a great start for a butterfly garden.