Butterfly bush yellow leaves

My Butterfly Bush Is Not Blooming – How To Get A Butterfly Bush To Bloom

Large, brilliant, and long-blooming, butterfly bushes make for beautiful centerpieces in butterfly gardens and landscapes alike. When you’re anticipating innumerable long, pendulous, pollinator-attracting flowers, it can be a serious letdown if your butterfly bush will not bloom. Keep reading for reasons why there may be no flowers on a butterfly bush, as well as ways to get a butterfly bush to bloom.

My Butterfly Bush is not Blooming

There are a few reasons a butterfly bush will not bloom, most of them related to stress. One of the most common is improper watering. Butterfly bushes require plenty of water, particularly in the spring during their main period of growth. In the summer, they need steady watering during periods of drought. At the same time, the roots will rot very readily in standing water. Make sure your plant has adequate drainage to accommodate all that watering.

Butterfly bushes require at least partial and, preferably, full sun to bloom to their full potential. For the most part, they are very hardy to disease and pests, but they can sometimes fall victim to spider mites and nematodes.

In another vein, if you’ve planted your butterfly bush recently, it may still be suffering from transplant shock. Even if it was blooming when you planted it last year, it might still need a year to recover and put down new roots.

How to Get a Butterfly Bush to Bloom

Perhaps the most common cause of a non-flowering butterfly bush is improper pruning. If left to its own devices, a butterfly bush can turn into an unruly thicket with sparse blossoms.

Prune your butterfly bush back in the autumn or early in the spring, before new growth starts. Cut at least ? of the stems down to until only 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) remain above the soil. This will encourage new growth from the roots and more flowers.

If you live in an area that experiences very cold winters, your plant may die back to this state naturally and the resulting dead wood will have to be cut away.

Why a Butterfly Bush Is Turning Yellow

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Named for its butterfly-attracting blooms, butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) foliage turns yellow naturally, and also due to overwatering, nutrient deficiency and pest attack. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, the butterfly bush’s leaves are sage-green above and white below when healthy; the shrubs bear lilac, purple, white, pink, yellow and red fragrant summer blooms. Butterfly bush grows 6 to 12 feet tall and 4 to 15 feet wide, according to the variety, and is invasive in some areas.

Mellow Yellow

Butterfly bush foliage turns yellow naturally. A deciduous shrub, it loses its foliage as a normal part of its growth cycle, and leaves turn yellow in late summer and fall as they die and drop, until the stems are bare when winter arrives. Fallen leaves begin to mold and enrich the soil over time, so let them lie, or rake up them up and put them on a compost pile, in a recycled yard waste container or in the trash. Butterfly bush sprouts new green leaves in spring.

Drowned Roots

Overwatering kills the plant’s roots and turns leaves yellow. Butterfly bush is a drought-tolerant shrub, and an established plant requires water once or twice a week only during prolonged hot, dry weather. Excessive watering makes the soil sodden and butterfly bush roots drown. The leaves turn yellow because they don’t receive water or nutrients from the dead roots. Water the bush when its leaves wilt and don’t recover the following morning. Soak the ground around the shrub deeply, and water again only when the soil is dry to a depth of 4 inches.

Hungry Leaves

Lack of nutrients causes butterfly bush leaves to turn yellow. The plant requires moderate fertilization through the growing season. Symptoms of nutrient deficiency include yellow leaves, early leaf drop, small leaves, poor growth and dead twigs and branches. Feed butterfly bush when new growth appears in spring. Spread a ready-to-use, slow-release, granular 12-4-8 fertilizer around the plant’s base at a rate of 4 tablespoons per 4 square feet, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions, avoiding the plant’s stem. Reapply every three months while the shrub is actively growing.

Pest Attack

A butterfly bush suffering from spider mites or nematodes can develop yellow leaves. Spider mites cause yellow pinpricks on leaves where they feed, and nematodes attack butterfly bush roots, causing leaves to turn yellow from lack of nutrients and water. To check for spider mites, wipe a sheet of white paper over the foliage and look for moving orange specks. Growing butterfly bush in sandy soil makes it susceptible to nematodes. Fertilizer, water and a 2-inch layer of organic mulch help the shrub withstand nematode attack. Control spider mites by blasting them off with a strong jet of water from a hose, or spray a ready-to-use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, covering all plant parts, and repeat every week as needed. Use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil on a cloudy day when temperatures are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the sun from scorching the wet leaves. Wash your hands after using chemicals in the garden and keep children and pets out of the area until the foliage dries.

Butterfly Bush Leaves Eaten

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If someone took 75% of your food away, you wouldn’t be a happy camper. But when you grow invasive butterfly bushes and other plants that provide only nectar, that’s what you’re doing to birds and butterflies in your own backyard.

A leading wildlife ecologist wants you to think about your property — no matter how big or small — as an important link in your local ecosystem. Each plant you include in your garden affect the local food web, even the beautiful, seemingly harmless butterfly bush.

Doug Tallamy, PhD, professor and chair of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, revealed three hard truths about butterfly bush — and why you should stop planting them at home.

1. Butterfly Bush Doesn’t Stay In Your Yard


Butterfly bush is an invasive plant, meaning it crowds out beneficial plants that have naturally grown in your community for centuries. This species originally from Asia readily takes over space where native North American plants would normally thrive. In fact, Buddleja davidii (the scientific name for butterfly bush) has certain traits that make it invasive in most environments.

“I hear the ‘it’s invasive here, but not over there’ argument a lot,” says Tallamy. “While it is invasive in many parts of the U.S., what’s really important is that the plant has the ability to be invasive almost anywhere. If it’s not in some place, chances are good it will be .”

Beyond backyards, the plants spread to important ecosystems and protected areas. There’s clear documentation of aggressive butterfly bush invasions in wildlife habitats.

“People who say butterfly bush doesn’t move around are in the denial stage,” Tallamy says. “Butterfly bush just doesn’t stay where we plant it.”

2. Butterfly Bush Doesn’t Really Benefit Butterflies

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There’s no denying that butterfly bush’s long, narrow tufts of flowers look beautiful. And like many flowering plants, it supplies lots of nectar. But when it’s the only species you grow for butterflies, you’re not going to have butterflies anymore, Tallamy warns.

These insects also require proper host plants so they can reproduce. Their larval offspring have to feed on the leaves of native species like butterfly weed, other milkweeds, joe-pye weed, and oak trees.

“People rationalize their perceived need for butterfly bush because they think it helps butterflies,” Tallamy says. “What they really want is a pretty plant in their yard.”

3. Butterfly Bush Contributes to the Collapse of Food Webs

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Here’s the harsh truth: Planting non-native plants like butterfly bush in your yard actually makes it harder for the butterflies and birds in your neighborhood to survive.

For instance, if you want chickadees to breed in your yard, you need plants that can support the 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars the birds need during the 16 days they feed their young.

“If you don’t have that, the plant-caterpillar-chickadee food web stops,” Tallamy explains. “If you plant butterfly bush, and not native , then right away you’re removing at least 75% of the food that is supporting the biodiversity that’s out there.” And these critters need all the help they can get.

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