Butterfly Bush Container Growing – How To Grow Buddleia In A Pot

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Can I grow a butterfly bush in a container? The answer is yes, you can – with caveats. Growing a butterfly bush in a pot is very possible if you can provide this vigorous shrub with a very large pot. Keep in mind that butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) grows to heights of 4 to 10 feet (1 to 2.5 m.), with a width of around 5 feet (1.5 m.). If this sounds like something you’d like to try, read on and learn how to grow buddleia in a pot.

Butterfly Bush Container Growing

If you’re serious about growing a butterfly bush in a pot, a whiskey barrel may be your best bet. The pot must be deep enough to contain the roots and heavy enough to keep the plant from toppling over. Whatever you decide to use, be sure the pot has at least a couple of good drainage holes. Consider a rolling platform. Once the pot is planted, it will be very difficult to move.

Fill the pot with a lightweight commercial potting mix. Avoid garden soil, which becomes heavy and compacted in containers, often resulting in root rot and plant death.

Choose the cultivar carefully. A huge plant that tops out at 8 or 10 feet (2.5 to 3.5 m.) may be too much, even for the largest container. Dwarf varieties such as Petite Snow, Petite Plum, Nanho Purple, or Nanho White are limited to heights and widths of 4 to 5 feet (1.5 m.). Blue Chip maxes out at 3 feet (1 m.) in most growing zones, but may grow to 6 feet (2 m.) in warm climates.

Caring for Container-Grown Buddleia

Place the pot in full sunlight. Cut the plant back to 10 to 12 inches (25 cm.) in late winter or early spring. Apply a time-release fertilizer in spring.

Water regularly. Although buddleia is relatively drought-tolerant, it will perform better with occasional irrigation, especially during hot weather.

Buddleia is typically hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 5 and above, but a container-grown buddleia may need winter protection in zone 7 and below. Move the pot into a protected area. Cover the soil with 2 or 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) of straw or other mulch. In very cold climates, wrap the pot with a layer of bubble wrap.

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Read more about Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Bush Plant Profile

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is a deciduous shrub with an arching habit and impressive flowers, but it has a mixed reputation. It's easy to grow and produces striking flower spikes. Thanks to the magic of cultivar developers, the flowers now come in a number of colors, including pink, yellow blue, and multicolors. And as the name suggests, these shrubs are known as magnets for butterflies, which are the closest thing to real fairies that our gardens will ever enjoy. Red-flowering butterfly bushes will even attract hummingbirds.

Butterfly bushes are cultivated to suit many different gardening preferences. Some can grow up to 12 feet tall, while others are relatively small. Some varieties produce large clusters of flowers while others produce flowering spikes. Butterfly bushes were first brought to England from Asia in 1774 by the botanist Adam Buddle (for whom the plant was named). New varieties are still being discovered in remote areas of China and the Himalayas.

But while the plant is enjoyed by many, butterfly bush does have an equal nuber of detractors. In many areas of the United States, it's actually considered an invasive plant—one that does not naturally grow in a particular region but which is pervasive enough to push out native plants. Thus, many plant experts caution against planting butterfly bush under any circumstance.

Invasive plants are problematic because they can alter ecosystems and damage existing flora and fauna. Although not invasive everywhere, butterfly bush is meddlesome enough to have given the plant a bad name. Several states now classify it as a noxious weed. There are good reasons not to plant the butterfly bush, especially in regions where it is an identified problem.

Botanical Name Buddleja davidii
Common Names Butterfly bush
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Mature Size 4 to 12 feet tall 3- to 8-foot spread (depends on variety)
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Medium moisture, well-drained soil
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0 slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time June to September
Flower Color Shades of purple also pink, blue, white, yellow
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Rocky slopes in China

When to Water

If you are watering your buddleia every day or two, Myers says you're overdoing it. "Water thoroughly to moisten the soil to the depth of the rootball, which will encourage the roots to expand beyond the planting hole," she says. "For heavy soils, in areas where temperatures are neither extremely hot nor cold, water once a week, but in fast-drying soils, water every four days or so. Check the top few inches of the soil and water when it is crumbly and slightly moist, and then gradually cut back to encourage deep and more drought-tolerant roots."


Where is butterfly bush considered invasive?

Butterfly bush has been declared invasive in many regions including much of the Pacific Northwest, parts of coastal California and along the eastern seaboard. There are regions where the threat of invasive spreading is lower due to climate or availability, but some gardeners still choose to steer clear. See more, at InvasivePlantAtlas.org.

What can I do?

If you live in one of the invasive areas and already grow butterfly bush, your best course of action is to dig up your plant and replace it with one of the sterile types shown above. However, there is still a possibility that the sterile varieties (which are only about 98% sterile) can cross pollinate with an invasive non-sterile variety growing nearby.

Can the spread of butterfly bush be controlled?

If you live in an area where Buddleia davidii isn’t a problem, it may just be a matter of time before it becomes an invasive plant there too. However, if you deadhead butterfly bush meticulously before it goes to seed you may be able to halt the spread.

Are there any native butterfly bushes?

Buddleia davidii orginates from China, but you can try these native plants as options:

  • Orange Woolly Butterfly Bush (Buddleia marrubifolia), native to the Chihuahuan Desert
  • Rio Grande Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sessiliflora), native to Arizona and Texas
  • Utah Butterfly Bush (Buddleia utahensis), native to Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah
  • Wand Butterfly Bush (Buddleia racemosa), native to Texas
  • Escobilla Butterfly Bush (Buddleia scordioides), native to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas

Watch the video: How to Plant and Care for Butterfly Bush

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