butterfly bush looks like it's dying

three4rdApril 9, 2012


For at least 6 years now I've had a butterfly bush that has done very well. This year we had spring-like weather very early (mid-March) and so most of my perennials are already growing again. The butterfly bush, however, looks like it is really struggling - unless it just didn't really get started yet. The stems seem brittle and break or split off easily. There is some new growth from what was still there over the winter but the leaves seems dry and brittle. I'm hoping that it is just too early yet for new growth? Otherwise, I'm afraid it might be on the way out. I do prune it back pretty hard during every winter. We had a bad ice storm in fall and I know that many of the big branches were either damaged or broke off from the weight. Any thoughts?



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Could be that it got nipped by one of the latest nights of freeze? All of mine did and look as you describe.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 7:33PM
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jan_on zone 5b

Butterfly bush is only root hardy in southern Ontario, so I prune it to the ground every spring. It is also very late to start growing in the spring -- every year I think it is dead; every year it surprises me and shows up when it is ready. Yours will probably reward your patience!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 8:06PM
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The 9 days of 70+ degree weather we had here in March, had my Butterfly Bushes growing from last years branching. Some years I prune down to about 10 inches and some years, if the new growth starts early, like this year, I let them green up and just cut off dead end pieces. All of that pretty new growth has turned to a grayish mush after we've had numerous nights into the 20's and low 30's. Looks like I will be pruning this year after the weather decides that it will be spring here.

Keith, I doubt that your plant has died. After 6 years, it is well established. I'd prune your plant as you have in the past and it will respond with new green growth at the bottom of plant near the ground. Sometimes these plants are very late to break dormancy and you just have to have patience.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 9:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in my z5. MI ... presuming we are talking about buddelia ...

they were very short term shrubs .. relatively speaking ...

6 years is very old for them.. in my experience and location ...

PA doesnt really tell me what zone you are ...

and i agree.. if it leafed and flopped .. sounds like cold damage ...

since they basically come up from the ground.. its a soil temp trigger.. which was complicated this year by the warm spell.. causing a lot of stuff to bolt ... and then flipping back to a regular spring .. with frosts and freezes ... in all reality.. this thing probably should not have leafed out for 2 to 4 more weeks.. dont you think???


    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 7:59AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Do you know which kind it is? In my experience with B. davidii, they are short-lived individuals but stems propagate so easily, there's always a few still alive each spring. They should be trimmed in spring, not fall or winter. Once you can see where it is growing well, trim off the dead & less vigorous parts, trim the live parts for sturdiness and appearance if necessary (and stick the live trimmings in the ground to make more bushes!)

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Thanks to all who responded to my butterfly bush concern. I'm thinking that it could have been nipped by some recent cool temps. Also, I'm wondering if the unusually dry conditions for this time of year could have anything to do with the stunted and dried-up appearance of the leaves. In PA we only had .25 inches of rain in March, and were already at a deficit before that. The ground around my place looks more like mid-July after a heat wave than typical early spring - when it is usually more wet during Feb and March. Having had no snow cover will, I believe, make for brutal growing conditions this summer. I will certainly see what happens during the next few weeks. Ken - I believe you are absolutely right - under 'normal' conditions, there really shouldn't be any growth on that bush yet until mid-May. A few more months will tell the tale I suppose.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:15PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Keith, I have 4 Buddleia and yes, they were all leafed out from the warm weather and then we got hit with too many consistently cold nights. They looked pretty pathetic for awhile, but I have been watering mine and I see today they look a lot better. I may have to trim off some damaged foliage but I think they are going to be fine. And I do have one Buddleia that is almost 10yrs old. The stump of it looks a little aged this year, in comparison to previous years, and I am going to keep my eye on it this year. If it doesn't perform as well, I may take cuttings and start over.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 6:53PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i seem to recall ... back a decade or so.. when we had a similar spring.. early leaf out.. a very late very hard freeze.. simply killed some of mine ... its like they simply had no sense of humor about it all .. lol ..

or it was a scotch fueled dream.. but i usually dont dream about buddelia.. lol .. [and i gave up scotch]

water might be a side issue.. but it obviously budded out just fine.. until the cold ..


    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 7:02PM
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Tony G(5a)

Hi Keith, sorry to hear about your bushes and hope they make a comeback. We also had freezing temps in Minnesota 3 nights in a row. I have five butterfly bushes and just put pots over them each night. I wasn't sure how much protection a 'pot' would offer but they all looked good yesterday. Hopefully the freezes are finished! Tony

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 6:31PM
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I agree with most of the posters. I have two butterfly bushes that popped up a little early this year with all the warm weather, then wilted with the cold snaps we had last week. I saw something similar happen with them last year, except the wilting was caused by a considerably higher than normal rainfall all spring. Both bushes seemed to be smaller than usual and produce fewer flowers than usual during the summer, but I think that was caused by the excessive spring rain AND excessive summer heat. The long and short of it is that you shouldn't worry too much. I'd be willing to bet that they will return healthily when the time is right. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 3:33PM
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