Butterfly bush dead or dormant?

bart1(6/7 Northern VA)May 11, 2014

If you're in the mid Atlantic area, what do your butterfly bushes look like? Have they started to leaf out yet?

Mine haven't and I'm wondering if it's too early yet, or if they didn't survive the winter. We got down to -3 this winter. Is that too cold for a butterfly bush (or three!)?


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michey1st_gw Zone 7

Hi Bart! I'm in Maryland and mine hasn't done much of anything yet, either. Here's hoping it's just taking its sweet little old time....

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 10:24AM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

I'm in zone 5 and it got well below zero this winter here too. I thought mine were probably dead. After a few very warm days last week though I saw some new growth right at ground level coming up from the mulch. Usually I would have growth from the old woody parts a foot or more off the ground. This growth seems to be coming from underground though. We did have good snow cover most of the winter which helped I think. I would wait a while longer and pull back any mulch to see if anything is coming up from the ground.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 11:41AM
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I'm in the Houston area and mine have come back -- not to full blooms yet, but growing and filling out. I have a jasmine bush that DH says is just starting to come out after he gave up on and pulled out the other one. It's not too late to have something still sprout.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 11:52AM
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cecily(7 VA)

I'm in Prince William County, VA and mine have been leafed out for two or three weeks.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 12:05PM
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Michaela .:. thegarden@902 .:. (Zone 5b - Iowa)

I'm in zone 5 and the one I planted last year has shown no signs of life so far. I was also wondering if it was dead. Wondering if there is any way to tell if it's still dormant or dead as well.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 12:15PM
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Michaela .:. thegarden@902 .:. (Zone 5b - Iowa)

Just found this online:

Depending upon the severity of winter, your butterfly bush may appear dead in spring. Don't despair. Even when a butterfly bush doesn't develop leaf buds on the previous year's branches, it will usually sprout new growth from the root system. Be patient though. It might be late May before your butterfly bush shows signs of new growth.

So sounds like there is a good chance! :)

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 12:22PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have 2 mature BB that have been in place for 8-9 years. The Black Knight is usually sending shoots out like gang busters right now, the Pink Delight is not so vigorous but does okay. Mine aren't dead, but they are only sending out a few small buds so far. I know that it is a late Spring this year, but I am starting to wonder how they will do this year.

A lot of people seem to be complaining about dead Buddleia, even in southern New England? Or maybe they are just late? Apparently it was a very challenging winter for this plant (which would be good if it curbs its spread where it's invasive).

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 1:30PM
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That's weird. I'm in the Houston area also. I have two butterfly bushes. They stopped blooming during the winter, but never lost all of their leaves. Both have started blooming again in the last couple of weeks. Not sure what variety I have, but it has huge cones of purple blooms. The plants have done extremely well. I just planted them last summer.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 3:04PM
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jerseygirl07603 z6NJ

My well-established BB took a bad hit this winter. No growth on any of the branches. But new shoots are coming from the base of the plant. Now if only my crape myrtle would wake up.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 5:33PM
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Well, today is really the first warm day for us here in southern Ontario, so late and still not a peep out of my Black Knight. BB
My pics I take every spring as a reference show me that breaking dormancy time varies. This horrible winter past has really only slowed the BB down -- but by looking at it you'd swear it was way dead.
Glad I visited the forum to compare notes. There's hope !

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 3:59PM
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tepelus z6a SW MI

We had low temps of -24F this past winter and I thought for sure the BB bush would be a casualty, as I usually have a hard time keeping them alive. This one grows near the foundation of the house and everything above ground on it died, but I'm seeing new growth coming from the crown. We had a lot of snow this year and our soil is a sandy loam. The cultivar is Dark Knight.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 5:12PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

All of mine are sending out shoots from the base.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 5:26PM
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mxk3 - being from MI, too, when do you cut yours back (last year's deadwood, I mean)? Or, I guess the real question is: when would you cut them back with them sending up new shoots now? Mine, which was just newly planted last year, is FINALLY sending up little shoots now and I'm not sure when I should chop it down.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 10:39PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Same with mine! Just a few leaves showing near the trunk. I'm also in MI and just planted mine last year. We had such a harsh winter, I thought the cold was too much for it. Today I pruned it back. I should've read this thread first. Gulp...

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 11:18PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I cut my Dark Knight back weeks ago and it's been sending out new growth for a couple of weeks. We got to 5 below here last winter with no snow cover.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 6:41AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

All of my Butterfly bushes are back from the base but they were slow to come up after the difficult winter we had. 'Black Knight' isn't it? 'Pink Delight', and a couple of the dwarf bushes.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 7:16AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I cut mine back in the spring, when I have time. This year, I did it last week. BB are famous for coming up late, and even if the only growth you see is from the base/underground, that bush will fill out FAST - don't fret.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 11:27AM
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They might not make it especially if not well established. Here in zone 7 I had two die but one made it out of the three I planted last year. I dug up the two, the roots looked dead and mushy. I replaced them with something else since I'd bought them on impulse anyway knowing they don't do real well in very hot drought conditions unless they are kept watered.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 2:31PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

This afternoon we cut down our big one that was a key vertical tree-like element in the main front bed. We haven't tried to dig it out or inspect the roots. Maybe it'll come back but I'm not holding my breath...! It's absence creates quite a hole in the front garden but I think some other things already there will be able to fill the gap - hopefully before too many weeds take advantage of the newly opened space! I suspect I may have lost another mid-sized BB but I'm giving it a bit more time before cutting it down.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 2:48PM
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I'll have to cut mine back in the next few days. Thanks mxk! I know from last year those tiny little guys grow to full bush size in no time - I'm just thankful it pulled through the winter.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 7:54PM
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I'm north of Boston, in Lowell - high up on the hill. I have one 10 foot butterfly bush grown from seed and at least 3 other big bushy ones from Home Depot that have been growing in the back garden for several years. So far this year, there's been no sign of life on any of them. It's been a cold spring so far, so I'm hoping they are just still dormant and waiting for some warmth. Our garden is a certified wildlife habitat and butterfly layover station and they're saying to steer away from butterfly bushes now as they only provide nectar. We've put in alot of milkweed. I'll do some research for good butterfly nectar and host plants to take the place of the butterfly bushes if they don't come back. The lilacs around here are going crazy - I wish they kept their blooms as long as the butterfly bushes do. Our butterfly bushes keep their blooms through October, sometimes November!

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard Butterfly Garden

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 2:26PM
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eclecticcottage(6b wny)

We have just over 100 BB on our property, most of them were bought two years ago from the county as bare root twigs. I'd say about 70% of them are showing leaves, and of that, maybe 30% of them are really going to town and greening up nicely. Those that aren't showing signs of life aren't brittle though so I think they are just later starters. Most of them are all species I think, only some are named cultivars-of those, Red Velvet (2 plants) and Blue Chip (4 plants) are showing nothing yet, I can't get to Honey Comb and Miss Molly because they are near the back of a garden full of poppies at the moment so I'm not sure on them. Also, Purple Emperor (4 plants) are looking pretty stick like still (I haven't seen anything from them) and one Black Knight has base growth while the other doesn't-same for the two Bicolors I have (and the one WITH growth was just rooted last year off of a three year old plant, which is the one showing no leaves yet).

I'd still give them time up north.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 4:09PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

If you are still waiting for Butterfly Bushes to show growth, I would make sure they are kept moist. I know we have had a lot of cloudy weather but at least in my yard, I still have dry spots. I did notice that as soon as I watered them, they doubled their earlier growth.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 4:27PM
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tepelus z6a SW MI

You're right prairiemoon2, it is Black Knight, not Dark Knight. Whoops!


    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 11:01PM
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a2zmom(6a - nj)

I am so glad I just saw this thread, I have given up my 10 year old butterfly bush for dead but now I feel there is hope. I am going to check carefully for shoots.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 6:36PM
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Pretty sure mine is dead at this point, so went to the nursery to get another. I guess everyone else has the same issue because they were completely sold out of the popular varieties, even though they have tons of everything else.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 2:14AM
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michey1st_gw Zone 7

Update on my BB here in Maryland, Zone 7. It's started regrowing from the roots -- the woody stems from last year seem to be toast.So, YAY, it's still alive! But booo... it may take awhile....

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 12:49PM
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I have not had very good luck with butterfly bushes in my garden. They don't seem to survive the winter. I asked a person at a local nursery and she admitted they probably aren't really hardy enough for our area (Zone 5 NY). But they sure seem to be selling a lot of them.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 8:53PM
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