July 30th, 2011
Had enough of those big, rangy buddleias? The sinful ones that grow 15’ tall, crowd the walkway and wantonly seed themselves all over kingdom come? You know, the miscreants that outgrow their allotted space in a year or two and needed deadheading every other day to keep them blooming?
Well, take heart; the plant propagators have heard your plea. Say hello to a new family of small and dwarf butterfly bushes. Like our old familiars, they bloom from midsummer to frost, attract swallowtails, monarchs and skippers by the dozen, and provide focal points in the garden. But these new guys bloom continuously, rather than in waves. And because they’re little, they’re perfect for containers, ground cover or border use. And tah dah! They cast almost no seed.
The first dwarf cultivar, introduced a couple of years ago by Proven Winners, is buddleia Lo and Behold, ‘Blue Chip’. This mounding, 2’ high plant is well-branched, offers an entirely new form for butterfly bushes and is compact enough for edging. Mine anchors a corner of my Front Walk Garden, where I can admire both its purple blooms and the droves of butterflies drawn to it.
Another newbie is ‘Miss Ruby’. She’s a bit bigger than ‘Blue Chip’, clocking in at 4’ x 4’. She presents in a stunning shade of fuchsia-purple overlaid with red, and her foliage is well-branched and elegantly pointed.
Though the pundits say you don’t have to deadhead these new smaller buddleias, I do anyway, just for the sake of neatness. The spent flower panicles are easy to remove with garden clippers, and I simply let them drop to the ground where they quickly blend into the mulch. I figure they’ll provide a bit more free organic matter to the soil.
Buddleias in general need little fertilizer if grown in good dirt, but give them full sun. They are drought tolerant once established and seldom, if ever require additional water except at planting or transplanting time.
These butterfly magnets should not be pruned in the fall. Rather, wait until mid-March, around St. Patty’s Day, and clip them down to 18”. I know, I know, they’ll look terribly wounded. You’ll be sure, in fact, that you’ve killed them dead. But, since buddleias are summer bloomers, they’ll make flowers on the new stems that emerge after pruning.
Buddleias are fragrant, and with some effort, can be used as a cut flower. In the early morning or evening choose spikes which are just opening. Slit the stems and dip in boiling water. Remove foliage below the water line, and stand in deep warm water for several hours. (If this sounds like a lot of work for a vase of flowers that’ll maybe last three days, I agree with you. I’d rather let the butterflies have the blooms.)
Try the new buddleias. In this instance the sins of the fathers are not visited on the sons.