Skip to Content

When To Cut Back A Butterfly Bush [And How To Do That]

Keeping your garden manicured and looking its best all year long can feel impossible. Do you want to trim your butterfly bush but don't have a clue when to do this? Can you cut back a butterfly bush in the winter, or is it better to do any pruning when the weather's warm?

We answer all these questions throughout this article. With that said, let's dive in!

The best time to cut back a butterfly bush is during the springtime; once new growth has started to form. Considering your plant will lose its leaves during the winter, you don't want to do any pruning before that timeframe or directly afterward.

Butterfly bushes are more susceptible to winter damage, so it's generally best to give your plant enough time to recover before trimming.

As we begin, we will cover all things butterfly bushes and discuss when and how to trim one. Whether you're new to this flowering species or think it's time for some light pruning, we're here to assist. With that said, let's dive right into this post below!

3 butterflies (admiral) on light purple summer lilacs, When To Cut Back A Butterfly Bush [And How To Do That]

What Time Of Year Is Best For Pruning A Butterfly Bush?

The beautifully marked butterfly on the alluring flower of the Buddleia plant.

For anyone wanting to prune their butterfly bush, try to hold off until mid-spring. Typically, your bush will start to form new growth within the first few weeks of warm weather, so it's best to leave your plant alone during that time.

Once you begin to notice greenery, you can start cutting back your butterfly bush. As we said, this flowering plant species loses its leaves during the winter, so a fall trim isn't necessary.

Pruning a butterfly bush in full bloom can also be harmful, so there is a short window to do this. Therefore, many gardeners don't trim their butterfly bushes but rather train them to grow within a specific area.

You don't want to harm your bush before its dormancy, but you also don't want to stunt it during its prime spring/summer growing season.

Of course, if you see a leggy branch on your butterfly bush and decide to trim it, we don't see any issues with this, so moderate trimming throughout the year should be okay.

How Do You Cut Back A Butterfly Bush?

Cutting back a butterfly bush is simple and doesn't require "hard" pruning. Generally, all you need to do is cut your bush right above where any new buds or leaves have formed.

As we mentioned earlier, you don't need to do this often or severely at any time during the year. When the winter hits, butterfly bushes will go into dormancy.

That means they will lose their greenery and flowers and become woodier. Once the spring comes around, you will see tiny green patches grow near and on these stems, which you can later prune if you see fit.

On the other hand, if you're somewhere extremely cold, your butterfly bush may take longer to start greening out. Therefore, you don't want to prune anything on your plant until the weather consistently remains warm for a few weeks.

Do Butterfly Bushes Grow Fast?

Yes, it is common for a butterfly bush to grow rather quickly. With an average yearly growth rate of 24+ inches, many gardeners see their butterfly bushes reach mature heights within 1-2 growing seasons.

Considering these shrubs will reach between six and ten feet tall, you can expect one to fill out pretty fast. 

If you have multiple butterfly bushes, you're growing; this could mean your garden will have a gorgeous, fragrant landscape within one or two years!

This super-fast growth rate can explain why so many people love using this species in their yards.

Pugster Blue Butterfly Bush

This live butterfly bush comes in a 4.5-inch container, weighs roughly 1.3 pounds, prefers full sun, has a USDA growing zone recommendation of 5-9, and will be between six and 12 months old upon arrival.

Follow this link to view it on Amazon.

Are Butterfly Bushes Easy To Grow And Manage?

Butterfly bush with many butterflies in the garden

Overall, butterfly bushes will be very easy to grow and care for. However, it is crucial that you meet their basic requirements in terms of sun exposure, water, and soil.

Most importantly, butterfly bushes need full sun (8+ hours) to live. If your garden tends to be shady during the daytime, you might not see your plant thrive or get very big.

For soil needs, butterfly bushes don't like to sit on heavily compacted or soggy grounds. If you have poor drainage or thick, clay soil in your yard, don't expect your butterfly bush to do well.

Ideally, you should add some sand and organic matter to more compacted grounds, which will help break them up a bit.

For your watering schedule, you don't need to give a butterfly bush too much moisture in one sitting. Instead, we recommend giving your plant roughly one inch of water during peak growing periods.

If it's late fall or winter, you may not have to water your plant more than once a week (or at all).

One of the interesting facts about butterfly bushes is that they can withstand drought. So if you aren't able to water or it doesn't rain as much one year, your plant will likely pull through.

When Is The Best Time To Plant A Butterfly Bush?

The best times for planting a butterfly bush are in the fall or early spring. Whether you want to plant an already established bush or one from seed, you can do this before the winter hits or right after.

Between the two timeframes, we recommend planting live butterfly bushes in the spring, while you can plant seeds in the fall.

With that said, some people may be able to plant their butterfly bushes any time of the year if they live somewhere sub-tropical or extremely moderate.

For example, if you live in Florida, you can likely plant butterfly bush seeds or live plants during the winter, as it won't usually drop below freezing.

Unlike someone in Michigan, where if they plant their bush during winter, it will likely die/fall dormant.

How Long Do Butterfly Bushes Live?

Although many flowering shrubs don't live long, the butterfly bush puts all critics to shame. Usually, you can expect a butterfly bush to live for around 30 years.

That is a crazy amount of time for a bush to live, grow, and produce flowers, hence why this species is such a crowd pleaser.

Generally, butterfly bushes, if in the proper conditions, won't need much attention to flourish. Think of this species as self-sufficient, only needing help from you for occasional watering.

Again, that's not to say you should ignore your butterfly bush entirely, but if you forget to water it or prune it, don't expect it to die.

Where you plant a butterfly bush will also affect its lifespan. For example, if you grow yours inside or in a more urban environment, it may only live a decade or so.

On the other hand, if you have a large plot of land and your butterfly bush can absorb the sun and nutrients around it, it could exceed that 30-year estimate.

Do I Need To Fertilize My Butterfly Bush?

In general, you don't need to fertilize a butterfly bush to see it flourish. Without any additional products, butterfly bushes tend to grow well on their own, as long as they get plenty of sun.

However, if you want to fertilize your bush, there are ways to do this. We recommend using a balanced liquid or slow-release granular formula for butterfly bushes (20-20-20 or 20-30-20, or 18-24-16).

If possible, try to find organic fertilizer or matter to use for your butterfly bush.

Considering this species doesn't require extra products to grow, applying harsh chemicals can send it into shock. It's better to use natural products in your garden anyways, as they have less damaging effects on the soil and environment, so keep that in mind.

Liqui-Dirt Nano Powder All-Purpose Organic Complete Plant Food

This organic fertilizer is all-natural, has a balanced formula, contains vitamins and minerals, doesn't expire, is GMO-free, is made by hand in the USA, and produces 50 gallons.

Check out this organic fertilizer on Amazon.

Are Butterfly Bushes Bad For The Environment?

Monarch on Butterfly Bush

Although these fragrant plants are beautiful to look at, it has been found they are incredibly invasive and can be destructive to natural ecosystems.

According to the experts at Brandy Wine, planting butterfly bushes in your yard can quickly become a problem for the land nearby.

Specifically, these flowering shrubs tend to multiply like a wildfire and can take over native species.

Some commonly affected ecosystems you should avoid planting butterfly bushes nearby include riverbanks, reforested areas, and open fields.

One of the main issues that butterfly bushes have is their thick, shrubby "thickets," which can halt the development of other species, like willow, from forming.

So, even though these may attract butterflies to your garden, planting a butterfly bush could be doing more harm than good for your property.

To Wrap Up

A vibrantly colourful monarch butterfly upon a purple butterfly bush

Whether you have a butterfly bush growing in your yard or want to plant one, it's always good to know their upkeep needs. From what we found, you can cut back a butterfly bush in the spring once new growth starts developing.

You want to avoid pruning this species during the summer, fall, and winter, as it is more likely to become sick or die. Butterfly bushes go dormant and lose their foliage during winter, so you might not need to prune at all.

Made it to the end? Check out these other helpful related gardening posts below!

Should You Cut The Flowers Off Laurel? [When And How To Deadhead]

What To Plant Under Redbud Trees? [Flowers, Grass, & More!]

Crepe Myrtle Flowers Are Falling Off - What's Wrong?