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9 January 2013

An Introduction to Buddleias

One of my favourite shrubs in my garden is Buddleia Davidii - the butterfly bush. Although butterfly numbers have been down for the last couple of years, some have still visited my bushes in late summer when buddleias are at their peak. Originally a Chinese introduction, it is the best plant for attracting and sustaining British butterflies, and can attract 22 native species.

In the wild buddleias tend to grow in rocky ravines, so plant them in a sunny position on well-drained soil, assuming that your garden is lacking a rocky ravine. If your soil is heavy you would be advised to dig in organic material and sand to improve drainage before planting. Buddleias also prefer alkaline soil so you may want to add lime to acid soil to alter the pH. As you can see by the way they colonise waste ground they will survive in most conditions, and can often be seen growing out of walls.

There is a wide range of varieties of Buddleia on offer - some of which are rather large for the average garden. The smaller types tend to look better in a domestic garden, though the larger varieties can be kept compact with hard pruning in March. Listed below are some suggestions

The hybrid ‘Lochinch’ ( D. davidii x B. fallowiana) has small flower spikes which are lavender-blue with an orange eye, and small silvery grey-green leaves which last through winter in milder areas, or in sheltered positions. Loss of leaves through the winter doesn't prevent the plant blooming again the following year.

‘Nanho Blue’ and ‘Nanho Purple’ are both excellent hybrids, reaching 1.5 m (4 ft) in height with long, slender flower spikes - the former in indigo blue and the latter in purple. The flower spikes bend very gracefully.

If you prefer a larger buddleia choose ‘Dartmouth’ which is hardy and tall, reaching 5 m or 16 ft. It has hand-shaped magenta blooms with several spikes appearing from one ‘palm’.

Those of you who prefer a traditional buddleia may consider ‘Black Knight’, which has dark purple flowers, ‘Royal Red’, which is a rich-magenta, or ‘Empire Blue’, which bears small blue flower spikes. All three are older, taller varieties which benefit from pruning in late winter or early spring.

Some compact varieties have been developed especially for smaller gardens and they include the pink ‘Peacock’ and ‘Pink Delight’. ‘Pink Delight’ is the prettiest pink with long fragrant flower spikes and silvery foliage.

For those looking for an even smaller plant there is Buzz’™ - the world's first patio buddleja! Perfectly proportioned for patio pots and smaller gardens, it has a height and spread of 4ft (120cm).

Regular deadheading as the flowers fade will encourage continuous flowering, while removing every spent flower at the end of the year will prevent unwanted seedlings. Alternatively leave the flowers on to provide food for birds through the winter.

Buddleias need savage pruning, especially the taller varieties, and this should be carried out in late winter or early spring. Pruning in autumn may result in the death of your plant. Cut away the previous years growth to two or three buds from their base. Unless you want to remove a branch entirely, to reshape buddleia, do not cut back into the older wood, which is usually thicker and darker coloured, as this may not readily sprout new shoots. The pruned shrub will have a low framework of branches from which shoots will grow rapidly to produce flowers in summer. If you’re dealing with an overgrown buddleia take one half down in one year ( in March) and the second half in the following year ( again in March).

Top dress with manure in autumn or sprinkle on an organic feed ( like 6 X) in late spring to improve the number of flowers.

You can propogate further plants by taking softwood cuttings in late spring, just as the stems begin to harden up a little. In the past I have potted up plants which have seeded themselves in our block paving and border, and these have since been planted out elsewhere in the garden.

I hope you get as much pleasure from your buddleias as I get from mine, and let's hope for bushes covered in butterflies next summer.
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