My Butterfly Bush Looks Dead – How To Revive A Butterfly Bush

My Butterfly Bush Looks Dead – How To Revive A Butterfly Bush

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By: Liz Baessler

Butterfly bushes are great assets in the garden. They bring vibrant color and all kinds of pollinators. They are perennials, and they should be able to survive the winter in USDA zones 5 through 10. Sometimes they have a harder time coming back from the cold, however. Keep reading to learn what to do if your butterfly bush is not coming back in the spring, and how to revive a butterfly bush.

My Butterfly Bush Looks Dead

Butterfly plants not leafing out in the spring is a common complaint, but it’s not necessarily a sign of doom. Just because they can survive the winter does not mean they will come bouncing back from it, especially if the weather has been particularly bad. Usually, all you need is a little patience.

Even if the other plants in your garden are beginning to produce new growth and your butterfly bush is not coming back, give it some more time. It may be long after the last frost before it begins to put out new leaves. While your butterfly bush dying may be your biggest worry, it should be able to take care of itself.

How to Revive a Butterfly Bush

If your butterfly bush is not coming back and you feel like it should be, there are some tests you can do to see if it’s still alive.

  • Try the scratch test. Gently scrape a fingernail or sharp knife against a stem – if this reveals green underneath, then that stem is still alive.
  • Try gently twisting a stem around your finger – if it snaps off, it’s probably dead, but if it bends, it’s probably alive.
  • If it’s late in the spring and you discover dead growth on your butterfly bush, prune it away. New growth can only come from living stems, and this should encourage it to start growing. Don’t do it too early, though. A bad frost after this kind of pruning can kill back all that healthy living wood you’ve just exposed.

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Read more about Butterfly Bush

Thank you for attaching images to your inquiry. Your butterfly bush appears to have been in your garden for many years. It may be past time to replace it with a new specimen.

The woody stems of butterfly bushes are less durable than those of woody trees and shrubs. On a butterfly bush, a stub of more than ¼-inch which remains after pruning will often die. Such dieback may even affect the next larger branch. With time, the center pith of the stub dies and either shrinks from the more sturdy exterior wall or is hollowed out by certain insects.

As for the tiny green insects, please send an image of them and another of their damage. After we identify them, I can suggest an appropriate remedy.

Your other inquiry asking about the damage “on everything with a woody stalk” was rejected because it was considered to be a duplicate. That said, the bark is peeling because something killed the underlying wood quite some time ago. If this image is of the butterfly bush, it is most likely secondary to the loss of some of the branches.

Deadheading Butterfly Bush – When should you do it?

Generally, the deadheading process is carried out by many horticulturists and plant growers for ornamental purposes. As described earlier, that deadheading Butterfly Bushes not only makes its flowers attractive but also incites the plant to bloom more. This replacement with the newcomers also allows the gardeners to smell the fresh fragrance which new flowers diffuse.

The time perspective to perform deadheading of the flowers differs from plant to plant. While the care it demands may also vary in different plants, but happily, Butterfly Bushes are considered ‘’gem’’ ornaments due to the lesser care and attention they demand.

In contrast, while talking about Butterfly Bush, the general purpose of deadheading is also linked to the environmental protection perspective. The ethical purpose of deadheading the Butterfly Bush is also important, as it minimizes the risks of their invasion by reducing the spreading of seeds.

So, there lies a slight difference in this idea such as ‘’when you deadhead your Butterfly Bush plant’’. The slight difference is also covered below.

Q. buddleia wilted

I am having work done in my garden and had to move my buddleia. Now it's wilted. How can I revive it?

When you dug up the plant, you left some of the roots behind. Now there aren't enough roots to support all the leaves. The answer is to prune off some of the branches. Make sure the earth where you replant has been well-worked, so the new roots can easily grow into it, and make sure the root ball and surrounding area get plenty of water. Here's an article on transplanting that might offer some more tips:

Other Care Requirements

During the first growing season, make sure to keep the soil around the roots thoroughly moist, but not waterlogged. You don’t have to water it every day, especially during the rainy season. Just water well when the soil seems dry.

Once established, all the varieties are pretty tolerant to draught, and will only need watering during particularly long dry spells. Check your plant for signs like wilted leaves as it indicates a need for water.

Although it can survive and grow in partial shade, it does best in full sun, producing fuller, vibrant flowers. If you are growing your butterfly bush in a pot, keep it at a spot that receives a lot of direct sunlight.


They do not require constant fertilization. In fact, some gardeners find that fertilizing too much may actually affect the leaves and flower production. If you amend the soil properly with compost before planting, further application of 2-3 inch of compost around the plant roots just once every spring will be enough. In addition to feeding the plant, compost also helps the soil hold moisture for longer by enhancing the organic matter in it.

Avoid fertilizing for about two months before the beginning of frost to prepare the plant for winter. It makes sure there are no new growths that can get damaged by the cold when the plant goes dormant.

When done once every spring, it helps with weed control. In northern climates, applying about a 6-inch mulch layer can help the roots survive the harsh winter.

Pruning and Deadheading

Though quite low-maintenance otherwise, these plants do need an annual trimming and regular deadheading (snipping off any browning flower clusters in fall to encourage more flower-growth, and prevent self-seeding in fertile varieties).

In warmer climates, prune the plant once early in spring to remove any broken or winter-damaged branches.

In northern regions, butterfly bushes die back to the ground in winter, so wait till late in spring to make sure if it is dead. If it does not come back, trim it down to just around 6 inches from the ground. Make sure not to prune at the beginning of winter, as at that time, the stems become hollow, and pruning makes water accumulate within the branches, eventually freezing them from the inside.

How to Care for a Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush, or Buddleja davidii, derives its name from its ability to attract butterflies to the garden. Growers also value the shrub for its attractive foliage and brightly colored flowers that appear in summer in shades of white, yellow, pink, red, blue and purple, depending on the variety. Butterfly bush reaches heights of 10 to 12 feet when given proper care, and gardeners often use the shrub for border plantings. Native to northwestern China and areas of Japan, butterfly bush thrives in hardiness zones 5 through 10 in the United States.

Plant butterfly bush during early spring, just before active growth begins. Choose a planting site that receives six to eight hours of full sunlight throughout the day and has fertile, well-drained soil. Space butterfly bushes at least 5 to 10 feet apart.

  • Butterfly bush, or Buddleja davidii, derives its name from its ability to attract butterflies to the garden.
  • Butterfly bush reaches heights of 10 to 12 feet when given proper care, and gardeners often use the shrub for border plantings.

Apply a 1/2-inch layer of compost followed by a 3-inch layer of mulch to the soil each spring. Begin the mulch about 3 inches from the base of the butterfly bush to reduce the chance of disease. Replenish as necessary throughout the year to maintain 3 inches of mulch.

Water once per week during spring and summer, but only on weeks that receive less than 1 inch of rainfall. Do not water during winter, when active growth has stopped. Never allow standing water to accumulate, or the plant's crown may rot.

Feed butterfly bush once per year during early spring, just after active growth has resumed. Use a complete 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer to provide adequate nutrients for root formation and flowering. Apply following the instructions provided by the manufacturer for the best result.

  • Apply a 1/2-inch layer of compost followed by a 3-inch layer of mulch to the soil each spring.
  • Use a complete 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer to provide adequate nutrients for root formation and flowering.

Prune butterfly bush once per year during early spring before new growth begins. Use pruning shears to remove dead, damaged or leggy growth to improve the appearance of the plant and conserve nutrients. Remove spent flowers to extend the blooming period.

Butterfly bush may die back during winter in zones 5 and 6, but it will return the following spring with new growth.

Butterfly bush flowers are commonly taken as cuttings and used in flower arrangements and bouquets.


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