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Butterfly Bushes

Q.Have I Overpruned My Butterfly Bushes?

mamie added on May 16, 2011 | Answered

Help! I am absolutely heartbroken over damage I may have caused to my butterfly bushes but am hopeful wiser thumbs than I can provide some insight. I live in upstate NY, Zone 5, and have grown various types of butterfly bushes for many years. My personal rule of thumb is to slightly prune the bushes in early spring – this has resulted in big, bushy flowering spectacles. However, due to Farmer Almanac predictions of a harsh cold winter this year (and man, was that on the $$), I decided to prune post flowering, in late fall 2010. In addition, I slightly pruned back this spring 2011. Here it is mid May and my butterfly bushes barely have greenery growing and only at the very base. It seems the new growth is showing up only in the areas that didn’t get pruned back. My one bush got to be 11-12 feet tall (it was the pride of the neighborhood!), but now I barely have greenery at the base. So besides this pity party I’m having (yes, I am in total mourning!), my question is: Ok, while the bushes appear to be alive, should I completely cut them back now to where the greenery is growing, OR do I leave the stark woody branches alone and allow the greenery to catch up to the top, OR will that even happen? I should end by noting that I believe my overpruning contributed to the BB’s lack of current robustness, but of course the harsh winter may have contributed to their current state as well. . . but the question remains: How to tend these hearty bushes now? (or in the words of the great BeeGees, “how do you mend a broken butterfly bush?”)

Thank you,
Heartbroken in Albany

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Certified GKH Gardening Expert
Answered on May 19, 2011

The harsh winter is the likely culprit. Butterfly bushes take to severe pruning well actually. Some people chop it to the ground each year.

I would trim out anything that is dead. If the branches are brittle and dry, they are dead. If they are still pliable, they are still alive and should regrow.

Many parts of the country are experiencing a cold spring. If this is the case where you are, the plant may just be slowed down a bit by the colder than usual weather.

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Answered on June 24, 2011

Heather: Thank you for your feedback. It is now late June, & after following your advice, I am pleased to note that all (3) Butterfly Bushes are regrowing strong & tall. I did not lose any bushes however my 11Ft tall bush is about half its original size But is robust & about to bloom! I hope this advice helps others in a similar pickle.

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