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Volume XVII, Issue 12 - March 19 - March 25, 2009
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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Frank Gouin

Better Flowers and More Butterflies

Chop that butterfly bush to the ground, now

For some unknown reason, owners of butterfly bushes are afraid to prune them.

The butterfly bush is a delightful plant to include in your landscape because it guarantees an abundance of butterflies all summer long. There are times that I have counted over a dozen butterflies visiting my plant on a hot summer’s day. So growing a butterfly bush gets you ready to learn to identify butterflies.

Butterfly bush is as sturdy as it is attractive. This shrub refuses to die — even if you mow it to the ground. And you should.

Every spring, in mid-March, prune every stem growing from the base of the plant back to within a few inches of the ground. Do not allow one standing stem to remain. The earlier you prune your butterfly bush to the ground, the earlier it will start flowering in the summer.

Make certain you completely remove all stems smaller than a pencil in diameter. This means getting down on your hands and knees and carefully removing those weak twiggy stems.

Plants that have been in the ground 10 or more years need a more severe hand. Older plants generally develop an enlarged center stump. Unless this stump is cut flush to the ground with a pruning saw or chainsaw every five or more years, the center of the plant will begin to die out. By cutting the stump close to the ground, you will be forcing new shoots to develop from the roots.

No Need to Fear Volunteers

There are some who are afraid of planting butterfly bushes in their yards because they tend to seed themselves. I have had a butterfly bush in my landscape for over 15 years, and that has not been a problem. This is because I frequently hoe the soil around my plant, which keeps the weeds and young seedlings under control.

However, on the market are triploid seedlings of butterfly bush that do not produce viable seeds. A triploid seedling has an unpaired chromosome, which means that the flowers are essentially sterile and cannot set seeds. These new triploid seedlings are also available in light pink, deep pink, red and purple. All appear to be equally attractive to butterflies.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly.
Please include your name and address.

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