July is a month in the northwest when all sorts of plants come into bloom. Annuals are finally filling in, the list of perennials goes on forever, and many shrubs are showing color. Fortunately, summer blooming shrubs can be reduced to 10 or 12 tried and true flavors and one of the best is the Butterfly Bush, aka Buddleia species.
These summer bloomers are tough as nails and total sun and drought lovers. In fact, they are so tough that they have come under scrutiny of the Department of Agriculture for their propensity to become noxious weeds in the northwest. This time of year you can find them blooming along the freeway medians and in vacant lots or clearings. Several years ago when the missus and I were traveling in England, I even saw some growing 20 feet in the air in the rain gutter on a building. I am pretty sure no one planted them there!
The good news is that breeders have now developed varieties that are either totally sterile or nearly sterile, which means their seeds will not germinate and create problems in our gardens and landscapes. And, as a fringe benefit, they will bloom longer since no energy is going into seed production. Many new varieties are now on the market that we can plant with a clear conscience. Here are some examples:
Blue Chip Lo and Behold: this is a Proven Winner (PW) introduction that is ideal for container growing or front of the border placement. It sports blue flowers all summer and grows 24-30 inches tall and as wide.
Purple Haze: another PW intro with purple flowers that also stays low like Lo and Behold.
Miss Ruby: like the name implies, this one has rich vivid pink blooms and tops out at only 4-5 feet tall.
Asian Moon: a taller growing variety with dark purple flowers much like Black Night but without the seeding problems.
Blueberry Cobbler and Peach Cobbler: both of these have more complex colored flowers with a mixture of blue and purple accented with oranges and yellow.
Plant Butterfly bushes in full sun with well drained soil. Prune them back in late winter or early spring to stimulate new growth, which is where the blooms develop. Occasionally you will need to remove some dead wood if Mother Nature decides to be naughty. As they come into bloom you will notice a slight fragrance and, if you are lucky, many butterflies. They are totally disease free and extremely easy to grow. As long as you don’t prune them back hard in the fall they should live for a long time in your garden.
Now, onto the more depressing subject of salvaging the garden after this last downpour.
Causalities of the latest so called “showers” included my very nice clump of Joe Pye Weed which is now half the clump it was before. Fellow gardeners have been commiserating about moping Monardas and plopping Peonies and drooping delphiniums. Simply put, if you can’t get it vertical again then just whack it back half way and hope for the best and next time be better prepared. I know, this sounds like tough love but this is about all you can do. I have an entire platoon of staking devices in my garden shed and it is nobodies fault but my own that they weren’t installed prior to this latest “rain event”. So quit sniveling, fix what you can and move on. Life is too short to dwell on our misfortunes.
Send me your questions and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise I will respond in a timely manner.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.