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How to Care for a Dying Butterfly Bush

butterfly gathering nectar image by Robert Ford from

A lush butterfly bush can brighten any garden area with hardy leaves and large, bottlebrush-like flowers from blue, to purple to pink. The flowers are what gives the plant its namesake as they attract a variety of insects, most notably butterflies. While the butterfly bush is a delight for most gardeners, it can be a sore point if the bush appears to be dying. To care for a dying butterfly bush, often all that is needed is to make sure the branches are fresh, the soil is rich, and the right amount of water is being given.

Trim off any brown, dead flowers by cutting with pruners just behind the flower where it meets the stem. If you are in the growing season, be sure not to clip the next bud or stem in line for flowering.

Cut back the plant to within a few inches of the ground if your region is currently in winter, anytime between the first frost of winter and early spring.

Loosen the upper 2 inches of soil with a cultivator, careful to not disturb the roots of the butterfly bush, and add 2 inches of nutrient-rich compost. Mix the ground soil with the compost, using the cultivator.

Pull away any weeds from around the bush to help cut out competition for water. Add 3 inches of mulch around the base of the plant to block new weeds from growing.

Water the butterfly bush only about once a week after checking to make sure the soil beneath the mulch is dry. As an evergreen, the butterfly bush doesn’t tolerate sitting in standing water and can withstand going dry between watering.

Consider moving the bush to a new location if practicing the above steps doesn’t improve the productivity of your butterfly bush over the course of the next growing season. Be sure the new spot is in full sun, well-draining soil, and you’ll want to continue to deadhead over the summer and cut back the plant in the winter.


If your soil needs improving, rake back the mulch and add more compost monthly following step 3.

Often standard fertilizer can be too strong for butterfly bushes and can actually stop them from flowering, so a rich compost or slow-releasing rose fertilizer is your best option.

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