Bring on the butterflies (Buddleja)

Buddleia alternifolia Butterfly Bush Plant SelectButterfly bushes (Buddleja daviddii selections) have been extremely popular and successful plants for pollinator gardens in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, this popularity, ease-of-growth, and abundant seed-set have also caused them to become a menace, particularly in wetlands in warmer climates. In fact, few garden plants have caused so much controversy in recent years as B. daviddii.

Fortunately, a related species of butterfly bush, B. alternifolia, is much more “polite”: decades of Silver Fountain butterfly bush, a silver-leaved and more cold-hardy selection of B. alternifolia was selected as Plant Select® winner in 1998 for its adaptability to western gardens, gracefully arching branches, immense lavender flower clusters and beautiful silvery leaves.

Silver Fountain is a large shrub so needs plenty of space to really show off its cascading form. Blooming in late spring, the sweetly fragrant flowers are most attractive to butterflies in the heat of midday. When the blooms have faded, the plant remains attractive because of the interesting grey-green-silvery foliage.

Wildlife benefits
: Silver Fountain butterfly bush attracts bees, butterflies, wasps, hornets, lady beetles, lacewings and moths. Nectar-feeding birds like orioles and bushtits sip on the flowers during the growing season; seed-eaters chow down on the seeds in winter. Buddleja act as both nectaring and food plants to many butterflies, including some that normally feed on other plants.

Some butterfly species attracted to Buddleja (list adapted from Plant Delights Nursery):

  • American Snout
  • Anise Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Common Buckeye
  • Common Checkered-Skipper
  • Compton Tortoiseshell
  • Eastern Comma
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Monarch
  • Mourning Cloak
  • Painted Lady
  • Pearl Crescent
  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Sagebrush Checkerspot
  • Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtail
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail

Growing tips: Silver Fountain butterfly bush blooms on old wood, so prune immediately after blooming for shape. It’s okay to prune out dead branches at any time.

View the plant profile here.

At a Oglance:
Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush (Buddleja alternifolia ‘Argentea’)

  • Height: 12-15’
  • Width: 10-12’
  • Growth habit: Large shrub with arching branches
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
  • How to Use: Use in a large shrub border, as an informal hedge, as a specimen in a mixed border and to attract butterflies.
  • Culture: Sunny spots with moderate to dry conditions in most soils–very adaptable. Doesn’t tolerate wet feet so be sure to provide good drainage, especially in winter.
  • Reported to be deer and rabbit resistant

Thanks to Pat Hayward, Plant Select®, for writing this piece.

17 responses to “Bring on the butterflies (Buddleja)”

  1. Bud Lambert says:

    I have one of these growing in my yard. My wife and I and my neighbors love it. It was planted before we bought our house and is still flourishing 20 years later. I have pruned it every 3rd year and it always seems brand new. And in bloom it is breathtaking and very fragrant. Hummingbirds love it!

  2. Terry Tammadge says:

    I’d like to put this Silver Fountain is an area that may be too small.
    Just the right spot, sun-wise; the strip next to my driveway really needs help.

    The usable space is about 5 X 20 and I wanted to be a a bit more showy than ornamental grasses
    and would love to feed butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

    Can I keep this big beauty under enough control in the space allowed?


    • Ross Shrigley says:

      I’ve seen people keep this great plant on the smaller side. Just remember that it is not like the other Butterfly bushes in the trade. You won’t get any flowers if you cut it back every spring. It only flowers on second year and older growth. You’ll have to plan your cuts to rotate out branches that get to large. Don’t just prune the tips, commit to pruning larger branches hard. Good luck and enjoy!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m curious what you mean by “Buddleia act as both nectaring and food plants” do you mean that it is known to host larvae of some butterflies? If so, which species?

  4. Carol Ubosi says:

    I have had my Fountain Buddleia in a shady location, it has been moved into full sun. It has never bloomed in the 10 years we have had it. Do you think it will bloom this spring?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Yes it should if you did not prune it back. Buddleia alternifolia is not like the other Buddleia daviddii where you can prune them back in the spring and the B. davddii bloom on new wood growth. This Silver Fountain Butterfly bush blooms on second-year wood which means it will set buds in the fall on the woody stems that grew over that summer. If you need to prune it back, try pruning only a third of the canes at a time and then you will be assured something will bloom the following year. Siver Fountain Butterfly bush is a reliable bloomer as it matures.

  5. Ginger MacLean says:

    I got this last year in a large nursery pot and had placed it in the corner of my yard with every good intention of planting it. Well, it didn’t happen. I did water it come end of winter, and lo and behold, it is pushing out leaves. If this were any other butterfly bush, it never would have survived my neglect. Now I am ready to plant this beauty in a place of honor in my yard! It is truly hardy and I can’t wait to see it flourish!

  6. Mari wasserburger says:

    I just bought this lovely shrub today! What should I put in the hole when I plant it?? I bought compost and normally use Espoma Plant Tone when I plant most of my flowering shrubs and perennials.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Those ingredients will work perfectly for this plant. Mix in well and not too much. Enjoy!

  7. Vivian says:

    I have one Silver Fountains bush, would love to have more, however I’m unable to locate any here in the northeast(NH) Where can I find them, please!!!?? I’ve asked every garden center I go to… luck!

    • Karen McCarthy says:

      You might try Bluebird Nursery in NE. I purchased mine and many other Plant Select plants from them.

  8. Ty says:

    I would like to propogate another bush from my current one. Do I just plant a seed and nurture under a grow light until ready to plant in a pot in my window? Any information available on propogating one of these great shrubs?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Yes you can easily grow these plants up from seedlings you find underneath their canopy. Grow them in a recycled one-gallon container with potting soil. Then plant them out when there is a nice rootball in the container.

  9. Bridget says:

    I have a new silver fountain butterfly that just went into the ground this spring. It is now about 3ft-ish high. What should I do to get it ready for winter? I’m worried that it is so small and weak, it won’t survive much snow load. Second, when/how do I prune a silver fountain (do I need to prune at all?)? It seems like these have different pruning needs than other butterfly bushes.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Do nothing except water to water it a couple of times per week and pick that schedule back up in the spring until it is established. Pruning-you are correct that this butterfly bush has different needs. It flowers from one-year-old wood which means do not cut it back in the spring as you might for other butterfly bushes. Treat this like a lilac bush or forsythia, prune it after it blooms. Never cut the entire plant to the ground, but shape each year as it grows.

  10. John says:

    I live in the mountain area around Evergreen. My elevation is 7,000. Do you think the Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush will work?

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