Monarch on a butterfly bush
Traditional butterfly bushes could reach 8-10 feet tall.

Butterfly bushes have long been a favorite summer-blooming shrub in American gardens, cherished for their long-lasting, pointed, cone-shaped, purple flowers as well as their ability to draw butterflies.

Then came the realization that those flowers were producing seedlings in unwanted areas, outcompeting native plants in the process. Homeowners also got tired of trimming the 8- to 10-foot plants, and entomologists said butterfly-bush flowers weren’t all that nutritious to butterflies anyway.

Lo and Behold® 'Blue Chip.' Butterfly Bush
The new generation of butterfly bush is both sterile and compact, such as this variety called Lo and Behold® ‘Blue Chip.’
George Weigel

The good news is that plant breeders have been hard at work, and in the last few years have come up with a new generation of butterfly bushes – ones that are both compact and sterile, meaning less work and no invasiveness.

Oregon's Department of Agriculture has published a list of non-invasive butterfly bushes approved for sale in their state, which is a great place to start for anyone interested in these newer options. Fourteen varieties are on that list, mostly from the Lo and Behold® and Flutterby® series. Many new varieties also grow only 3 to 4 feet tall and come in bluish-purple, lavender, pink and white in addition to purple.

Growing Butterfly Bushes

  • Butterfly bushes grow best in full sun and well drained soil. Soggy soil and extremely cold winters are their main enemies. Most common species are hardy in USDA Zones 5-10.
  • The best time to prune butterfly bushes is at the end of winter – just before new growth begins. You can also snip off flower heads as they brown during the growing season to neaten the plants and encourage continuing bloom.
  • Fertilize butterfly bushes in early spring and early fall with a balanced granular fertilizer, rich in natural and organic nutrients.
  • Butterfly bushes are both heat- and drought-tolerant and seldom run into bug, disease or animal troubles.