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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - June 30, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Failure to thrive of non-native Buddleja davidii
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I love butterfly bushes - but have bad luck growing them. I now have several, including Butterfly Nanho Purple; and they constantly wilt. It has been a dry hot Austin summer, but should I water when they wilt or is it a sign of another issue? Thank you

ANSWER:

First, we need to establish exactly what plant you have, as there are several referred to as "butterfly bush."

Buddleja. The North American natives of this are Buddleja marrubiifolia (woolly butterflybush) native to Southern Trans-Pecos and Mexico, Buddleja racemosa (wand butterflybush) native to Texas, Buddleja scordioides (escobilla butterflybush) native to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and Buddleja sessiliflora (Rio Grande butterflybush) Arizona and Texas.

Buddleia. Buddleja Davidii is the botanical name for this plant, originating in China and Japan. Most of the plants in commercial trade by the name "butterfly bush" are cultivars of this non-native. We suspect this is the plant in your garden. This Floridata website on Buddleja davidii will give you more information. The USDA Plant Profile map on Buddleja davidii does not show it growing in Texas at all, which probably indicates it has been sold in the commercial trade without it really being adapted to living here.

In search of some of the reasons why your plant may be having some problems, we found that it can be invaded by spider mites during a period of drought, which we certainly are having in Austin right now. We also learned that you should avoid the use of insecticides around this plant, so if you have been spraying for insects in your garden, this could be the problem. This Colorado State University Extension site for Horticulture on spider mites will give you some more information. One reason that spider mites begin to harm plants is that insecticides tend to kill the natural predators of spider mites, not the mites themselves. Adequate watering of plants during dry conditions can limit the importance of drought stress on spider mite outbreaks.

And we would remind you that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center promotes the use of plants native to the area in which they are being grown, as they will require less water, less fertilizer, and less maintenance, as well as being pest and disease resistant. When selecting plants for your garden in the future, we would suggest that you go to our Native Plant Database and, using the Recommended Species feature, look for native plants that will grow well in the Austin area.

 

 

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