Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Should it stay or should it go?

Do you have a butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) in your garden? I have several and they certainly live up to their reputation for being a butterfly magnet. On any given summer day I can find at least several species of butterflies on my bushes from larger swallowtails and monarchs to the smaller skippers.

Monarch
We planted these shrubs in our garden to attract the butterflies, bees, moths and hummingbirds. Recently, I learned that several states have banned the planting of this shrub on public land; some states even prohibit the sale and commercial cultivation of Buddleja, and it has also been placed on a number university invasive species lists. I have to admit I found this rather surprising because in Georgia it is a staple plant in most butterfly/pollinator garden designs.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

In researching this claim I found that Buddleja, a native to Asia, is highly invasive producing thousands of seeds during the growing season. I have never had Buddleja reseed in my garden, have you? During the summer when the mood strikes me (which is hardly ever!) I may deadhead the shrub but frankly it is a very time consuming and not a very fulfilling activity (especially in the heat). Since they bloom on new growth I severely cut back my plants each winter/early spring to ensure more blooms during the season . However, I can honestly say I have never seen them naturalize in Georgia.

Red Admiral

But according to the USDA Forest Service they are invasive in my region. You can view the map here to see all the states where Buddleja is listed as invasive.

According to Doug Tallamy, PhD, chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark "nature never meant for these bushes to be here, so the plants aren't equipped to feed the beneficial bugs and birds in our region of the world. This disrupts the entire food web."

Easter Tiger Swallowtail

Exotic, invasive plants harm the environment by competing with native plants and eventually crowding them out. Native plants are important because they provide food for native bugs, birds and other animals which have evolved together. Tallamy says the "30 percent of plants in most natural areas are invasive" which in turn reduces the food supply for birds and insects.

I am very passionate about native plants and am adding more and more to my garden each season; however, I do have many non-native plants too. The Native Plant groups and Master Gardener organization that I belong to define natives as plants that were here before the European settlers arrived. Kevin Songer wrote a thought provoking piece More Spirits In Plants Than In The Heavens, Native or Not at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens. He proposes a lot of questions about what makes a plant native. Check it out and see what you think.

Great Spangled Fritllary & Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening recently blogged "things in our garden are either making a positive difference in the world (to us or wildlife), or they are taking up space that could have been used for something better." 

In this case, while the butterfly bush is an attractive nectar source for pollinators it is not a host plant for any butterfly or moth species. Butterflies and moths therefore have to use energy and time to find another source to lay their eggs.

Clearwing Moth (aka Hummingbird Moth)

In response to this ban on butterfly bushes several nurseries are developing new butterfly bush varieties with a very low fertility rate.

Fiery Skipper

So what does a responsible wildlife gardener do? Do I deadhead every bloom and never let it go to seed to ensure that it doesn't naturalize (although I have never seen it reseed here)? Or do I dig up all my shrubs and replace them with a native alternative?

So what say you readers? Will you (or would you) pull out your butterfly bush(es) if they are invasive in your area or can you not part them?

Final note: all the photos in this post were taken on the butterfly bushes in my garden to demonstrate the variety of pollinators it attracts. However, this is by no means all the butterflies in my garden nor is it the only nectar source available.

55 comments:

  1. Such a controversial subject, the answer lies with the individual, on how dedicated they are in protecting and conserving wildlife. I love your butterfly photo's they are beautiful, even though they might not lay eggs in your buddleia at least they have a decent feed.

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    1. Karen, well said. It would be difficult to pull these knowing that they provide such a valuable source of nectar.

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  2. Keep them. Plant host plants around them.

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  3. I pulled out my butterfly bushes years ago but not because they weren't native. They were growing in too much shade and I didn't have room for them. I've never seen them in the wild so I have to wonder about their reputation as invasive thugs. I was just at a prominent private garden in DC over the weekend and their pollinator garden had several buddleia. I did notice they were kept deadheaded. I think if you grow natives and larval food sources as well as butterfly bushes, you're fine.

    Roses and clematis aren't native either but I'm not ripping those out. One thing I did notice was that the butterflies ignored the other nectar producing plants in favor of the butterfly bushes.

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    1. I do have lots of natives and host plants throughout the garden. Fortunately, I have space for it all. Whereas, I do love natives and am always adding more I am not a purist. There are some plants that just provide eye candy for the gardener. My issue is the invasive aspect. And, I struggle with taking them out because they haven't proven to be invasive for me.

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  4. Karin,

    If you want your garden to be totally native, then get rid of it and other non natives. Otherwise I'd keep it. Never invasive here in NC either.

    Your butterflies are misnamed. The Painted lady is a Red Admiral, same family though. The Gulf Fritillary is a Great Spangled Fritillary. And the little orange skipper is a male Fiery Skipper, very common in southern gardens.

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    1. Hey Randy, thanks for correcting my errors! I hurriedly put these in and frankly should have reviewed it. Shame on me for such blanket mistakes. As always, I appreciate your input and expertise!

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  5. I keep them too. They are not as prolific up here and in our area it is lucky if they return. The butterflies love them so they seem to benefit rather than become a detriment. I too question the native issue and believe this debate seems more a matter of someone’s opinion than anything else. No one agrees, and more and more plants are hitting the invasive lists all the time. Ox Eye daisy is an example and the bees love it. So whose opinion really matters.

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    1. It is a very complex issue. Some are certainly more clear cut than others when it comes to the invasive list. For example Japanese wisteria is a real problem in my area and yet people still plant wisteria in their gardens. I want to be a responsible gardener and yet my experience doesn't back up what I'm reading.

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  6. Karin, you have articulated a subject I have mulled over quite well. One of my fellow Master Gardeners pulled all of hers out. I tend to take Greggo's method. I like a small butterfly bush in my garden, have seen no seedlings, and do not deadhead mine. In the same area I have native plants, Helenium, Rudbeckia, Echinace to name a few. Tis a dilemma. I also like Tammy's answer about roses and clematis.
    Good luck with your decision.

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    1. Thanks for your perspective and input Janet. This is a tougher one because it doesn't seem so obvious a problem in my garden. My MG group uses Buddleja in all the pollinator gardens we maintain/install and since our work has to follow Extension Office guidelines which are directed by the State University it is interesting that this isn't considered invasive by this group yet.

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  7. Buddleia hasn't been invasive I my garden either, and it is most definitely a butterfly favorite.

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    1. I am hearing that from many but some have had it reseed readily in their gardens. It is an interesting conundrum! I know for some it is an easy answer to pull them out but I am really struggling with this one!

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  8. It's a hard one for most to answer. I try not to plant invasive things but I think it's individual choices we each have to make. Hydrangea would give you the same look but may not draw as many butterflies. Mine do draw them, but geez you get lots more than I do and maybe that's partly why. Maybe consider pulling one this year and plant a Hydrangea Limelight there and see if it draws many next year and then decide on the others, or just do what you want. :)
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. My spots are very sunny locations and I don't think hydrangea would thrive well there. I have several at the edge of my woodland garden and I have never noticed butterflies on them. I will have to do a better job observing them. Limelight is gorgeous and one I don't have! I appreciate your input and suggestions!

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  9. I don't have any butterfly bushes, but I wish I did. If I have a plant that's on the invasive list, but it doesn't seem invasive in my garden, I leave it alone. I won't buy anything new for my garden that's on the list, but if it's already there, I just enjoy it. When it dies, you can replace it with something else.

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    1. Holley, thanks for your viewpoint! It is a tough call and such a personal one too! I tend to make decisions based on my own experience but I want to be a responsible gardener too!

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  10. Buddleia does not re-seed in my area, zone 5, but I would be very sad to see it show up on the PA list because it does in the very little part of the state that is zone 7. A plant's productive success or failure is so dependent on its exact location.

    I say enjoy them until you see whether or not they are truly a problem in your location. Caring enough to take the time to look for seedlings is not a problem for you, though it may be for other people.

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    1. It is amazing that PA goes from zone 5 to 7...that really covers a wide variety of plants in your state! Location, location, location holds true for plant real-estate too!

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  11. I can sympathize with your struggle. I have felt the same way. I try to deadhead when I can, but I am not always fast enough. I do get to them eventually. However, I have never found a seedling in my garden or lawn or anywhere. So, I am perplexed many times when I read how invasive these plants are. I have four of them, and they all seem to stay in their spots without spreading to any other location. I also trim mine down to the ground every winter. For now, I have decided to keep mine, but I will keep adding other native plants for the butterflies as well. I want to add some verbena which I don't have at the moment. In my mind, you cannot go wrong either way.

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    1. Verbena would be an excellent addition. I have some and the butterflies love them but I should add more!

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  12. Thanks for bringing up this important issue in such a balanced way. I feel like I am more sensitive to the issue of invasive plants than most people (and I definitely agree with you that even though native plants are the best for wildlife there's a hugely important distinction between invasive plants and those that are simply non-native). But I admit I've got the same conundrum. I have a butterfly bush that I love not only for its attraction to butterflies but for its fragrance, and I haven't been too fussed about it because even though I've heard that it's invasive, I haven't witnessed it reseeding or growing in the wild myself. But after reading your post and doing a little more searching, I'm regretting that (non)decision. The thing about many invasive plants is that we DON'T see them in action. Some plants are aggressive spreaders that drive us crazy in our gardens and it's easy to believe that they are invasive. Many invasive plants are evolved to colonize disturbed areas and since that's essentially what gardens are (bare soil in places and a good amount of sun, usually) those plants will show their true colors in gardens too. But many invasive plants spread by other means (seeds spread by birds, wind or water, for example) and their favored environment may not be very similar to our gardens, so their spread will not be obvious. That's the insidious thing about using garden-based intuition to decide whether a plant is invasive or not. The thing that has probably changed my mind about butterfly bush is seeing this posting:
    http://birdsandbloomsblog.com/2011/04/06/butterfly-bush-beware/
    What struck me about this is the description of places where butterfly bush has actually been seen to be taking over natural areas. I have also had the feeling sometimes that invasive plant lists are getting a little crazy and maybe some of those plants weren't REALLY invasive. Getting even this anecdotal information about butterfly bush was somehow much more convincing to me than seeing it on state lists. Now I will definitely be more careful about deadheading my BB and I definitely will replace it with something else when it goes. But will I intentionally rip it out? I don't know. I think I should but it's hard to do, isn't it?

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    1. Sharon, thanks for sharing your perspective! You make some excellent points about how invasive plants are spread that is not readily apparent in our gardens. I read that B&B article too and it was very enlightening! One of the reasons this issue came up in my garden is that I want to move them to another section of my garden. So do I just rip them out and replace them with a native or transplant them. It is a hard decision because I hate pulling out plants that are still alive and one buddleja was given to me by a good friend.

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  13. Well I may be in the minority but I believe if a plant is invasive and is out competing natives why plant it or keep it. The invasive plants do not fully support the critters and there are better plants to support them. I pulled all mine out. I think I had about 10. All gone and destroyed. I live in central NY and mine did seed all over. I was pulling out hundreds of seedlings all around my garden every year. So I can only imagine what they do once they move into a woodland or nature area. I replaced them with native alternatives and actually have not replaced them all yet. I did have some butterflies, bees, hummers and moths visit them, but honestly they visit more now and actually lay eggs because I have host and nectar plants the butterflies love. I found replacing them made the critters come more. So no loss.

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    1. I agree Donna, if a plant is competing with natives it would not have a place in my garden. But, that is why I struggle with this issue...the butterfly bush hasn't shown itself to be invasive in my garden. I think it is fascinating that it is invasive in your northern garden when logic would say it would be thrive more in the south. What natives did you use as replacements? I thought about Vitex but that isn't native either. Thank you so much for your honest input. This is what I am looking for...a lively discussion on both sides of the issue!

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    2. I put in a Serviceberry and Fringetree for now...both native. I have been planting more milkweeds, spicebush, hyssop, Joe Pye in the area where they were...still adding other natives with a list too big for here...but I first planted more berry producing bushes for birds as these were lacking...and also started adding host plants as the garden is full of nectar for butterflies with natives...I will post more about it as I continue to make the change. I also did a post about it at Beautiful Wildlife Gardens a while back. Good luck Karin and I look forward to seeing what you do. Tough decision.

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    3. Thanks for all the ideas Donna! I put in a serviceberry late this spring. I am anxious to see how it looks next year. I have considered a fringe tree and think I need to look at it more seriously. I would like to get two paw-paw trees and spice bush as hosts. I am always planting more milkweed and today got some more Joe Pye weed to replace mine that died this summer from lack of water. I took the summer off from my Native Plant certificate education but am continuing my classes this fall. There is always so much more to learn.

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  14. Honestly, I've never had a problems with our butterfly bushes going to seed. In fact, I have a tough time making mine thrive, as our property is quite shady. I think as long as you carefully monitor the situation in regards to an overabundance of seedlings, then the bushes can stay. I love native plants, but I will also supplement with butterfly bushes and lantana in my gardens. Of course, I plant host plants and other nectar sources as well, and we've seen an abundance of hummingbirds and butterflies. It's a tricky subject, but I think it's the gardener's responsibility to make contain the plants as much as possible. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed your stunning photos of the butterflies on the butterfly bushes--lovely!

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    1. Thanks Julie! The butterfly bush is a prolific bloomer in late summer and provides an important source of nectar, filling in the gap between late summer and fall blooms. If I decide to pull these I would definitely need to add more late summer bloomers to maintain nectar source especially for the larger butterflies during this time (something I should probably do anyway!). I have lots of host plants but most of my native bloomers are not blooming during August.

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  15. I always find it difficult to actually pull plants out--so I'm probably not the best person to ask. But I do plan to replace non-natives that struggle or die with natives. Burning Bush is not native but it's such an incredible shrub. I did notice that many, many Burning Bushes croaked during the drought. If mine had died, I would have replaced them with a native like Beautyberry. Tough call! I don't have Butterfly Bush, but many gardeners in my neighborhood do. They are very pretty!

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    1. I am with you...I find it almost impossible to pull out plants that are still alive. I still have violas and snapdragons from the winter that are struggling along during the summer but they are still alive! Beautyberries are fabulous and the native variety has the most wonderful large fruit in the fall...definitely add them to your garden!

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  16. A good question. I have seen one or two Butterfly bushes in the woods before. I never seen seedlings in my garden from my Butterfly bush, though, so maybe it depends on the cultivar. I do try to plant mostly natives, but there are a few non-natives that I am very fond of because they are so beautiful, and the 'Santana' Butterfly bush I have is one of them. I've watched it attract bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds to its nectar, so I feel like it is at least partially beneficial. I just try to surround it with native host plants :)

    Now if I did find out that my plant was seeding itself around, then I would pull it.

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    1. It is interesting that they even thrive in the woods since there isn't as much sun. I've never seen them in the woods here but will be more on the lookout for them going forward. Thanks for your perspective!

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  17. I've read before that butterfly bushes are invasive, but it doesn't seem to be a problem in New Mexico and I haven't found it on an invasive list here. One of the local nurseries sells a non-invasive cultivar.

    I'm not sure if it's an issue in Georgia either. It doesn't appear on the invasive plant list for Georgia. However, going to another invasive species website, butterfly bushes are invasive in one county in Georgia, Habersham.

    I think it really depends on where you live if a plant is invasive.

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    1. Habersham is only one county over from me. Thanks for the links and your input!

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  18. This is a great topic. I tried to grow butterfly bushes but they did not take in my garden. They provide nectar to butterflies but they are not host plants. If you like the plant, then I would keep it. It isn't doing any harm in your garden. Look at it as a butterfly feeder much like a nectar feeder we put up for hummingbirds.

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    1. Mary, I know you are a big advocate of native plants. Thank you for your valuable comment!

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  19. They are invasive here too. I find that they don't do that well in my garden since I have mostly shade so I am ambivalent about whether they stay or not. They've never self seeded here. I keep them because good meaning friends gave them to me, the butterflies do love the nectar, and they are so drought tolerant; which is such a good thing. I find diversity is good so they stay. It is sometimes a hard choice though.

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    1. Tina, pass-along plants from friends are very valuable! One of my buddleija came from a friend which makes it an even more difficult decision.

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  20. Hello Karin, I agree it is a difficult issue, but it is difficult for me to comment as I live in England and our climate is much different to yours. I have only ever discovered one re-seeded buddleia in all the years I have been growing them, but I think maybe our harsher climate is the reason for this. I am able to dead head my flowers as my garden isn't large so this isn't a hard task. Before I go, I must say your photographs are beautiful. Best Wishes Daphne

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    1. Daphne, thanks for stopping by and commenting! Climate is an interesting contributor to how invasive a plant is. Even in the states our zones vary greatly and some friends from more northern zones find these more invasive than many in the south. Dead heading in the heat and humidity in my summer is very draining and therefore it doesn't get done as often as it should. Fall is my favorite time to garden!

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  21. I would keep it, I actually miss the fact that we do not have any buddliahs in our garden here and would introduce them if I had the opportunity.

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  22. Karin,

    Although this has only been reported on the SE Exotic Pest Plant Council mapping system (EDDMapS) in 1 county in Georgia (Habersham) it may well be occurring and not yet mapped. It has shown to be a serious pest in NATURAL AREAS in adjacent states and it may become invasive in Georgia.

    If it becomes a problem in natural areas in Georgia as it has done in other states, the time to act is now. It is useless to wait until you see the proof (widespread infestation of natural areas) that it is a problem. Generally by that point it is too late to eradicate it from our natural areas. The best time to fight invasive plants is when they begin being a problem. And since it is a problem in adjacent states with the same climate, I suspect we will begin seeing it in Georgia as well if folks continue to plant it.

    I have confirmed with several botanists that the species does indeed spread, and is very difficult to eradicate. Many named cultivars may have lower germination rates and or seed viability. This may be part of why you don’t see it spread in your garden. The problem is that when multiple cultivars are planted (as in a subdivision or other development) they can easily cross-pollinate and the resulting seeds are viable. While you may not have noticed it spreading in your garden, it does indeed spread. The seeds are dust-like particles which can easily be distributed by the wind. It is amazing how far the wind will take seeds like this.

    I don’t understand why anyone who is concerned about native species would knowingly keep a plant that may become invasive- even if it is a good nectar plant- when there are alternatives that are not potentially invasive. If it does become a problem in our area, it may reduce native biodiversity, including crowding out many of the native host plants that grow in the wild. If that happens, some species of butterflies could become threatened as well.

    Other great nectar plants include: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Wild Crabapple (Crataegus spp.), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), Spice bush (Lindera benzoin), and a much more habitat-friendly alternative is our native summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). Summersweet is only available with white or pink flowers (something purple lovers may bemoan) but its intoxicating fragrance more than makes up for it. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds find summersweet irresistible. Several species of butterflies use summersweet as a larval host plant. And as an added bonus, summersweet blooms in shade and tolerates all but the most drought-prone areas of your garden.

    Check out:
    http://www.invasive.org/browse/subinfo.cfm?sub=11608
    http://www.eddmaps.org/distribution/usstate.cfm?sub=11608
    http://torontogardening.blogspot.com/2011/04/native-alternatives-to-butterfly-bush.html
    http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/shrubs/2002043906014318.html
    http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/plant-this-not-that-connecticut-natives-edition/

    Cynthia C. Taylor
    Past-President, Georgia Exotic Invasive Plant Council
    Natural Resource Manager, Elachee Nature Science Center

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    1. Cynthia, thank you for your expert insight and all the links you provided. I do have several of your suggested natives in my garden already (some purchase at the Elachee plant sale) so that is a good start. I appreciate your passion and dedication to educating the public on invasive plants. I think you should come speak at one of our Hall Co. Master Gardener meetings!

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  23. My immediate neighbor had several (4-5) very large bushes. They made a lot of seeds. We did find several (3-4) seedlings in the area. Not yet invasive, but certainly capable of spreading. After we found the seedlings, I helped him deadhead the bushes each year and we gradually removed them and replaced them with other plants (Clethra and Fothergilla in one area and Callicarpa in another).

    I agree with Cynthia that once you SEE the invasion then it is worse than you think at that point (like 'Bradford' pear which has the same cross pollination issue that she mentions). The fact that it has proven itself to be invasive in other areas of the US is enough for me to be cautious.

    And I agree that since it is not a host plant, it's very presence means that it "out-competed" a native plant (in your selection of it!) that might have been a host plant for some native insect. Foliage adds to the equation in terms of benefit.

    Certainly deadhead it if nothing else.

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    1. Ellen, thank you so much for your perspective! It makes for a very lively debate to say the least. It is interesting to see how diverse the answers are. I have decided that I will be removing all mine from the garden. Replacing them with plants that serve as nectar and host plants. I already have many in my garden but clearly need to add more to fill the gap between late summer/early fall when I seem to be lacking nectar plants for the numerous butterflies, hummers, and moths that reside/frequent my garden. Btw, I love reading your blog!

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  25. Very interesting. Canada does not seem to have the same issue with buddleia probably because there are not that many areas that it can grow due to frost temperatures. I garden where it is hardy and is very much liked by gardeners and not difficult to find. Personally I have never had much luck with it, our growing conditions are just not in its favour so I can't imagine it ever being a problem. If you have to go to so much trouble to have it I think I would remove it and plant something I don't have to care about so much.

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    1. From the comments I received I gather that the growing conditions for these are not so favorable in many parts of Canada. It would maybe be treated more as an annual. Deadheading these plants when they reach a certain size is rather unrealistic because there are just too many making it a high maintenance plant at certain times of year.

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  26. This is such a surprise to hear that ! I didn't knew about this. I had a buddleia in my garden but it was not hardy enough and didn't return in spring so I removed it. But if it had survived I think I would have get rid of it and plant a native species.
    Your photos are exquisite, very beautiful. My favourite photos are those of the easter tiger swallowtail, they are breathtaking !

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    1. Thanks Jocelyne! The larger butterflies are especially fond of the buddleja because they like to fly higher up. The swallowtails and monarchs really enjoy the plant but alas it will be replaced so we will see what next summer brings.

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  27. I read your post and all the comments..I am taking out the one here..I don't want to take a chance of causing a problem as I live in a woodland area...thank you for posting this...Michelle

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed this post Michelle...the comments are very diverse and I enjoyed the lively conversation it brought! After discussion with my husband we have decided to pull our out too. Now, to research what plants will be replacing them. I also want to find a good local supplier of native plants. All too often the native plants I find are in the pint or if I'm lucky 1 gallon size.

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  28. I'm surprised that you haven't noticed seedlings in N Georgia.
    In one of the gardens that I maintain, there are wet areas that the buddlea seedlings colonize.

    I've found in middle Georgia that root-knot nematodes tend to keep these bushes in check.. expect a 4 or 5 year lifespan... And in my sand-hill garden, they don't grow at all.

    There are plenty of alternatives that attract butterflies even better... I love the high bush lantanas, the low growing varieties are ignored in my garden...
    The clasping heliotrope is a butterfly magnet that out-competes everything else... the verbena is virtually ignored...
    And the vitex! Why grow buddlea, when the vitex is so pretty, and does well with out a drop of water?

    My favourite method for getting natives? Clear a patch of soil, and watch what comes up. Free plants!

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