How to Deadhead Flowering Shrubs: Butterfly Bush

A bee diving into the tubular flowers on a Buddleia, with captured yellow pollen on its legs.

A bee dives into the tubular flowers on a Buddleia. Note the two side buds forming around the flower head.

Cutting off the spent flowers, or “deadheading” is an essential bit of maintenance for perennials and many shrubs, like butterfly bush. We do it for two reasons: to keep more flowers forming, and to make the plant tidier. Deadheading stops the plant from ripening the spent flower into a seed, forcing it instead to direct its energy into making flowers. That’s the beauty of deadheading. More blooms for you and the bees and butterflies.

How to deadhead a buddleia, or butterfly bush flower.

Hold your snippers as close to the end of the stem as possible and snip off.

The spent flowers on Butterfly bush, (Buddleia) look especially messy; the long, brown seed heads compete with the flowering blooms, detracting from the look of the shrub. Removing them is an easy task. A heavy pair of scissors are fine, or any garden pruners, but I happen to like these small Fiskars micro snips, as they are spring-loaded and fit in my hand easily, making the task almost fun. ( I actually like deadheading, but I have to have the right tool)

Find the spent flower in the centre of the branch end, between two side stems. Snip as close to the join as possible. If you catch it early, the two side branches will new flowering buds. If all the flowers, including the side stems, are brown and crispy, gather them all together and make one big snip, cutting down to the next branching node on the stem.

When all the deadheads are off, your shrub look neater and perkier. You will have a few more weeks of bloom, and the butterflies will find their nectar more easily, with more open spaces to fly through.

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