Oh Joy! My Plant Died!

September 17, 2012 | By | Comments (17)
Butterfly Bush

Tiger swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush. Photo by Steve Bender.

RIP, butterfly bush. You bloomed nonstop for me this summer without a single complaint. Then today, you died for no discernible reason. Is Grumpy upset? Nope. Want to know why?

Death in a garden is a good thing. Well, death of plants, anyway. Think about it. If everything you ever planted in your garden lived indefinitely, your garden would soon be stuffed fuller than the stomach of Joey Chestnut, the world’s hotdog eating champion. No place to plant anything new. Which means you’d be looking at the same, old boring plants year after year.

'Orange Blossom Special'  pomegranate

“Orange Blossom Special’ dwarf pomegranate. Photo by PDSI.

Grumpy likes to try new things. But unless something in my garden croaks (or gets ripped out for failing to perform — an unpardonable sin), there is no place to plant. Right now, I have two dwarf blueberries, a dwarf crepe myrtle, and three new hydrangeas sitting in pots on the driveway waiting for a spot to open up. Not to mention a really cool dwarf pomegranate from our Southern Living Plant Collection called ‘Orange Blossom Special’ that blooms continuously from spring through fall.

But wait — something just died. My butterfly bush. Grumpy gives thanks.

Why Did My Plant Die?
Sometimes the reason is obvious. The deer ate it. The RV ran over it. I forgot to water for a year. I accidentally set fire to it. A meteor fell on it.

But sometimes plants croak for no apparent reason. Up until a few days ago, my butterfly bush looked fine. It was blooming. The foliage looked fine. No bugs. No leaf spots. No gnawing rodents. No wilting foliage.

Then one branch suddenly died. The next day, the whole plant died. I don’t know why. Maybe it had accomplished everything in life that it wanted and was ready for that big compost pile in the sky.

Do I mourn for it? No. Because now I can plant something else.


  1. Steve Bender

    Good to know!

    October 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm
  2. Mary W

    Buddleias ( Butterfly Bush ) cannot tolerate nematodes. In Florida these plants do not do well at all after a year or two. Florida and particularly Central Florida are known as the Nematode Capitals of the World!

    October 8, 2012 at 11:30 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Knockout rose has been developing some problems lately. But without a more thorough description, I can’t say for sure what it is. It may be due to disease, but it could also be due to growing conditions or even weedkiller being used around them.

    Most people who live farther north cut back butterfly bush after it loses its leaves in fall. But yours probably won’t lose its leaves until much later. So I would probably wait to do this until mid-winter. You could cut it back earlier, however, if it starts looking untidy.

    September 26, 2012 at 10:48 am
  4. Susan

    I live in Central Florida. I have a Buddleia in a large container. It has been blooming this summer and I have been enjoying it as well as the butterflies. So reading this thread, should I trim it back now or wait till Spring. Things are so much different here in FL it gets so confusing….

    September 23, 2012 at 7:15 am
  5. Pieter Sanders

    Post script to Mary Leslie……you’ve lost half your plants for SOME reason or other…..I suggest you raise the 3 you have left, PRESSURE wash the roots….and plant them somewhere else as a temporary measure…..even if in big pots with fresh compost (John Innes number 2 would be a good starter)….or just good, rich garden soil with plenty of home-made compost. Pieter.

    September 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm
  6. Pieter Sanders

    Hello Mary Leslie,
    it’s difficult to do a proper diagnosis without seeing a photo or more detailed description…..but a few points to think about…..was the watering OK….any droughts or floods? Did you remember to feed them once a year? (Well rotted horse manure/straw is good), were they going brown from the tips backwards, (dieback), were the leaves blotched with brownish-black spots? ( Blackspot fungal disease). Most plant don’t die without giving some clues as to the cause of their demise, be it viral,pest or management problems. Try to tell me more about it and I’ll have a thunk. Pieter.

    September 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm
  7. Mary Leslie

    I live in southeast Georgia. We planted six knockout roses in 2006 they did really well for a few years and in 2010 they started dying. We have lost three so far. The leaves begin turning brown and then the whole bush dies. Any suggestions to keep the other three from dying? Would be most appreciative for help.

    September 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    Thanks, Pieter! Very good info! Anyone with dying Buddleias, please read his comment above.

    September 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm
  9. Pieter Sanders

    Pretty much all Buddleias are intolerant of wet soil. They like a free-draining neutral soil, (Neither too acidic nor alkaline) and like to be in a sunny position. As you will have noticed if you have one in your garden, they are very vigorous…so a large space is beneficial. I would suggest cutting down to a foot above ground level in late autumn, thus promoting the vigorous new growth in the spring on which flowers are produced. It may seem like butchery, but they respond very quickly. An organic feed in spring and summer…(I suggest chicken manure pellets), is also a good way to encourage growth and subsequent butterflies. Pieter Sanders, London England. (FRHS).

    September 19, 2012 at 9:11 am
  10. Jo Beth McGilbra

    I also was hoping for the reason of death. All my old ones I’ve had for years have died and since all the new ones have also. I am nursing two that I planted a couple years ago and they look terrible. What’s up. I am in central Mississippi. I just pulled one up that had died and it looked like something had bored into the root.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:44 pm
  11. Mary Hazlett

    My butterfly bush is still getting new blooms amd I hope it stays healthy. I don’t want it to croak – I hope to add some milkweed to my garden next spring (if I can find it) !

    September 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm
  12. Jean

    One of my big deciduous azaleas is doing that. No reason why. If it croaks it just will. If things dying in your garden are supposed to make you happy….I should be over the moon! Roll Tide

    September 17, 2012 at 9:08 am
  13. Kathy M

    The very same thing happened to mine two years ago. It was sooo beautiful in full bloom and then, in 2 days, it was dead. I was hoping you were going to offer me an explanation of what could have happened. I planted a forsythia that had rooted from another in the same place and it is fine.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:49 am
  14. Martha Franks

    I love you, Steve! I look forward to every work you write. I laugh and learn. Thanks!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:24 am
  15. gardeningonthego

    Marie: I noted your comment on cutting back your butterfly bush in the fall — not a good idea. The plant has hollow stems that can collect water, freeze in the winter (depending on where you are) damage the plant, possibly enough to kill it. I am in Maine and have babied one through three fairly mild winters by mulching it heavily with pine needles and keeping my fingers crossed. But a severe winter seems to be the prediction this year, so it may be curtains. Oh well, as Grumpy says: An opportunity opens up!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:04 am
  16. Tracy

    hi Marie, I cut mine to the ground every Spring. I leave it all winter for birds who visit my feeders.

    September 17, 2012 at 8:02 am
  17. Marie

    I planted mine a couple of years ago , not knowing how large it would get. I cut it back last fall and it still grew out of control. How far can I cut it back this fall?

    September 17, 2012 at 7:35 am

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