Do Deer Eat Butterfly Bushes? Protecting These Beautiful Blooms

Butterfly bushes are coveted additions to any garden. Their long blooming season, a wide range of flower colors, and ability to attract beneficial pollinators make them highly desirable landscape plants. However, you may be concerned that these showy shrubs may also attract unwanted dinner guests – deer. If you live in an area with a high deer population, you may wonder: do deer eat butterfly bushes?

While not a favorite, deer will eat butterfly bushes if hungry enough. Damage is usually minimal, but extra precautions should be taken in areas with high deer density.

In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about deer and butterfly bushes. We’ll look at whether deer eat these plants, how much damage they cause, and most importantly, how to protect your butterfly bushes from becoming an all-you-can-eat deer buffet.

Do Deer Eat Butterfly Bushes?

Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) are not a preferred food source for deer. Most butterfly bushes have low palatability and deer tend to leave them alone. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t take a nibble from time to time.

Several factors contribute to butterfly bushes being somewhat deer resistant:

  • Their fragrance – Deer rely heavily on scent and tend to avoid plants with strong odors.
  • Coarse texture – The stiff, woody stems and hairy leaves are unappealing.
  • Taste – The leaves and buds contain toxic compounds that deter deer.

While not a favored snack, deer have been known to browse on butterfly bushes, especially in winter or drought when other food sources are scarce. Deer also tend to target the most palatable new growth in spring over older, woodier stems.

Deer Damage on Butterfly Bushes

When deer decide to munch on butterfly bushes, the damage inflicted depends on how hungry they are and the time of year.

In spring, deer may nip off tender new shoots and unfolding leaves, resulting in a “pruned” look. If this occurs early in the season, most butterfly bushes will send up fresh new growth. Later damage can set bloom time back.

During winter, deer are more likely to devour entire branches. This can leave butterfly bushes looking ragged with unsightly broken stems. Severe branch loss diminishes flowering and ruins the plant’s form.

While not a preferred food, hungry deer can severely defoliate and even kill young or stressed butterfly bushes. Mature, healthy plants will likely recover from minor to moderate deer browsing.

Deer Resistant Butterfly Bush Varieties

While no butterfly bush is 100% deer-proof, some varieties seem more resistant than others. These types will hold up best in landscapes prone to deer damage.

1. Black Knight Butterfly Bush

Black Knight is known for having thicker, woodier stems that deer tend to avoid. It also contains higher levels of unappealing toxins. The dark purple blooms make it one of the most popular butterfly bushes.

2. Dwarf Butterfly Bushes

Smaller butterfly bushes like ‘Blue Chip’, ‘Miss Molly’, and ‘Lo & Behold’ have compact growth that makes them less likely to be damaged. Their smaller size also makes them quicker to recover if deer do browse on them.

3. Double-Blooming Varieties

Butterfly bushes with doubled flowers like ‘Miss Ruby’ and ‘Pink Delight’ are reported to be more deer resistant. It’s thought the doubled blooms hold higher levels of toxins.

Tips for Protecting Butterfly Bushes From Deer

If deer are a constant problem in your area, you’ll want to take extra steps to protect vulnerable butterfly bushes. Here are some tips to save your bushes from becoming a deer salad bar.

1. Use Deer Repellents

Applying deer repellent sprays or granules around your butterfly bushes can deter deer from browsing. Repellents use either foul smells or fear to condition deer to avoid treated areas. Look for products containing putrescent egg solids or predator urine for best results.

Be diligent about reapplying repellents after rain or snow. Frequent applications will be needed during periods of heavy deer pressure.

2. Add Physical Barriers

Installing fencing around butterfly bushes creates a physical barrier deer can’t get past. An 8 foot tall plastic mesh or woven wire fence anchored into the ground works best. Make sure the fencing fully encloses plants leaving no gaps for deer to sneak through.

Individual shrubs can also be protected with wire cages or netting. Just be sure to leave ample space for branches to grow without being constricted.

3. Use Motion-Activated Sprinklers

Motion-activated water sprinklers detect deer and give them a harmless spray of water. Deer quickly learn to avoid areas protected by these devices. Position sprinkler heads to fully cover butterfly bushes.

4. Add Unpalatable Companion Plants

Interplanting butterfly bushes with plants deer detest can discourage browsing. Options like lavender, catmint, and juniper surround less-resistant plants with those deer find unappetizing.

Planting butterfly bushes in a mixed ornamental bed also offers some protection, as deer will likely eat more desirable options first.

Should You Prune Back Deer Damage on Butterfly Bushes?

Even if deer don’t fully devour butterfly bushes, their nibbling and branch breaking can leave bushes looking unsightly.

Lightly pruning back any damaged parts in early spring is beneficial. Remove broken stems back to a healthy branch node. Also, prune off any branches where buds or bark have been stripped off.

This tidies up plants and allows them to focus energy on producing new growth. Go easy though – don’t remove more than necessary so flowering isn’t significantly reduced.

When to Expect Deer Damage on Butterfly Bushes

Deer pressure on butterfly bushes fluctuates based on food availability. Knowing when deer are most likely to strike can help you be prepared.

Early spring is a prime time for deer browsing. With few fresh food sources available, deer look for newly emerged greens. Butterfly bush buds and shoots can appear tasty before other plants leaf out.

Late fall into winter is another period of high deer damage. Other food sources are declining as the weather turns cold. Hungry deer may turn to butterfly bushes as forage grows scarce.

During the peak summer growing season, deer tend to leave butterfly bushes alone. With abundant food choices, they focus on more palatable options.

How to Identify If Deer Are Damaging Butterfly Bushes

It’s not always obvious if deer are the culprits behind damaged plants. Look for these signs that point to deer as the likely cause:

  • Twig ends nibbled at a 45-degree angle
  • Stripped bark from stems
  • Lower branches browsed first
  • Shed deer hair caught on branches
  • Hoof prints around damaged plants

Deer tend to nibble daintily, biting off small pieces. This is different than ragged chewing from rabbits and woodchucks. Also, inspect plants at dawn and dusk to try and catch deer in the act.

Will Butterfly Bushes Recover From Deer Damage?

The good news about butterfly bushes is that they are resilient plants. As long as the main stem is intact, most butterfly bushes will regenerate after deer pruning.

Younger plants under 3 years old are most vulnerable because they lack extensive root reserves. If the main leader stem is destroyed, they likely won’t recover.

On established butterfly bushes, new shoots will emerge from undamaged branch nodes in spring. Flowering may be reduced the first year following browse damage. But the following season, most bushes will resume their normal bloom period.

Should You Avoid Planting Butterfly Bushes if Deer are a Problem?

Gardeners in deer-prone areas don’t necessarily need to avoid butterfly bushes. With some smart precautions, these beautiful bloomers can coexist with Bambi.

Select more deer-resistant butterfly bush varieties. Use repellents religiously, especially during peak damage seasons. Consider adding protective fencing if deer pressure is extreme.

Also, plant butterfly bushes in locations that are naturally less appealing to deer. Examples include sites close to human activity or dogs. Areas bordered by unpalatable plants are also poorer deer habitats.


Do deer eat butterfly bushes? Butterfly bushes are marginally deer-resistant thanks to their fragrance, texture, and toxicity. Healthy, mature plants can tolerate light to moderate deer damage when needed food is scarce. Taking preventative measures like repellents, fencing, and motion sprinklers can further protect your investment.

While no plant is 100% deer proof, you can successfully grow butterfly bushes even in deer-filled environments. With a little extra planning and care, the colorful blooms of butterfly bushes can brighten your landscape for years to come.

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