Documents: Special Interest: Seeds, Bulbs & Such:

Butterfly Bush, Purslane, Holly & Shrubs

A non-blooming butterfly bush; what to do about the horrible weed purslane (other than eating it in salads!); no need to protect blue holly plants; and just what shrub does Brian in Calgary have?
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 28, 2008

Above, two close-up shots of the yellow-flowering Butterfly bush I took in our garden here just this past Friday, and one of an overall Butterfly bush with pink flowers, courtesy of Below a close-up of the berries currently on my Symphoricarpos (unknown species/cultivar) shrub. Author photo.

It seems that when Donna Dawson sends out a monthly newsletter to the members of it prompts folks to send in gardening questions--at a greater rate than usual! And since Donna is away at the Garden Writers Association meeting in Portland, Oregon, Tom has forwarded those questions on to me. And in addition, I have a few coming in from listeners etc. directly to me. Let’s start with one of those, from Diane Church that came in on Wednesday. I presume Diane may have been a listener to my old AM740 programme: “I live in Hamilton, Ontario and my butterfly bush did not bloom this year. It is still growing about 5 ft. tall and has the bloom ends but it didn’t bloom. Something was eating the leaves and bloom ends earlier this year and I sprayed it with a 3 to 1 herbicide. This seems to help but no blooms. Can you suggest anything for next year so I can enjoy this plant? It is in full sun in front on my veranda.

Butterfly bushes can at times be tricky Diane. We grow one here, a yellow-flowering one, and in its present position it is doing well, much better than in its first location four years ago. However, it has an insect attacking it, and although many growers of this plant say that it is particularly good at attracting so-called “good insects”; i.e. beneficial ones, I have no idea what is attacking ours, I just know it makes the plant look ugly!

There seems to be a love or hate relationship with butterfly bushes--no in betweens! We like ours but next year I plan to spray it with Doktor Doom House & Garden Insecticide Spray early--just as the leaves emerge, and likely about ten days later. That may prevent whatever is attacking it.

Since you are in southern Ontario, it is an entirely different matter. Butterfly bushes generally in your zone will die back over the winter--often to about 45 cm from the ground and must be cut back. I would follow that up with a similar spray treatment about two weeks later, and then at least one more spraying.

The first one to Donna came from Dale in California: “I have an absolutely horrible problem with purslane. I am in San Diego County and in a city setting. It appears from looking at other people's yards and talking with others that I am the only one with purslane in the yard. As long as I do not water I can control it and reduce to none, however, as soon as I put the water out there, well you know the rest of the story. I have now gone two years trying to kill all weeds and crabgrass in hopes of putting down new sod this fall however I now see purslane coming up again around a tree I have. What can I do to get rid of this stuff once and for all? PLEASE I am desperate!!!!!”

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a horrible weed that folks with nurseries on sandy soil know all about. When I worked for Sheridan Nurseries in Toronto, the president, J.V. Stensson, once wrote a spoof article at my request, and he included mention of the invasive purslane as one of the worst problems they had in the fields (over 1,500 acres).

It is a close relative of the lovely annual Portulaca, but has more oval-shaped leaves, often slightly reddened on the edges. Generally it is a prostrate grower but can grow as high as a 30 cm (one foot). Oddly enough it is used by some people in sal-ads and described as “crunchy, with a sweet, yet acid-like flavor.”

Now to its control! I have three suggestions, but first a comment. Once you have it under control, and you lay sod on the area, you will not likely have it re-emerge through the sodded area. If you are ever using a hoe, cultivator or Dutch hoe to remove purslane be absolutely sure you rake and remove the plants immediately since every small broken piece of stem will simply root and become a new flower-bearing plant within about 30 hours.

One non-chemical method of control is known as solarization. This needs to be done during periods of hot weather. You simply cover the entire area with clear plastic for between four to six weeks. The sun then does the job of killing all the vegetation.

Glyphosate (Roundup) will certainly kill any purslane to which it is applied and the sod could be put down within only a couple of days of the application. Or you can use any broadleaf weed killer such as 2,4-D.

So, I guess you need to decide when you are going to put down the sod, and then choose your method and get it done.

Also this week, M.J. Hastings of St. Martins, New Brunswick posed these two questions: “Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me how to winterize holly bushes and also a Rhododendron? I had previously lost the rhododendron and had to buy a new one so do I cover it up or what? Also the holly didn't gain a lot of leaves this year, and had a lot of dead branches; once the berries are done do I cut them down or just cover them as well. I live outside Saint John NB close to the shore of St. Martins, NB. Thank you.”

Although you have not told us MJ what species of holly you have, I will assume they are one of the Blue hollies (Ilex meserveae) such as ‘Magic Berry’. Since you mention that they have berries on them now, they cannot be doing too badly! In my opinion you should do no covering of such holly shrubs. You are in Canadian Plant Hardiness Zone Map (1967) zone 5b, and they should require no covering there. On the other hand if they are some other less hardy type of holly, they might well need covering. Next spring you should cut out any remaining dead wood/branches and fertilize them well. I would use a high mid-dle number soluble fertilizer.

As to your Rhododendron, it being in its first year, you might wish to erect a burlap or Arbotex shield around (but not covering) the plant. Just put stakes in the ground up to slightly over the plant’s height and wrap it all around with two or three lay-ers of burlap available at any garden centre, or if you are able to find the product Arbotex (manufactured in Saint-Elzear-de-Beauce, Québec by Texel). You need not do that until just before freeze up. Another consideration is to put the stakes in now and not put the burlap or Arbotex on until early December.

Finally for this week, Brian from Calgary posed this question, which leaves me absolutely blank! “Last fall, my neighbour had a tree growing out of a hole in his deck and it was full of white berries about the size of marbles. They had 1/4 inch stems and lined the branches on each side of the branch like white dots o o o o o o o o o o o o. Much about the berries and leaves reminded me of cherries so I tasted a couple of them. They were very sweet and watery and the pit was like a cherry pit. I dug the plant up early this spring and moved it to my yard but it bore no fruit. It grew small leaves only. Do you know what this tree is and how do I make sure that it survives the Calgary winter?”

As mentioned, I have no idea what this fruit is, that is hardy in Calgary. The cherry I know that is close (and really not that close) to white in colour is the sweet ‘Rainier’ but it would certainly not be hardy in Calgary; nor would any of the sour cherries as far as I know.

I wonder if what you have is the common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) which has larger berries than some of the less-hardy Snowberry species and cultivars. It is a native shrub in fact and would easily grow in Calgary. I suggest taking a branch with berries (if possible) to a local garden centre manager and see what he or she says.

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