I Think I Killed the Butterfly Bush

How often should new plants be watered and how much each time? Both questions plagued me that first summer. The best advice I found said water new plants every day, then as often as you water the rest of your garden. Having never had a garden, I didn’t find that advice to be particularly helpful. On planting day, we watered each plant individually with a hose—that got old fast.  There were 16 or so new plants, and even watering each for five minutes at a time was unsustainable.  Adding to my troubles was the fact that I planted in what I soon learned to be Atlanta’s dry season.  It rains regularly from October through April. But from May through September, rain can be spotty. All the advice about watering didn’t take into account my local dry season. 

Next, I moved on from the hose to an oscillating sprinkler. Unfortunately, I was so focused on keeping the main group of plants alive that I forgot to water the new lavender butterfly bush, which was off to the side near the driveway. Most of the main group of plants lived until the fall. However, few returned the next spring for various reasons. In the case of the black-eyed Susans, they were actually annuals mislabeled as “perennials.”  The hybrid coneflowers developed mildew and died by the end of the season. The net outcome of that first season was that the next spring I had to start from (almost) scratch. 

Bee balm was the main success of the second growing season. They had spread and quadrupled in number and were much taller. The butterfly bush didn’t make it–I think I killed it.  Having learned a painful lesson from the first year, I decided to try a different watering method.  

Bee Bam , Year II. iPhone 4s

Since the first year the plants seemed to droop a lot despite the fact I was spending a few hours watering them once a week, I sought a more effective watering process. By this time, I was sure I had never overwatered, so I went with more frequent watering using an oscillating sprinkler.  Frequent watering with the oscillating sprinkler worked better— I could leave it on for two hours and walk away.  That second season proved far more successful. More plants lived, and they looked better over the entire growing season.  However, powdery mildew became a serious problem.  The overhead watering late in the evening was likely the cause of the mildew. Lesson learned.

By the third season, having had two years to do more research and learn from my mistakes, I moved away from overhead watering. Instead of overhead watering, I found an inexpensive, ground-level sprinkler system that worked well for everyday watering needs. 

Now, in my sixth season, I have settled on the flowing algorithm for new plantings and maintenance care: soak each new plant every day for the first week, then every other day the second week, and finally every third day the third week. After that, they are usually strong enough to make it using the ground-level sprinklers for twice per week waterings. Since that third year, I haven’t lost any plants due to watering issues. I hope this post helps others who dare to plant when rain is scarce.


  1. Excellent, wonderful article. I am no longer able to water my flowers as I once did, I do miss so much going outside to work in the gardens beautiful flowers and colors. Love the color of your butterfly bush. I don’t think all of it is dead is it? Love that color, and your watering advice continue the good work….

    1. It barely lasted the season.

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