Buttonbush: sun or shade?

crabbygardenerMarch 9, 2014

I have a question about a plant I received for free at work: Cephalanthus occidentalis (Rubiaceae), aka Buttonbush. If memory serves, it's a North America native often found near streams in the woods. I was told that it thrives in full to part shade, which is where I planted it, but it barely grew this past year. Google searching revealed some websites that agreed with the shade assessment, but quite a few websites said that it grows in sun/part sun. Any insight? Should I transplant this guy to more sun, or is shade better? Any other ideas on how to get him to grow this year? I keep him well watered with water from my rain barrel--I've heard he's a thirsty one.

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My original one bloomed after three years, on a streambank but mostly in shade. Now it is about 10 feet tall. However, another one was planted on the lakeshore in full sun. So far it has not bloomed, but it has grown much faster than the one in partial shade.

So, I think your site is probably OK, but you need patience, which I don't have much of any more as the years have flown by.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 8:58AM
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bostedo(8a tx-bp-dfw)

Suspect the variation in light recommendations is because c. occidentalis can range from Canada to Mexico. Most recommendations I've seen written for regions with the long 100ð+ runs found in north Texas (8a) call for some shade. Full sun is probably fine and likely recommended for less intense heat further north or at higher altitudes. Have encountered this with several other plants recommended for full sun in the north, but have to be given some shade here in order to thrive or even survive.

Buttonbush might work in full sunlight here in a water or wetland location, but most of the recommendations are written for typically drier landscape use. Ours is happy in partial shade, but grows very slowly.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 4:23PM
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I see buttonbush in varied conditions from full sun to 1/2 shade here in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I've grown it in both, and find constant moisture to affect growth even more than light conditions. I'm not sure that full shade will do...really.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 8:49AM
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lukifell(zone5 NH)

Here in Zone 5 New Hampshire buttonbush does best in full sun. It also seems to like lots of nutrients. Does not seem to be affected by pollution.

Buttonbush cannot grow underneath a stand of red maple. You have to cut the maple trees down first.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 9:49PM
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I have a stand in full shade, swamp, lots of swamp maples. It took a while (4 years) - but now blooms very nicely - a good plant for a difficult place.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 1:02PM
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Thanks for your replies, everyone!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 10:21PM
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I have several button bushes growing on the lake shore. Very wet. One is an older and larger plant - perhaps the parent to the others. It is growing intertwined with a viburnum and a blueberry. They are all in full sun and seem happy. Even the youngest and smallest are blooming. I didn't plant any of them - they were here before I bought the house or they planted themselves.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 11:35PM
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I have seen native stands of button bush in full sun on the edge of a pond here, but have also seen them in full shade in a red maple wetland. In both cases they were in southern NH toward the seacoast and in full bloom, so even this far north they don't seem too fussy. Both stands also had water up around their ankles and seemed perfectly happy that way.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2015 at 7:04AM
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Yes, quite adaptable to sun/shade continuum. There's shade however, and then there's shade. I wouldn't expect any shrub to do much under, say, the shade of a mature Norway maple, etc.

One other thought: Sometimes, just the judicious pruning of a few branches on surrounding trees is all that's needed to really make a difference. I don't know your exact situation, but could this be an answer?


    Bookmark   March 4, 2015 at 11:37AM
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