Bee-friendly plants series: Caragana

Caragana first came to my attention decades ago when I was reading a Margaret Laurence novel. One of the characters, a child, was hiding in the caragana and, I think, listening to adults from behind the caragana. At that time I’d never heard of caragana. I figured it must be a bush and when I looked it up I found an alternate name is Siberian pea shrub. Now, anything with “Siberian” in it is of interest to a northern gardener because it indicates hardiness. Turns out caragana is rated hardy in zone 3 (We are zone 5 and 6 in Nova Scotia), so it should be a bullet-proof plant for us. It is a very popular shrub on the prairies where climate is much more extreme than ours. It has pale green foliage, yellow flowers and is very attractive to bees and blooms in late May, early June. A good bee plant. After I learned about it I started looking for it, and the first place I spotted it was in Little Bass River on a property on the Pleasant Hills Road. I collected some seed pods and started growing transplants. It is dead easy to grow from seed. The seed pods form and ripen in mid-summer. When they turn brown and dry they open in a kind of corkscrew shape and shed their seed, so better to collect them just before this stage, dry them a bit and plant seed immediately. The bushes can grow 10-12 feet high. They get kind of leggy and then can blow over in the wind. You can prune them to keep them shorter. They are not really a specimen plant –not showy at all- so they are probably better in a hedge or background planting or shelterbelt where they can quietly do good work fixing nitrogen and feeding bees. Sort of irrelevant factoids: it was brought to North America initially by Asian immigrants who used its seeds as a food source, and in some places it is considered an invasive species.

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