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Best Beginner Bushes
by John Harmon
June 18, 2000

Gardening in the Whitehorse area is always full of surprises and the surprise Wednesday morning came in the form of frost with the temperature just at zero out in the Goldenhorn area. An old friend that lived in Whitehorse since the 50's told me that you could only count on there being no more frost after the first full moon in June. That event is coming up tonight. The only good thing about the frost is that maybe it killed some of this years bumper crop of mosquitoes.

I've had some requests from gardeners new to the north as well as from folks who have been here for some time for information on what shrubs and bushes will survive and thrive here. I don't grow many bushes or landscaping shrubs so I went up to Adorna Flowers and Landscaping and talked to John. Here are his picks for the best hardy bushes for beginners to plant.

Caragana:

This bush is a native to Russia and China. It's name in Mongolian is Leguminosoe which translates to Pea Tree which is a good description of it's pea-like pods and blossoms. I have a few of these around the farm and I can tell you they will grow with out any care in poor sandy soil and are drought tolerant. With reasonable soil and a little care like regular watering and a top dressing of compost once in a while you can count on this bush to thrive. Caragana can be grown as a hedge or just as single bushes in full sun or partial shade. This bush is listed as having a "moderate" growth rate which translates to "slow" here in the north. Mature height is three to six metres but it will take many years to get that big. The only time you will have a problem with this bush is on poorly drained soil. It doesn't like having it's roots wet all the time. Watch out for the thorns on this plant. Because it's a legume it will fix nitrogen in the soil as an added bonus!

Cotoneaster:

Pronounced "Cot-o-ne-as-ter," the name is taken from the Greek "Kotoneon" (quince) and the Latin "ad istar" (similarity) even though everyone agrees that it doesn't look anything like a quince. The Cotoneaster is a popular shrub with small shiny leaves and some varieties can be used for indoor bonsai. This shrub also produces bunches of berries that provide food for the birds. There are dozens of varieties of Cotoneaster but only a few are hardy enough for the north. Check with the local garden centres for the hardiest ones. These bushes like full sun but will tolerate some shade. They will grow in almost any kind of soil but like the Caragana they don't like to have their roots wet all the time. It will thrive in your yard without much help from you.

Dogwood:

This is the one to pick for those shady places that don't get much sun. Dogwood will grow even where it doesn't get direct sun as long as it gets good light for part of the day. This bush will provide some color right into the winter with it's brightly colored foliage.

May day tree:

When you ask for a may day tree you might get one of two species. The flowering Hawthorn belongs to the family "crataegus" and this one is the true English may day tree. The "prunus padus" or improved chokecherry is also sold in the west as a may day tree because of it's habit of blooming around May 24th. Both varieties are very hardy and will grow in the north. This is a favorite for it's fall color and foliage in the summer. It will grow best in rich loamy soil but it also likes heavy clay soils. Give it lots of water and full sun.

Other bushes to consider are Honeysuckle, Lilac, Mountain Ash, and Mock Orange. All of these bushes and trees are hardy and available locally. For more information give the Yukon Agriculture branch a call at 667-5838 or stop in at their new location across from the airport in the same building as the Wildlife Branch at 10 Burns Road or do like I did and talk to someone at your favorite garden centre.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail tropnorth@polarcom.com. Website: http://www.netshop.yk.ca/tropnor/

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