published Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Lea: Golden St. John's wort is a bee favorite

By Pat Lea

Q. I would like a flowering shrub, preferably native, that is good for the bees. They are in trouble lately.

A. A stroll around my garden revealed whole battalions of bees buzzing all around my golden St. Johns wort. I will tell you that the good qualities of this plant are almost too numerous to list. With the official name of hypericum frondosum, golden St. John's wort is native to eastern Tennessee, Alabama and parts of Georgia.

Mine is covered with egg-yolk yellow, bright flowers that have a golden center with so many stamens they look like pompoms. The bees are literally wallowing in them, and you can hear the buzzing a few feet away.

The blooms cover the plant and each stem has several blooms that open slowly, day after day. Dozens of fat bumblebees with heavy packets of golden pollen on their hind legs are staggering from flower to flower on each shrub. The blooms only last a day or so, but the shrub is covered with them and the bloom period lasts at least a couple of weeks. The tight buds are attractive, too; they look like green pearls, and the small sage-green leaves blend well in arrangements.

As a self-avowed lazy gardener, I rarely do anything to this shrub. My cultivar, called "Sunburst," grows to about three feet tall and the shrubs have grown together but would be about four feet wide if they were not planted as a low hedge.

Golden St. John's wort is hardy to zone 6 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness map -- most of Chattanooga is zone 7 -- and they survived our past winter on the mountain with no damage. It is heat resistant, tolerates dry soil once established, and I have had no insect problems.

It will bloom from now through July and it loses its leaves in the fall. You can trim it back with a hedge trimmer to keep it lower but I have never gotten around to any trimming. It stays a nice, even height with no stragglers.

Contact Pat Lea at lea.pat@gmail.com.

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