BACKGROUND : The Agrobacterium-mediated transient transformation is a versatile and indispensable way of rapid analyzing gene function in plants. Despite this transient expression system has been successfully applied in a number of plant species, it is poorly developed in Caragana intermedia. RESULTS : In this study, we established an Agrobacterium-mediated transient expression system in C. intermedia leaves and optimized the effect of different Agrobacterial strains, several surfactants and the concentration of Silwet L-77, which would affect transient expression efficiency. Among the 5 Agrobacterial strains examined, GV3101 produced the highest GUS expression level. Besides, higher level of transient expression was observed in plants infiltrated with Silwet L-77 than with Triton X-100 or Tween-20. Silwet L-77 at a concentration of 0.001% greatly improved the level of GUS transient expression. Real-time PCR showed that expression of CiDREB1C was highly up-regulated in transiently expressed plants and reached the highest level at the 2nd day after infiltration. Based on this optimized transient transformation method, we characterized CiDREB1C function in response to drought, salt and ABA treatment. The results showed that transiently expressed CiDREB1C in C. intermedia leaves could enhance the survival rate and chlorophyll content, and reduce the lodging rate compared with the control seedlings under drought, salt and ABA treatments. Furthermore, the rate of leaf shedding of CiDREB1C transient expression seedlings was lower than that of the control under ABA treatment. CONCLUSIONS : The optimized transient expression condition in C. intermedia leaves were infiltrated with Agrobacterial strains GV3101 plus Silwet L-77 at a concentration of 0.001% added into the infiltration medium. Transiently expressed CiDREB1C enhanced drought, salt and ABA stress tolerance, indicated that it was a suitable and effective tool to determine gene function involved in abiotic stress response in C. intermedia.