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Not wholly in the busy world, not quite beyond it, blooms the garden that I love.

~ Tennyson ~

Bearded Iris - Fast Facts

Rain that wouldn't stop in the spring, followed by a drought that put the Sahara desert to shame tested the stamina of our plants this year. Not surprisingly, the bearded iris were among those plants that laughed at Mother Nature's temper tantrums.

I have always been very fond of iris, I like the sword-like foliage and the beautiful flowers that come in just about any color of the rainbow. Not to mention that iris are easy to care for and very forgiving of less than ideal conditions.

The results of my fingers flipping catalog pages and clicking web sites are currently sitting in buckets in he cool basement while I am waiting for the September rain to stop. Once the ground dries up just a little I will introduce my new beauties to our Tennessee soil.

Here are a few things to consider when planting or dividing iris to help them get off on their best foot.


When you are dividing and trimming your iris, you'll want to remember that each rhizome will bloom only once. Once it has bloomed, it's done forever, never to bloom again. Some people will refer to the fat part with the old stalk as 'mother rhizome'. Discard this mother unless you see small baby shoots emerging from its sides and you have plenty of time and space. Only replant the 'blooming size' rhizomes unless it's a treasured variety.

How to tell a blooming size rhizome? It's easiest in the fall as the rhizome will have a thickening or new shoots at the end where the leaves are located. At other times of the year, the future bloomers will be the two shoots (about thumb size for most varieties) on either side of the current flower stalk.

Cut the leaves off about 2 inches above the rhizome, you can cut straight across or fan shaped, it won't matter. Also remove most of the roots. Once the rhizome is out of the ground, it immediately goes into hibernation to conserve energy. Most of the old leaves and roots will soon shrivel up and die. Short roots make planting a lot easier and short tops will keep the iris from getting knocked out of the ground by wind or animals.

The bigger - the better? Rhizome size is determined by many variables, the most important one being the variety of iris. Some cultivars just make much larger rhizomes than others. Time of year, weather and local growing condition also affect size. As long as the rhizome is firm and not a mother, it will grow and most likely bloom the next season.


Suggestions for proper planting vary according to time of year and your local climate zone. Generally, the colder the region, the less of the rhizome needs to be exposed. The warmer and more humid your area, the more of it should be above the ground. When planting in the fall, seat the rhizome firmly so it's less likely to heave during freezes.

At least these are the most frequently found instructions in gardening books, on gardening web sites and forums. In my opinion, all is not lost if these instructions aren't followed to the letter.

Just think of how iris grow in nature: old homesteads, long gone with barely a chimney standing to mark the location - except in early summer when the iris are in bloom. Rhizomes are covered with leaf mulch and haven't been 'kissed by the sun' in years. Or rhizomes tossed into the compost or a ditch, growing and blooming in a year or two.

So for optimal growth select a well drained and sunny location for your bearded iris and plant with the top part of the rhizome above the ground. Don't let the lack of a perfect location stop you from adding a few of these beauties to your garden: they will grow in partial sun and delight you, even under a layer of mulch or leaf litter.


After the Iris are finished blooming, remove the stalks. Dig them up and replant when your iris are getting too crowded, stop blooming or you want to share. They can be dug up and replanted all year round and will be their largest in late July and August. If the ground is frozen, or one isn't ready to replant, they can be stored in a dry location for months, however, the longer they are stored, the longer they will take to start growing again. Plants divided and replanted in fall are most likely to bloom the following season.

Should your iris develop leaf spot, a common problem in wet and humid summers, cut the affected foliage off and dispose of it in the trash. Do not compost.


October in the Garden:

Iris Indigo Seas


Copper Fruit Feeders