Irises are beautiful, rhizome rooted perennials (or “tubers”) that bloom in early summer and are dormant during the winter. The flowers themselves seem delicate, but Irises are rugged and easy to grow. If you’re planning on adding Irises to your garden, here are a few tips to help you get started in planting and caring for irises.
How to Plant and Care for Iris Flowers
Irises come in a multitude of colors, named after the Goddess, Iris, who rode rainbows. Even though there are 300 (plus) species in the genus Iris, the most common and recognizable iris is the bearded iris, Iris Germanica.
How to Plant Irises
Just like most other tubers or bulbs, fall is the best time to plant. This is especially true if you have hot summers. If you live in a cooler climate, you may be able to plant them in early spring as well.
- Don’t plant iris tubers too deep. Showing a little of they “backbone” when planting is just fine. However, if it’s too hot in your zone, cover them completely with soil or mulch. Just use enough soil to cover them, they need to be planted near the surface.
- Irises love full sun. Plant these guys in a warm spot with plenty of sunshine. They will bloom each summer for you. If they don’t have enough sun, the irises won’t bloom.
- These flowers love slightly acidic soil. Plant them with a small amount of peat moss and they will be happy.
- Make sure that your soil has great drainage. They like to be watered frequently, but sitting in water will drown them. They are not able to tolerate wet soil during the winter.
The basic care of irises is pretty straightforward and easy. Irises, once planted, tend to take care of themselves.
What to Plant with Irises
Irises do well in a garden bed alone, as they tend to spread quickly and can take over. However, there are many plants that grow well with irises.
Some of those include: lilac bushes, daffodil, tulips, allium, phlox, violet, peony, foxglove, yarrow, hyssop and chamomile.
These are just a few of the companion plants you can grow with your irises.
How to Care for Irises
Caring for irises is easy! Water your irises frequently, getting the roots really wet during the summer. Make sure that they have proper drainage as irises like the tops of their tubers to be dry, but the bottom of their tubers to be wet.
- Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer or high-nutrient compost in the spring as the irises are waking up. Do not use too much mulch or compost above the iris tubers as this will encourage rot.
- Irises bloom in late spring through the summer. Once they are finished blooming, leave the foliage (leaves) as long as you can after they have bloomed. This gives the plants nutrients for the following spring.
- Once blooming is done, cut the flower stalks down. These are not necessary and honestly they don’t look nice either.
Dividing Your Irises
If your irises aren’t blooming as beautiful as they did years prior, or they are sparsely blooming, it’s time to separate them. The plants are becoming too crowded and they are no longer getting the nutrients they need. It’s best to divide irises in the late summer, after blooming is done.
- To divide your irises, carefully pull up a large clump of iris tubers from the ground.
- Break the clumps apart into pieces that are 3-4 inches long and cut the leaves down to where there is only a couple inches left.
- Transplant those iris rhizomes into groups of 3. Plant them in the shape of a triangle about 18 inches apart form one another, in a sunny spot. Be sure to plant your rhizomes with the tops of the tubers showing.
- Water the new transplants well and be sure to protect them with mulch once winter hits. The irises should begin to grow again in the spring.
Preparing Your Irises for Winter
- After the first hard frost in the fall (or if you live in a warmer climate, once the weather starts feeling cooler), cut back all the foliage to the base of the plant. Remove of all foliage to prevent any encouragement of borer eggs.
- Cover the tubers with a light mulch to protect them during the winter. Make sure that it can easily be removed during the spring.
Irises are a wonderful addition to any garden. Not only are they beautiful, they also attract pollinators. Since they are so easy to grow, it makes sense to add them to any garden, encouraging bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Some iris species can be hardy up to zone 4, which makes them a great addition to hard to grow gardens. Planting and caring for irises can be easy and fun!
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