SOMETIMES CALLED 'FLAGS'
Bearded iris are fun and easy to grow. The large, distinctive flowers and sturdy strap-like leaves are a colorful addition to any garden.
Bearded iris have almost unlimited uses in the garden. They come in such a wide range of growing sizes, height and flower sizes. In fact, there's a type or variety to fit practically any planting need. The lower growing varieties are most often used in rockeries, as borders or in perennial beds. While the medium and tall varieties, are often used in perennial beds, landscaped borders and foundation plantings around the home.
Iris are colorful plants to use in the garden because they flower at a time just after most of the spring flowering plants are through flowering and before the summer flowering plants are in full bloom. Flowers are not only attractive in the garden, but have great value as cut flowers too!
COLORS AND FLOWERING TIMES
For year's bearded iris was probably better known by the common name 'Flags'. The predominant flower colors were blue, yellow and white. In recent years hybridization has resulted in the introduction of countless new varieties in practically every color of the color spectrum, except for a true pure red. Some of the new flower colors and color combinations are absolutely striking.
Bearded iris bloom for several weeks ranging in varieties that flower early, early to mid-season, mid-season to late, and some that are very late. Growers have developed a new strain of tall bearded iris called 'Re-Bloomers', varieties that flower in the spring and again in the mid-summer. So one can enjoy the beauty of iris by selecting varieties that flower in the various seasons.
Although the tall standard varieties are the ones most frequently grown here there are also dwarf miniatures, standard dwarf, intermediate, tall miniatures and border types of iris. These are the six basic classifications of bearded iris and they range in height from just a few inches to some that may grow up to three or four feet in height.
Bearded iris are almost fool-proof plants to grow provided they're given good drainage and a spot in the landscape where they get full sun or partial sun and shade. I must admit the previous owners of our home, planted some in full shade and they grow a bit stragglier, but flower just fine. Not recommended, but it can be done.
HOW TO PLANT IRIS
The best time to plant or transplant bearded iris is right after they have finished flowering or during the fall and winter.
If you're planting bearded iris for the first time be certain to take time to properly prepare the soil by mixing about one third peat moss, compost (if available) or processed manure (the bagged stuff) with your existing soil. So you have a mix of 2/3 existing soil and 1/3 of organic material in the planting area. At planting time I like to add a non-burning transplanting fertilizer or a rose type fertilizer with your soil, mixing it thoroughly with your soil, so as to encourage new root growth.
The roots of the rhizome should be spread down but slightly outward at planting time. Plant the rhizome so it is barely covered with soil. Usually the rhizomes are planted about a foot to two feet apart for a nice prolific show in the garden. The point of the rhizome should face forward toward the front of your flowerbed. If the iris are planted on a hillside, the rhizome should point downward with the leaves on the high side of the slope.
Clumps can remain in the garden for up to four or five years. However after that time it's a good practice to separate and divide them. With this in mind, then the best time to divide and transplant them is in July, August or September. Discard the old worn out plants and replant the new outer, young divisions. They usually will flower the first year (unless you plant them too deep). But their best flowering times will be during the second through fourth years.
Carefully dig and divide the clumps using a shovel or spading fork. Take care not to damage the rhizomes as you dig the clumps. Be certain to cut each rhizome so that it has its own set of leaves. Before resetting, trim the leaves back to within about six inches of the rhizome. I cut the leaves at an angle, much like the shape of a tee-pee.
WHEN TO FEED IRIS
The ideal time to feed bearded iris is in the springtime after the new growth begins. Use an all-purpose rose or vegetable garden type of fertilizer, sprinkling the fertilizer around each clump. The addition of a little bit of dolomite lime is also beneficial for iris. Be certain to water the fertilizer in thoroughly after application, so it doesn't burn the plants or rhizomes. Wash off any fertilizer which might have gotten on the leaves or rhizomes.
TRIMMING EACH YEAR
It's up to you, but the leaves of our iris begin looking a bit ratty shortly after they have finished flowering, so I always cut the leaves back to about 6 to 10 inches. I cut them the same way as when transplanting, cutting at an angle, making the cut shaped like a tee-pee.