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With over 200 species of iris plants, there is bound to be an iris for your garden. Iris plants are low-maintenance and easy to grow. Bloom time varies depending on the species—some varieties bloom in spring or summer, while others bloom in spring and again in fall.
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Under 6 inches to 8 feet
6 inches to 2 feet
Bearded irises are especially noteworthy for being available in a rainbow of colors. But all species of iris boast flowers that are intricate and detailed. The three lower, drooping petals are commonly referred to as the falls. The three upright petals are called the standards. Both of those sets of petals are purely for show. The important bits are held on the style arm, and they often look like miniature standards and are on the same plane as the falls, between the standards. All parts of an iris blossom are colorful and can have a variety of patterns. The foliage of irises can also be quite striking, with its long, lance-shape leaves in an attractive gray-green color. Even when not in bloom, the upright foliage can add great texture to a garden.
Iris Care Must-Knows
Bearded and bulb-type irises need well-drained soil to thrive. Because their root is a rhizome, they are susceptible to rot. Many of the species are native to rocky mountainsides where there is sharp drainage. If you are looking for a species to grow in moist soil, look for a Louisiana iris, Japanese iris, or a yellow flag iris. With hundreds of species, it is always best to do a little research before planting to make sure you give your iris the growing conditions it needs.
When it comes to sunlight, all irises need 6-8 hours of full sun for the best blossoms and plant habit. In too much shade, growth may be more stretched and floppy, and irises are less likely to bloom.
Bearded irises and other rhizomatous types will eventually overcrowd, and they need to be divided every 2 to 5 years. If it has been quite some time since their last division and your irises seem to be flowering less and less, chances are it's time for them to be divided. The best time to divide and replant most irises is late summer to early fall. At this point in their life cycle, irises are somewhat dormant and are resting up for their fall growth cycle to begin. To divide your irises, carefully lift the plants (a pitchfork works great for this), and carefully tease apart the individual rhizomes. Don't worry if you break a few roots or rhizomes, as they are pretty tough plants. Once they are all separated, you can replant. In order to plant your rhizomes, dig a small trench and set each rhizome on a small mound of soil, fanning out the roots around it. If there is some fairly large foliage attached to the rhizome, you can cut it back by half to take some strain off the plant. Then, backfill with soil around the rhizome, making sure to tamp down any air pockets and bringing the soil level just to the top of the rhizome. Water your plants well. Give them a good drink once or twice a week for the first several weeks after planting until the new roots begin to grow.
Irises are fairly pest-free, but iris borers, a nasty bug, haunt them. The damage is caused by a caterpillar that feeds around blossom time, often between mid-April and mid-June. These caterpillars hatch from small eggs that were laid in debris around the plants the previous fall. Upon hatching, they chew their way into the leaves and then burrow down into the rhizome, leaving behind a trail of frass, a powdery wood residue. Once at their destination, these bugs can eat several rhizomes and make their way through an entire bed. Their rough damage also opens plants up to infection from bacterial rot, too. These bugs are tricky to control as they are often hidden within the plant where traditional methods, like spraying, can't reach them. If you do find a damaged plant, dig it up and see if you can locate the culprits and dispose of them. The best method of control is often prevention, so make sure to clean up any debris around your irises in fall and early spring. Before new growth begins in early spring, you can burn any plots of iris to clean up foliage as well as burn off any eggs that may be present.