An Iris newbie has tons of questions

Rosecandy VA, zone 7March 18, 2014

Hello everyone. The house I grew up in came with three colors of Iris and two different sizes. We never took care of them except one time when my mom and a friend thinned them out. We have since moved and I've decided it's time to get some more irises. In my (admitidly limited) research I have found a website ( that has irises that bloom at different times of the season, but it doesn't have actual months or seasons (early/late spring). I don't know the bloom cycles of irises and I want all of mine to bloom at once. I plan to get a couple Lavander plants and then put the irises between them. The colors I want are "black", white, purple, maroon, and yellow. I know there's no true black iris, so I want it to be a dark purple rather than dark red, so it'll match the other colors better. I haven't decided if I want one size or two, but I don't think I want under 12" or over 36". I want bearded irises of a solid (or mostly solid) color.

So here're my questions:
1 - Do all irises have the same desease resistance? Do they all do well with some neglect, or do some need to be babied?

2 - Is the height the website gives the height of the flower or the leaves? I remember the flowers going above the leaves, am I correct?

3 - Do irises need a lot of water, somewhere in between, or little water. My understanding is they want little water, but I can't find a definitive answer.

4 - The bloom cycles are described as being "very early, early, early mid, early mid late, mid, mid late, and late" what do all these mean? How long do irises bloom? If I buy lavender that blooms in the spring for 4-6 weeks and irises that bloom in the spring, would they last 4-6 weeks? I'm very confused on the bloom cycle.

5 - I know with roses rain can damage the flowers and make them look ugly; are irises also affected by rain?

6 - What "black" iris do you reccomend that has a purple base and looks the most black?

7 - What does it mean when an iris's style is described as "self"?

Once I know the other information I should be able to pick out the other irises. I'm in Virginia, zone 7. Thanks very much!

This post was edited by Rosecandy on Tue, Mar 18, 14 at 13:48

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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Rosecandy, welcome. I assume you are asking about the Tall Beardeds which are over 27 inches.
Schriener's site I believe gives heights of SDB, MTB, IB, etc.

1. Tall beardeds are equal in disease resistance pretty much. What are called cemetary iris are very old varieties and they are the toughest, withstanding neglect. Beardeds don't like babying. They like sun and deep watering when the top 4 inches of soil is dry. Sprinkler systems are not good.

2. Heights listed are from the ground to the top of the terminal flower (first bloom on top). Height is an average of 2 years performance. There can be a difference due to weather, nuitrition, etc. I've only seen down in the foliage bloom occur in rebloomers' rebloom.

3. Definately drought friendly. They do not like moist soil. Sun and drainage!

4. An iris stalk typically has 6 buds. If that cultivar opens 3 flowers at once and they last 5 days & on the 5th day the other 3 open and last 5 days, you have 10 days of bloom for that stalk. Other cultivars may open 1 bud at a time so you may have a couple extra days of open bloom. If temps. are warm (80's - 90's) a bloom will only last 3 days. If you have a large clump, then some stalks will be slower than others to open so you will have a longer show of that cultivar. 2 weeks of bloom of a particular cultivar is common. 3 weeks is wonderful!

The majority of tall beardeds are mid-season openers. Early ones begin about 3 weeks before the early mid-season ones open. So those early ones are winding down as the early mid-season ones begin. Peak bloom here occurs at Mother's Day. The early mids may still have bloom, the mid-mids are going great, and the late-mids are opening. As the late-mids are finishing, the lates open. There is overlap. Bearded iris bloom once in the spring unless it is a rebloomer (which will require additional water and food).

5. Beardeds with poor substance (thin petals) do not fare well in rain. They are few and far between. More common in historics in my experience. Lots of pictures of beardeds looking very perky covered with raindrops. A storm is another matter.

6. 'Around Midnight' (Schreiner'95) is considered the blackest by people on this forum. Be very leary of judging color by photos. 'Dusky Challenger' is not as black but has been the top notch purple for several years.

7. A self is all one color. I've read conflicting info on whether that includes the beard.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 1:48AM
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Rosecandy VA, zone 7

When does the blooming season start? March? April? Late Spring? Thank you!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 7:21AM
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cecily(7 VA)

Hi Rosecandy, I'm in the northern VA/ DC suburbs. My tall bearded iris bloom in May. Since our soil is heavy clay and we receive 40" of rain annually, my iris are planted with the rhizome above the soil level in the absolute driest place in my yard. When you order iris, they will be shipped in August and you'll need to water them weekly until the fall rains start. Then you won't ever water them again.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 1:54PM
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Rosecandy VA, zone 7

Thank you cecily, that helps a lot! Now that I'm armed with information I'm ready to start looking into what to buy. Thank you to both of you!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 10:16AM
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sc_gardener(zone 5)

Also, the tallest ones may need to be staked. I have one or two that are really tall and if you get a big wind or a storm, they will flop over. No big deal though, easy enough to do. I like to stake them before they get into bloom, so I don't risk the whole stalk cracking off.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 12:46PM
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Hey glad I found this, i was given some divided irises a couple of years ago, and they have not bloomed through two full seasons, any thoughts on getting bloom to occur?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 10:06AM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Mfix, it's possible your iris have taken 2 years to establish themselves. Not uncommon.

The FAQ (chose iris after you open it) has more possibiities.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 3:25PM
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Rosecandy VA, zone 7

That's really good to know about the tall ones. I never imagined them needing to be staked, but it makes a lot of sense considering how large they are!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:37AM
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I'm a newbie to iris's also. Great information here, thanks everyone!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 1:46AM
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