I think you're not supposed to mulch iris so what do I do?

aliska12000(Z5)May 19, 2008

Haven't posted on this forum before, have a few iris going, the bearded kind. Now I understand you aren't supposed to mulch them. That's ok where these are or I can pull the mulch away.

I've got 10 or 12 lace handkerchief iris, they are a different kind than the bearded, variegated leaves. The bed I'm going to put them in has as it's main feature 6 Austin roses spaced 5' apart with only about 10" at the most between them and the edge. It's so prone to weeds, especially that horrid grass with runners, that after cultivating it tonight, I'm going to have to go into some kind of lasagne bed type of gardening.

With all the assorted plants going in there, I'm not going to be able to use my tiller again for cultivating that area because there won't be enough room between the plants.

I was going to lay down wet newspaper first because I think cardboard would be too hard to plant around/through. Then I plan on adding a generous layer of shredded leaves from last fall, and was hoping I wouldn't have to use my cypress mulch for this big area but may have to.

Do I dare mulch these iris? Otherwise, I'll have to pull the paper and whatever away from all of them after they're planted. They look healthy in their pots, have had to put them on hold until I got my tiller back, so they are late going in but still look healthy. I read a couple posters who said once they got this kind in the ground they lost them, but whatever happens happens. I wanted to run a soaker hose down one length and back up the other but should probably do that before I start setting plants which is going to cause more delay if I do that.

On top of everything else, when it gets hot, it's going to be too much to water that long area with the hose, probably more than 40' long and 24 to 30 inches wide, wish I could make it wider but can't right now.

Any thoughts and have any of you had to cope with something like this?

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Laced Handkerchief is a border bearded iris, and bearded irises are prone to rot if mulched and/or overwatered. Your best bet in a mixed bed is to plant bearded irises on mounds of dirt so that moisture will drain away from them, and you can keep mulch away from the dirt mounds while still mulching the surrounding plants.

FYI, the registered description of Laced Handkerchief doesn't mention variegated leaves. Are you certain you have the name right on your plants?


    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 10:20PM
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berrytea4me(Z5 CO)

In general Iris need to have their "necks sticking out like a duck in water" as my grandmother used to say. The rhyzomes should be on the surface or very close to it (1" cover at most). They will not bloom if planted too deeply.

Moisture depends on your area. We have perpetual drought/grassland desert here so even iris will die if not given supplemental water. However, in most climates, natural water is enough. If your climate is very wet, put them in very well drained soil or raise them up as Laurie suggested.

I had some bearded iris newly planted last fall that accidentally got covered by dirt when the septic guy dug my system. They actually overwintered better than others planted at the same time but not "mulched" with dirt. as soon as I saw leaves poking out this spring I uncovered the rhyzomes and now they are blooming while the others are trying to grow any leaves at all (really winter stressed). So, I think mulch may be OK in the winter in cold climates but pull it away as soon as new growth starts in spring.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 11:08PM
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I think somewhere it said to plant them 4 inches deep, so you're saying I can put them in the border, guess that would work. Thanks for suggesting the mounding. I hope I can get away without mounding them too high as that might not look so nice, maybe more filled in w/other plants, it won't matter. That is what I will do. I've read not to water iris unless there hasn't been rain for at least 2 weeks and then not too much.

I got them from Spring Hill; if my link works, you can see that the leaves are variegated. Some have babies already. I suppose that's how much I paid for them, think I got 12, yikes, they were so cute I had to try them.

All I've got ready to go in there now are 16 Asian-type lilies, the iris, some more bearded iris to ship in fall, 3 more roses, some purple sage, several cerastium, some purple bergamo (may not work, likes damp), one phlox later, and seedlings that aren't ready. I'm worried about arranging the plants right.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lace Handkerchief Iris

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 11:29PM
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That bed would be plenty dry enough if it weren't for the fact that the roses are going to need lots of water especially this year, their first.

Summer mulch then, no. I may be getting them in too late to bloom this year. I'll probably throw leaves on the whole bed (and dirt and cedar chips for the roses, Austins) in the fall, then pull them away from the iris in the spring.

Thanks for the advice. Had some iris here when we bought the place years ago, but too much shade and moving them, I probably planted them too deep in a bad place and killed them.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 11:37PM
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Ah, Spring Hill. That explains why you've gotten an unregistered Iris tectorum rather than the border bearded that is registered with the AIS as Laced Handkerchief. Iris tectorum is a completely different animal than a bearded iris, and I'm afraid I know little about its cultural requirements. In other words, ignore everything I wrote in my earlier post.

You might want to post a new thread titled, "Need advice on growing tectorum" so that folks familiar with that species can reply with useful advice.

Sorry for leading you down the wrong road.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 11:54PM
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Laurie, no problem at all, and I know about Spring Hill, everything I ordered was small but healthy. Couldn't find but two sources for these and think one led back to the other.

Anyway, am a little overwhelmed by all that is facing me this am so may try to research tectorum before starting a new thread.

Your input was helpful, and I'm going to need that info down the line anyway.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 10:53AM
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eroctuse2(z5 SE Michigan)

I'll be honest and admit I didn't read all of the posts in this thread so I may be wasting your time.

The iris pictured on the Spring Hill site doesn't look like i. tectorum at all. (I've grown the blue and white forms of tectorum and I loved them, but I split clumps too late in the season once and killed everything I had). It does however look like a crested iris (as is i. tectorum).

The one pictured looks more like i. japonica, i. confusa, or something along those lines.

I purchased a "lace handkerchief" iris from one of the mail-order companies years ago and planted it in the garden. It barely survived the first winter and didn't have a chance the next. If you received the same plant, the fact they say it's hardy to zone 4 makes me laugh a little (while still empathizing for your situation).

I now grow a hybrid of i. japonica and i. confusa named 'Nada'. I've never tried to overwinter it out-of-doors, but I don't believe it should be left out in my zone 5(b) climate.

I have read of people growing them outside over winter, but I've also read that the cold will destroy any hopes of spring bloom.

Hopefully, some of that babbling will offer something useful.


P.S. All crested irises that I know of like light shade and if you placed them under the edge of a bush (for instance) that should help to protect it from the cold.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 6:48PM
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Brock, if anybody is guilty of writing too much, it is I, appreciate your input on the matter. I believe you are correct, it's Chinese or Japanese roof iris aka crested iris (did some googline). I did see zone 5b somewhere which is the colder limit for them, and I definitely think there is a difference b/t 5a and 5b, but I might be able to squeak some things through anyway.

Now that is distressing that they may not survive the winter. I just set them out this afternoon, new area where there is no protection, and will have to mulch (or something) for the winter and expect to lose them. There are too many similar in this class to know exactly what to expect. If they make it through the summer, I could pot a few up and bring them inside, but that defeats my purpose as I have enough already to winter inside. They look so nice with that pretty foliage. Yes, I could move some, but I've got scads more plants waiting to be set out.

Yes, I agree that some, not all, mail-order retailers exaggerate the zone business because they would lose sales. A topic for another time, tired after setting out 24 plants, used my bulb planter which made things go a little faster.

I think I had my tiller set to till and not cultivate, oh well, it had gotten so bad so fast, it needed the extra power, but I'm worried if I could have compromised the roots forming on the Austins I set in there ealier. They should recover.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2008 at 8:23PM
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I'm going to side with Brock and say what you have is NOT Iris tectorum (flower shape is quite different), but most likely I. japonica. You might want to compare against the attached link - mine have only just started their bloom sequence and I don't yet have a digi camera, so this is a stock photo but is very indicative. Another way to verify is to examine the foliage - japonica has quite glossy evergreen blades.

Unfortunately, I. japonica is pretty tender compared to most iris and is generally listed only to zone 7. This is one of the major failings of Spring Hill (in addition to funky customer service) - improper labelling of plants.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 9:39AM
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Whoa. That bloom looks exactly like the ones I set out, can't see the leaves. I'll do some checking on that. You lucky people on the west coast, more things grow better in certain parts there, but you have issues, too.

That will be another setback if they have fudged on the zone which would not surprise me a bit. Silly me for taking the bait.

I've just got that sinking feeling now, but will deal with it in the fall. I suppose I could try to bring them in and put them in long window boxes, but that can't be good for them over time. I seriously doubt there is a good way to protect them outside but I could experiment. I also have a fairly large light setup inside and one set of doubles isn't being used, so we shall see. They may not root too deeply, but look like they multiply like crazy if happy. I hope I at least get to see them bloom.

I'll call the extension office and see what they can find out about them.

Thank you for the clarification on the id.

Years ago I decided to push the limits and set out two rain trees. They grew well over the summer, but the winter killed them.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 11:25AM
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Question: One of your competitors is offering a variegated Japanese roof iris. Do you have such a plant?

Answer: We have seen our competitor's website and the plant that is pictured as Iris tectorum Variegata is actually Iris Japoncia variegata. It is absolutely not winter hardy, except in the deep south. This plant has been mislabeled in the trade for decades. Variegated Iris tectorum (roof iris) does not have a dramatic variegation --- nothing like shown in the picture. We don't like variegated Iris tectorum and don't grow them, and we don't sell them. The regular green-leafed roof iris is much superior.

Rings true after what we've discussed.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Club Newsletter - bottom Q&A

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 11:45AM
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I think you people are correct that my variegated lace handkerchief iris is japonica and not tectorum. They are sitting there prettily doing nothing, not going to see them bloom this year and may not have them next, $72 or so shot if so. Oh well, wouldn't be the first time.

Now I've done some scouting on the web and found an excellent article about iris for northern gardens, some of it is general and some specific but not quite specific enough. Deborah Brown says in re japonica "They are also fussier in that they only thrive in acidic soil, they require ample watering prior to blooming, and they need good winter protection in our climate [MN and me here in IA for some things which would be the same as MN, not all]."

She doesn't tell us just what that winter protection would be. I can't find her on the staff directory of the U of MN so I emailed one of the horticultural experts on May 22 and haven't heard back.

We have a local extension office, but Deborah, at least, seems to really be an expert on the subject.

If I never get an answer, I'll try something, but if anybody has any ideas of winter protecting, assuming it would even work, I'm open.

Here is a link that might be useful: Iris for Northern Gardens

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 2:40PM
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bobmark226(5 Woodstock, NY)

Aliska, if it makes you feel any better, I got sucked in by Spring Hill on that "pretender," too, and just got them in the ground, here in zone 5, yesterday.

I hope you intend to write them and request a credit. I certainly do.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 3:19PM
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No, Bob, it doesn't make me feel any better that maybe you'll lose yours, too. They are so unique. Glad you found the thread.

But I noticed they dropped the price, so hope you didn't spend what I did per plant. Nobody likes to buy something only to find out the price has dropped a short while later, but there is nothing dishonest about it (normally).

Yes, I'll certainly request a credit but have heard their customer service isn't the best, would expect to be stonewalled or told it's my fault plus if they have a toll-free number, they don't publish it. On lesser purchases, if things aren't quite right, I usually just suck it up or sometimes it's my fault for not getting them in the ground faster.

I'm not giving up without a fight on this one. If you can winter protect them, I'm going to try my best to keep at them/somebody to find out how, and if it doesn't work, it just doesn't work, there are no guarantees on the part of horticultural experts; all they can do is give you their best opinion.

I wish UMN would answer my email though, may have fallen into some cyber black hole lol. I'll keep on them about it. My sister has connections up there, but I guess I shouldn't use her to fight my battles for me. They make jokes about Iowa up there anyway lol.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 5:56PM
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