Can I mow down my iris bed?

avajayJune 3, 2009

Salutations, ya'll!

Last winter my mom had me dig up her iris tubes and there were several. Being new to gardening (my 1st home purchased only 2 years ago)I haphazardly put a few here, a few there, and so on. I put several along the side of my small barn (shed actually), and didn't really like the look of them there once I saw them. Maybe the spacing, I dunno. Anyway, now that they're already spent for this season, I want to re-think and re-plant the tubes, and there are now some tall, leggy seeding weeds growing in the bed. Since I wanted to dig that area to put in something else (not sure what), can I just mow down the iris leaves (is that what you call them, the long, pointy green foliage?) along with the weeds, then dig the tubes wherever I find the iris leaf stubs? I'm only asking because Mom once told me that any flowering perennial gets energy (or nutrients or SOMETHING it needs) from the remaining greenery after the bloom, and that leaving it there makes the plant stronger or bigger or prettier the following season. I also need to know whether I need to re-plant the tubes before winter to optimize plant health, or just store the tubes over winter and plant in spring.



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regattagirl(4a Minneapolis)

Hmmm...lucky you, having dirt! And welcome to the very addictive hobby of gardening. And lucky your mother knows a thing or two about gardening. She can probably teach you lots of this. My mother gardens too and is crazy good at it without reading anything.

All plants get energy through a process called photosynthesis, which in part converts energy from the sun and most plants need their leaves to do it. So the leaves feed the growth of the plant and the rhizome (what an iris has) or roots (like trees) or bulb (like tulips) to be able to survive and eventually multiply. (Very simplified version but you can google it for more specifics. You don't necessarily need to understand more than that to be a good gardener but a little basic knowledge helps to reason things out.)

Before you move your iris (YOUR heirlooms from your mother), get a plan for what you really want in the space. Otherwise, you are simply disrupting next year's real show for no reason. Perennials = first year sleep, second year creep, third year LEAP! And you might decide you like them afterall.

You didn't mention if they bloomed for you this season. If not, you may have had very small divisions from your mother? You planted them too deeply? Or maybe too shady? I like to think of them as enjoying having their big toe (rhizome) sticking out of their "sand"-al to get some sun. Get it? Their roots go down. Their leaves go up. Pretty basic, huh?

As for storing them, you CAN store them over the winter (in a cool place) but you do not need to and you might risk losing a few. They'd be happier to be planted into their new location as soon as possible and get the most time to establish themselves (stored in their location in the dirt) so they can show off for you next year. If you dig them now and store them, you are depriving them of photosynthesis (and creeping, and multiplying) for the remainder of the summer and I'd suspect they could cook or "spoil" in a hot garage.

Now if you know where you are going to replant them and they did flower (probably at the correct depth then), I'd move clumps of dirt in the moving process and wiggle the weeds out with the least disruption otherwise you have replanted them twice in a very short time...which probably won't kill them but might diminish their ability to give you a show next year.

When folks divide and share or purchase iris, they usually cut the fans (the sets of leaves) back so they don't topple over in the wind before they set their new roots. You can do this if you don't like the look of the fans but I pretty much would NOT mow them because then they will look messy in their new homes (even though they could probably withstand it). And the fans will help point the way to where they are located now to be dug up. Depending on the size of the bed, it could be a big job but just do a little at a time (no blisters that way). Dig them up and give em some love - that's the nice thing about plants, if you reliably give them what they need, they will reward you. Best relationship EVER.

The leaves to me look spike-y and dramatic and can be mixed in with other perennials with softer lines and different bloom times. Easy options to start with would be daylily, cone flower, black-eyed susan, bee balm. If your garden is not blooming right now, I'd take a bicycle ride around town and see what is blooming. If you are lucky enough to catch a gardener in the midst of her flowers...she may offer you a division.

Good luck! And I'll be looking forward to seeing photos!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 11:57AM
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mike_g_(Zone 5b OH)

Wow I would like to give you a SUPER BIG HAND regattagirl!!! What a excellent answer for a new gardener. It could not have been said any better.

Mike G

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 5:51PM
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regattagirl(4a Minneapolis)

Gee thanks.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 8:27PM
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Hey Regattagirl and Mike,
I feel's not like me to post and run, but I've been away from the thread for a week...truth be known, I forgot I posted it. Thanks so much for the answer, RG...I am familiar with photosynthesis, but I just didn't know if the leaves (fans) were needed after flowering was done. You're right, they'd look better in a new place with the fans still intact. And yes, they did flower this year(well, some of them, maybe half), last year too...I was surprised at that.
As far as the planting of the tubes, Mom said that they aren't completely covered, and when I dug hers up, they seemed to be lying on their sides, so that's how I placed them at my house. So am I to assume that the rhizome is the area that the foliage comes out, and THAT is above ground and the rest pointing down?
Well, anyway, thanks for the details. I'll give it a shot.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 7:42PM
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