Intimidated by irises

zaphod42June 23, 2011

Hi. I'm new to irises. I'd like to add a few to my cottage garden beds, but am not sure how to integrate them in the design. First, I'd like to go with the German Bearded variety. Second, do the leaves stay spikey and green all summer long, or do they turn brown and disappear like tulip leaves? The spikey look is structurally interesting and would be neat if they stayed like that through the summer season. Do you cut them back after blooming? If I plant one, how is the best way to space them? Plant all together or drop them in sporadically? Do they overtake space or are they a manageable accent plant? Sorry for so many questions - I'm just not that familiar with how to work with them. Thanks!

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Hi there,

The leaves will stay green all summer, they will look great with your other plants. The photo above is was taken last year about the middle of July. I don't cut the leaves back after they bloom, but I do remove the bloom stalks for looks. I don't cut the leaves back at all until very early spring, when I remove all the dead material. I have them planted with a lot of xeriscape perennials, and they do well there.

Check out hosenemesis' and other's posts where they have photos of iris planted with other perennials that bloom at the same time, or the blog below. When you get to the blog, be sure to scroll down to the blog entry for June 13th, "Irises In the Garden". I think results are better if you have some sort of plan to at least give a framework to what you are trying to accomplish. I use the iris to bloom while other plants are getting some size on before they bloom, and the iris are then the green leaves with an interesting form in the background later in the summer when my other plants are blooming.

How far apart you plant the rhizomes would depend on how soon you want to dig them up and divide them really. They do increase over time, so they do take some management. They start out as one rhizome with a growth point on the end, then the year after they bloom they will have a growth point on either side of the bloom stalk. (This is probably sooner than a year for a reblooming iris). So you have basically two plants and two blooms then. Each of those in subsequent years will bloom and double the following year. So you can see where this is going-they will run out of room as the rhizomes crawl along increasing as they go. I would plant them thinking about what plants they would be next to as far as color and form (especially if they might be blooming at the same time), aim them in the direction you want them to go, and leaving about a three foot circle for them to increase into. (a three foot circle for maybe three or four rhizome pieces- this is variable) A clump of iris is a beautiful thing, and mixing them with other beautiful plants is only better.

Here is a link that might be useful: irises in the garden

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 2:44PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

I think aseedisapromise covered it pretty well. Irises come in different sizes and types, and what the retailers call "German Irises" are usually Tall Bearded Irises. There are also Border Bearded Irises, which are shorter for the front of the border, Intermediate Bearded irises which I know nothing about, Standard Dwarf Bearded irises which are very short, and a few others I can't grow in California and can't remember offhand. I think all of these grow in your climate.

I plant tall bearded irises in big clumps of one color. You usually start out with one plant and let it increase naturally until it forms a clump. I am picky about where I put them, and it is not a good idea to just drop one in here and there because they will form a clump and squish their neighbors, or their neighbors will shade them too much and they won't bloom well. You may like the variegated irises which have white and green or yellow and green foliage. Avoid Reblooming irises for your growing zone, since they try to rebloom right when the first bad frosts hit and it kills them sometimes.


    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 8:27PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

By the way, your garden is so well designed and full of beautiful blooms, aseedisapromise.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 1:27AM
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I notice the original poster hasn't been back, but I would maybe add that it would be good to talk to and/or spy on neighbors' gardens and see when their iris bloom in your area. Then you can better plan how to use iris, and what colors to select, for your garden. Neighbors might even be able to tell you which are the hearty ones, but I have only a few people around here who knows the name of the plants they have, so maybe not. (If I ask about anything, they often will offer me some, even if they don't know what it is. Then they will tell me their grandmother had it on the ranch or something like that. A story goes with it, which often makes it more special to me.) Anyway, I would hesitate to make recommendations as it is drier here than in WI. I don't have such a large selection of plants that bloom at the same time as the iris, and you might not either, but they really fill in a space between late daffodils and early alliums on one end, and dianthus and other early summer perennials on the other. What would I do without them?

Thanks for the compliment, Renee. It means a lot coming from someone from such a wonderful place to grow things, and with lovely gardens such as yours!


    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:14PM
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