El Nino and springtime have brought an abundance of irises to Somervell County this year. In my eight years in the area, I haven’t seen better, but until recently, hadn’t given much thought to whether or not an iris had a beard!
Now, to the novice gardener, this has nothing to do with gender but refers to the fuzzy growth found coming from the flower center and down the petals.
My research led me to discover that there are hundreds of varieties of bearded irises and not so many of the “clean-shaven” types to be had. Given the bearded irises are more showy, I can see why. Iris farms abound from New Mexico to California, to Oregon—some having over 400 varieties for sale.
Some of the categories of bearded irises are: space age, re-bloomers, fragrant, and historic. Ironically, the historic ones aren’t all that old with most under 100 years of age.
Before purchasing your irises, be sure you have a location suitable for growing them. Irises need 6-8 hours of sunlight in order to bloom. They will grow in dark shade but won’t bloom well. They also need a well-drained soil free of heavy leaf droppings as the rhizomes need the sunlight to warm them.
It is best to plant or replant irises in late summer. Dig shallow holes for the rhizomes and don’t plant them too thickly—about 12-24 inches apart. They can be planted closer but will need thinning out sooner (every 3-5 years).
When your plants do become over-crowded they will not bloom as well, so it is good to thin them out at the end of bloom or end of summer. Dig them up by clumps and discard the center foliage fans as they will not have viable rhizomes. The “fans” with heavy tuber-like rhizomes are what you want to keep for replanting. Trim off most of the foliage before transplanting.
Irises will benefit from fertilizing about a month prior to blooming in the spring. They will also appreciate another feeding about a month after bloom. Do not use a fertilizer high in nitrogen (the first number on the package) as nitrogen tends to rot the rhizomes. It can also prevent flowering. So, choose a fertilizer with numbers of 10-10-10 or 5-10-10 for best results.
To keep your iris strain pure, cut down the flowering stalk after all the blooms are finished. Bees can cross-pollinate irises resulting in seed pods that will drop and grow into undesirable plants.
The bearded irises are definitely the most popular ones coveted by gardeners everywhere, but the beardless ones have their place in the landscape as well. They are known for their hardiness and are greatly appreciated by many.
*Information came from The American Iris Society