(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 20089. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
In my own garden, my dwarf bearded iris had just finished blooming, but all my others weren't even showing bud yet. I made several stops along the way of my iris garden whirlwind. Some were small, some were huge and most were thrilling.
One of the gardens I went to had its own rousing idiosyncrasy: it was a self-serve iris field! An employee named Jenni greeted me as I pulled up to the 100 year old property of Long's Gardens. With a ridiculously expectant grin on my face I told her, "I've been waiting six months for this, where do I begin?"
Jenni pointed me to myriad rows of irises; all in order from dwarf bearded, intermediate, to tall bearded, each row labeled with its registered name and a color picture. As it was Memorial Day, the dwarf blooms had faded and it was the beginning of tall bearded blooming peak. At the far edge of the garden was a field of "mysteries"; irises with no identification, some of which were 20 rhizomes strong. What a sight... all under the beautiful views of the Flat Iron mountains of Boulder, Colorado.
If you can find an iris grower near your area, I strongly suggest you go visit them during the bloom season. Most will allow you to purchase irises on the spot, which can be the best way to get a true picture of what the bloom will look like. Later in the summer, iris growers will sell irises by the bundle but you don't have the benefit of seeing them in bloom.
Back at Long's, Jenni explained that there were pitchforks, paper bags, and pens available at a table at the center of each iris field. I just had to keep up with how many clumps I dug and hopefully not blow my retirement with eyes bigger than my garden. The best part, any clump of dwarfs was priced at $6 and any tall bearded, named or not, was $7.50 per clump. As she put it, many clumps were very "generous" as some of them had been there, undug, for a very long time.
I walked around and through and up and down the fields for a good thirty minutes, spellbound by my options. My poor husband traipsed behind me with the fork and beaucoups of patience. I planned the trip half a year in advance, but of course I forgot to plan what I would actually buy. I wandered around and finally decided on a striking dwarf named 'Cat's Eye', my faithful companion was rewarded with a pick of 'Mulberry Inn' (truth be told he only picked one so I'd stop asking him for his opinion), and two unknowns - one purplish-pink and one red-variegated deep yellow.
All of them had blooms on them so that I could see exactly what I was buying. The smallest clump I dug was six rhizomes and the largest had upwards of fifteen.
Transplanting Blooming Iris
Though it is best to wait until after irises have bloomed (three to six weeks), if you are purchasing irises based on physical appearance of the bloom out in the field, there isn't much you can do to change the timing. There are a few things to keep in mind if you dig and transplant an iris that is blooming or about to bloom:
• The plant may have a lesser flush of blooms this and the following year
• The plant is likely to lose the buds and flowers it is currently growing, so it is best to cut the bloom stalk off and allow the rhizome to use its energy establishing roots in its new home
• You will want to trim off some of the leaves to decrease stress and weight that might tip the rhizome over once planted. Leave enough leaves that they plant can absorb the sun's energy.
For being a cloudy holiday weekend, Long's was quite busy. People bustled about, finding the biggest clump for the buck and the best coloration for their tastes. Before I left I asked Jenni how she liked her job, and she replied that she wouldn't be doing anything else during iris blooming season and she had been working there for over a decade.
Consider planning a trip this year or next to see bearded iris in their heyday. Each region will have its own best timeframe, but it wouldn't be hard to plan an unforgettable trip.
Generally, irises will bloom from early May through June. Depending on your zone, the peak may move within that timeframe. Standard dwarf varieties will be the first to bloom followed by intermediates and then tall bearded. If you plan to go visit any time in May or June, it is likely that you'll see a good show of blooms and won't be disappointed!
Find an iris garden in your neck of the woods:
Anderson Iris Gardens - Forest Lake, Minnesota
Hildenbrandt's Iris Gardens - Slatington, Pennsylvania
Iris Colorado - Littleton, Colorado
Mid - America Garden - Brooks, Oregon
Comanche Acres Iris Gardens - Gower, Missouri
Malevil Iris Gardens - Lubbock, Texas
Hank's Iris Garden - Chino, California
Rainbow Iris Farms - Bedford, Iowa
Snowpeak Iris and Daylilies - Lebanon, Oregon
Autumn's Folly Farm - Providence Forge, Virginia
Stout Iris & Daylily Gardens - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
All photographs are property of Susanne Talbert taken at Long's Iris Garden, with the exception of 'Mulberry Inn' which was uploaded to PlantFiles by member "borsellino."