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The big three points we all look for in iris, if we know it or not, are the tone of the flower, how it grows – height and needs, and the bloom. I hope to give you some tools to look at the same things we have always looked at but more in-depth and through the eyes of a iris lover.
It Is Alive!
Just like the Blob back in the old movie, we want our plants in the garden to grow and multiply. Get the right plant in the right place and they will reward you but get a plant in a place were it is less than happy and the blooms will suffer. There are no better examples of this than the Japanese Iris. They love for their soil to be perfect. Anything less than the perfect soil their little feet demand and they might live, they might grow a little, they might even give you a few small off color blooms, but they will never be the master show pieces you will see if they are given the right home to start with.
Square Pegs in Round Circles
There are gardeners out there who just get the flowers they love and smash them into what ever room they have here and there around the yard. They remind me of the bag boys at my local super market. Somehow, if you are not watching, the bread and anything else fragile will be shoved in at the bottom with what ever comes next right on top. With annuals you might be able to get away with just pulling and planting at whim. Even with some flowers they might tolerate just being thrown in here and there, but not so with iris. With all the iris out there, even if you are looking for one type of bloom, color, or shape, you can find it in the size and soil needs you already have. Find the right iris for the right spot and they will reward you with years and years of blooms and joy.
They’re Fading, Fading, Fading
Check on the sun when you start to look at places to order. There are iris for shade, sun, and half and half. Most iris will live and even multiply in less light than they enjoy but they will have sparse, if any, blooms. Give them too much light and they will not bloom – or, if they do, it will be faded and blotchy--not the look most people want in the garden.
To Stake or Not To Stake?
You need to know how much you will need to stake your iris in the yard. There are some iris on the market that have great bloom counts at the cost of strong stems. You will have to tie each and every bloom stalk to a stake. Now, if you are collecting all the blue iris in the world, you might want to put up with a hundred little sticks here and there in with the iris. It is not, however, a view most gardeners want in their garden. Actually, unless the iris holds a deeper meaning for you, it is not worth it to get iris that need staking.
One or Many?
Now, on the whole, the older a plant is when you get it the more bloom stalks that plant will have. It is a matter of how much you want to spend to start with. I have found that in the iris world you get what you pay for. Buy iris at rock bottom prices and they might bloom – in a year or two – one small stalk. Most of the best companies with high ratings in the Garden Watchdog will not be the cheapest place to buy your flowers but they will give you good sized plants that will bloom in mass faster.
Bloom out is a major issue for the iris gardener. While most irises never have this problem, some bearded iris tends to have major issues with bloom out. With some checking you can find out which irises have been known to bloom out in your local area.. Bloom out happens when the “mother” iris stops sending out new shoots after bloom. Since most iris roots on bearded iris only bloom once in their life time, if they do not send out new shoots you have a plant that will never bloom again and will just take up garden space.
When Did You Want Me?
Knowing the time of bloom is critical when picking out any flower. With some of the iris, like Louisiana Iris for example, you have no real choices. Here, they all bloom at more or less the same time. But if you are planting others, Bearded Iris for example, they will have early season, mid season, and late season blooming time frames. The happiest gardeners are those that can plan out a garden with a good mix of the early, middle, and late bloomers. There are also repeat bloomers that can, in some gardens, give you two times the flower power!
I want to thank Pajaritomt, Jackieshar, Avmoran, Irisloverdee, Happygarden, and Doss for answering my many research questions for this article. A special thank you Wandasflowers for all the wonderful photos of bearded iris.
About Mitch Fitzgerald
I am a pentecostal preacher, gardener,husband, and a father. I love natives, daylilies, iris, and roses. I love teaching others, be they children or adults, about the garden and plants.