Photo by Melody

The Story of Iris Part 7– The Big Things That Can Go Wrong.

By Mitch Fitzgerald (MitchFFebruary 27, 2008

I have been there – I babied this plant, fixed its soil, fed it, watered it, cared for it… then right before it starts to bloom….poof like magic it is a goner…but why?

Gardening picture

We have all done it.  That wonderful plant you saw and fell in love with dies in your garden. You have to ask why? What did I do wrong? The good news is with iris, unlike most plants, there are five major reasons of this failure – bugs aside.


Too Much or Too Little


Water is in a love/hate relationship with all plants. Too much water – and there is such a thing for all irises – and the iris will rot in the ground. Too little water and all irises, even the most arid, will suffer and fail to bloom. The keys to look for are knowing your plants, knowing your normal rainfall, and how much and where you water. Iris can be planted in little hills to keep their root on the dry side or in little valleys to gather all the water they can.  Water sprinklers can be moved to face the most favorable way for your babies or hand watering may offer the best solution to watering issues.


Poor Drainage


With a few water iris exceptions, iris might like water but they do not want to be in standing water all the time. This is where planning and care must be made in the preparation of the flower bed before the irises come home. Any bed can – given time and resources – be made into the perfect place for your new iris. Those of us with less than the millions needed to fulfill our every garden dream are best left looking at what we already have and buying iris that fit our needs.


Planting Too Deep


On the whole, iris love to be planted closer to the surface than most of their plant kingdom family. Unlike some of their relatives, if irises are planted too deeply they will not thrive.  The most critical of iris in this respect are the bearded iris that tends to like to live with their roots closer to the surface than most new gardeners like to think. The temptation to plant bearded iris too deeply is a big one but you will pay with poor increasing and poor bloom count if you do.  And that is if they bloom at all.




Irises are one of those plants that can die if given too much of a good thing. That good thing is plant food.  No matter what type, style, or mixture, too much food for an iris bed is fatal. There are some iris that are deep, big feeders – like Japanese iris, but even these have a limit to their needs. With iris, less is more.     It is better to feed less than you think they need than more than they need.


I want to thank Pajaritomt, Jackieshar, Avmoran, Irisloverdee, Happygarden, and Doss for answering my many research questions for this article. Images thanks to fallingfeather.

  About Mitch Fitzgerald  
Mitch FitzgeraldI 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.

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