Iris cluster with pointed, unopened bloomsThere is no lack of beautiful photographs to be found either on the Internet or in print that lift our spirits when it comes to simply gazing at the lovely iris (Iridaceae).

Since plenty of information exists, I will not add to the surplus. I am not attempting to persuade anyone to plant irises; the iris's charm speaks for itself. Neither will I instruct on a step-by-step basis. Much good instruction can be found right here, both on Dave's Garden and on the American Iris Society's websites.

So, I am simply sharing my own iris plan.

An iris plan evolves over time. This year's iris plan is not necessarily next year's iris plan. One need not have an iris plan each year; two or three years' time without an iris plan is just fine. But if you wait much more than that, you will need an iris plan in order to keep on having blooms. Irises get tired and sad when they grow to be overcrowded, which they inevitably will do. As a gardener, you must keep them happy by maximizing their potential, and in that way, everyone is happy.

What is my iris plan, exactly?

Many springtime irises tightly crowded in a worn cardboard box

It will start with emergency care, beginning with this clump of irises pictured on the right that were left to fend for themselves in a cardboard box of dirt four years ago. Four years ago. Can anyone say, "Procrastinator"?

A testament to the fortitude of the iris, these guys have lived like this over several seasons. Yes, it was I who left them in the cardboard box ... for just a few days ... that became years.

And these sun-starved fellows (pictured on the left) were planted in the corner of what was once a sunny flower bed under a small maple tree. The tree grew, and now the irises are entirely covered in shade. They will not flower like this.Two iris plants in the shade stretching to find light

There are irises all over my yard that are living in compromised conditions. Some are doomed to die (like the irises under our leaky rain gutter that never get a chance to dry), while others will live without blooming. I could come up with more photos of bloom-less irises, but I think I have made my point.

As you can see, I have deposited my beloved irises here and there all about the property in a haphazard attempt to give them room and to keep them alive. I have been successful. They are all alive. But they are not thriving.

It's time to transplant.

The Iris Society says that the best time to do your iris transplanting is in July, August, or September to give the plants time to adjust before winter arrives. That's wonderful advice which is good to follow; however, I have successfully moved irises in every season except winter, so it's time to get going on the plan. Since most of my irises are not blooming right now (and everyone else's are), I feel especially motivated to take action.

My vision is to create a long, narrow strip along an entire side of my one-acre yard.

First, my husband is going to break up the ground with the rototiller. He just doesn't know it yet.

Then, I will fine-tune the broken ground with my shovel, hoe, and rake to remove weeds and create a long mound. At this point, I may add nutrients to the new iris bed. From what I have read, it is a good practice to feed irises very lightly or not at all, so I will be conservative if I amend the naturally sandy soil in my yard.

Once I get the irises lifted from their lonely, neglected places mentioned above, I will separate them and do something I have never done before in the entire twenty-two years that I have been growing irises: I will give them plenty of room—extra room—to develop and spread. That means separating each rhizome by approximately thirty to thirty-six inches (76.2 to 91.4 cm). That's my plan.

Beautiful, tissue-like white bearded iris flowerThe end result of this iris plan will be that all my plants that have not flowered for several years will begin to flower again, possibly starting with the very next season. The following year, I should see even more blooms as my rescued irises come to life like Lazarus from the grave. What a vision!

Although my white irises seem to bloom no matter what, I want to rediscover the joy of knowing what other colors I actually have. I remember having irises out front that were quite ruffly (I think it was around 1998) in a pale blue shade. Some other ruffly ones were nearly black. I can't wait to find them again in all of these rearranged, resurrected clumps! I'm sure I will be surprised by the combinations of colors and types, and yes—I plan on deliberately mixing up the rhizomes like a potluck Sunday supper.

This long, straight, sunny iris bed along one edge of my acre should hold up for a few years. I can't wait! It will be so amazing! And of course, I will share. Yes, my iris plan is going to be a huge success and will last a long time, at least for three years or so.

—Until my next iris plan.A box of small iris plants in sand

Clickable links about iris care:

Dave's Garden Iris Resource Links (Lots of information all in one place):

Dave's Garden Iris Discussion Forum:

Planting tips from Jill Nicolaus:

About the iris borer, also from Jill:

Beautiful iris types from Suzanne Talbert:

The American Iris Society which can help you identify and care for your type of iris: