July is kind of a funny time in the “bulb world”. It’s really too late to plant summer blooming bulbs and it’s much too early to plant spring blooming ones. Therefore, there’s not much going on in the way of planting. Hopefully by now, you are enjoying the progress of the bulbs you planted this spring. But what next? You’ve heard me say it again and again: plan ahead for fall! Believe it or not, next month marks the beginning of the perfect time to plant Bearded Iris for next spring blooms! Below are just a couple brief tips to get you started thinking about your bearded iris planting plans. For more specific information regarding planting and dividing techniques, be sure to visit my “Irresistible Iris” blog post from last August which explains these things in further detail.
Planting iris rhizomes earlier than other spring blooming bulbs in the fall is important so that the roots are firmly established before the first hard freeze. Therefore, plan on getting your iris rhizomes in the ground at least 6 weeks prior to the first frost in your area. This is also the best time to divide and/or transplant any existing beardeds you may have in your landscape so that those also have time to put down their roots before the end of the growing season.
How do I select which bearded iris to plant?
As far as specific varieties, there are oh-so many choices! First thing to keep in mind is that there are reblooming bearded iris and then those that bloom just once. The rebloomers bloom in the late spring, just like the typical bearded iris but then again in the fall. The typical bearded iris will bloom just once in late spring. This is why you will often see the ones labeled “reblooming” sold at a higher price. Second thing to be mindful of is the newer varieties cultivated not only for their color, but for their height. Bearded iris our usually classified into one of three groups: dwarf (shortest), intermediate (mid-height), and tall. This can be helpful when planning your bed to determine which should be planted in front and which should be planted in back.
If purchasing rhizomes from a local garden center or other retailer, be sure to test the bulb for firmness by gently squeezing the thickest part of the rhizomes. A firm rhizome is a healthy rhizome. Also, keep in mind that when rhizomes are harvested, the plant is often cut from the rhizome a few inches above the ground. Therefore, it is very likely that there will still be green growth on the top of the rhizome. Since this is last season’s growth, it will most likely look somewhat dead and brown by the time you purchase them. This is completely normal and should not be cause for concern. If you are purchasing your rhizomes from an online retailer, be sure it is a company with a good reputation. Also, if the website is an honest and upright one, it should list the bulb size on all of its products to better describe what you can expect to receive. In the world of bearded iris, rhizomes are classified by size labels of No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and so on. A “No. 1″ sized rhizome represents the largest, top-size rhizome. I would recommend not settling for anything less.
Hopefully this will help to get you started. I was never really a huge fan of bearded iris until I started growing them myself. Now I realize that there are few flowers that can rival the iris in its elegance, form and longevity. Wanna know my favorites? Holland Bulb Farms has put them all together in one collection here!
With hands in the dirt and head in the clouds,
P.S. Can’t get enough of iris and want even more information on the history and cultivation of these beauties? Check out the American Iris Society for all things iris!