Irresistible Irises

The tall, stately Iris has inspired gardeners and others throughout history. The French kings loved Irises so much that the flower became the regal symbol of France as the fleur-de-lis. The name Iris comes from the Latin word for “rainbow,” a fitting moniker, as Irises come in practically all colors.

What is an Iris?
Iris refers to a genus of flowering plants grown from creeping rhizomes, or sometimes from small bulbs. All are characterized by tall, sword-like stems with graceful petals, three of which generally slope downwards. Originally from the Middle East and northern Africa, Irises adapt well to diverse areas and can be found throughout Europe, North American, and Asia as well as the Middle East.

Different varieties of Iris
The most common variety of Iris is the German Iris, often referred to as the bearded Iris. German irises come in tall (up to 3 feet) or dwarf forms (4-6 inches) as well as variegated ones and range in color from delicate cream to pastel pink to vibrant orange. Other popular Iris varieties include Siberian Irises, tall graceful plants with delicate flowers and long stems, particularly well suited for boggy areas and near garden ponds. Japanese Irises have small upward-sloping flowers on long, graceful stems.

Planting Irises
Irises are generally sold as bare root rhizomes. Many varieties can be found from online retailers and mail order greenhouses. Plant Irises in full to partial sun during the spring and in the fall early enough so that the plant can develop a secure root system before the first frost. Plant the rhizome lengthwise parallel to the ground in a shallow trench with the top of the rhizome peeking out of the surface. Water well after planting and make sure that you keep the Iris well watered for the first year, until the plant becomes established. After that, Irises only need extra water during extreme dry periods.

Caring for Irises
Irises are very low maintenance plants. After they bloom in the early spring, dead head the spent blossoms so that the plant directs its energy to growing a bitter root system, not making seeds. In the fall, cut the plant down to about 3 inches from the ground to discourage rot or iris borers. Every three to five years, Iris plants will benefit from being divided. You’ll know when to divide them, as they will dramtically stop blooming. To divide an Iris plant, dig up the entire clump of rhizomes and cut them into 2-3 inch sections, using a sharp, sterilized knife. Replace the rhizomes immediately and water well.

Few plants are so elegant and so easy to grow as Irises. When you’re planning your next year’s garden, be sure to make room for threeâÂ?¦or sixâÂ?¦or nine lovely Irises.

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