From the Garden: Beautiful, Unruly Irises Are Now in Bloom

Irises are my very favorite flower. They’re beautiful in a weird, unruly way, like orchids. They come in many colors and sizes, from big grapefruit-sized blooms to tiny plum-sized blossoms. And unlike many flowering perennials (*cough* tulips *cough cough* daffodils), their greenery doesn’t look like total garbage when they stop blooming.

Iris leaves are long and spiky, and their shapes make a nice contrast to other kinds of foliage in the garden. So even though I look forward to my irises blooming, I’m not heartbroken when they stop blooming and leave me with months’ worth of greenery.

The other reason I like irises is that they’re one of the easiest things you can grow. As much as I love gardening, I don’t have a natural green thumb. I’ve had my share of gardening failures and disasters. But irises are even easier to grow than early spring bulbs, because you don’t have to dig down half a foot to plant them. They grow from beige tubers called rhizomes that look similar to the ginger root you buy from the supermarket, and they don’t like to be buried all the way.

When planting irises, I dig down a bit to rough up the soil. They like it if you make a little mound of dirt and press the rhizome onto the top of it so that the rhizome itself gets sunlight. And they’re not finicky about when you plant them. They’d prefer to be planted in late summer or early fall, but you can fudge this a bit. Okay, you can fudge this a lot. You just may have to wait a little longer for them to flower.

A cautionary word–these things spread. They don’t spread super fast so it’s not too hard to keep up with them. But every few years you have to thin them–dig them up and spread them out a bit. Since they grow at the top of the soil, this isn’t hard to do. And then you can make friends with other gardeners by giving away some rhizomes.

I’m sure it depends on the variety, but the yellow ones in my garden have spread way faster than the other varieties. I think this is the year I’ll thin them, which means I’ll have rhizomes to give away. Want some?


Photos by Virginia C. McGuire