No Fuss Beautiful Iris

By Kerry Ann Mendez

There are many different varieties of Iris and all are beautiful and graceful. It is easy to understand why some refer to them as "poor man's orchids". The most commonly sold Iris are German Bearded (Iris germanica), Siberian (I. siberica), Japanese (I. ensata), and Crested (I. cristata). All prefer full sun, except Crested Iris that also bloom in part shade.

Planting Tips

All of the above, except Siberian Iris, have rhizomes - sideways growing stems that are just below, or slightly above the soil surface. Rhizomes should not be buried under a lot of soil or mulch, which is a common problem. This can lead to diminished blooming or rot. If needed, pull back your soil or mulch from the rhizomes to expose the tops to sun and air flow. In some cases you may have to dig up the entire clump (divide into smaller sections if needed) and reset the rhizomes on a soil mound, centered in the hole. Hold the Iris in place, backfill with soil, making sure to cover the smaller roots growing from the base of the rhizome and press into place.

Choosing Between Irises

Although mostly similar in look and shape, there are some noted differences between types of irises. Here are summaries of each grouping to help you choose the right ones for your garden.

Crested Iris (native) are only 4-8" tall and are the first to bloom in early spring. They are ideal for rock or woodland gardens. The flowers are usually blue, lavender or white.

German Bearded Iris range from miniature (8" or shorter) to tall (28" and taller). The "beard" refers to the fuzzy row of hairs at the base of each downward pointing petal. The fuzz gives pollinators something to cling to as they access nectar. Siberian and Japanese Iris are "beardless". All German Bearded Iris are fragrant, but fragrance varies in intensity. Some German Bearded Irises are rebloomers and will flower again in early fall.

Siberian Iris are showy, rugged perennials that range in height from 2-3'. Their beautiful blooms (although smaller than German Bearded Iris) are carried elegantly on stiff stems that rise above narrow, grass-like foliage. The flowers can be single, bi- or tri-colored. 'Caesar's Brother', a rich dark purple cultivar, is an old favorite.

Japanese Iris are known for having supersized, flat blooms that can be up to 9" across. These are the latest Iris to bloom, opening around mid-June and flowering into July.

Combination is Key!

By combining a mix of these beauties, you can have their orchid-like blooms adorning the landscape from April through July 4th. Come check out the large assortment of colorful Irises that Estabrook's offers.

About the Author

KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. Check out her Garden Webinar series for more tips and tricks.

Kerry Ann Mendez