Plant Beautiful Bearded Irises

One of the most popular perennials is the bearded iris. Bearded irises grow best in climate plant zones 4 through 8. They typically bloom in late spring with elegant blossoms that last about two weeks. No other perennial group offers such a rainbow of colors from soft, pastel hues to dark, dramatic shades. Irises are beautiful, three-dimensional flowers. The beard is the hairy filament that acts as a runway for insects trying to find nectar.

Each stem produces several flowers, which dance above the sword-like foliage. The best part is that once the flowers have faded, the foliage stays nice and grayish green, offering great texture to any garden. There are thousands of bearded iris varieties available today. One of the most sought-after is Beverly Sills with coral pink, lacy petals and a light apricot beard. Dusky Challenger is also a favorite because of its big, bold, deep blue-purple bloom. If you like multi-colored bearded irises, check out Sierra Grande, or Dazzling Gold. Check with your local nursery or garden center to find out which iris varieties will grow best in your area, and then you're ready to start planting.

Irises are fairly easy to grow. They prefer full sunshine and like well-drained soils. Don't worry about the condition of the soil. They will grow in poor soil conditions.

If you buy irises in a container, you can plant them anytime during the growing season. Just make sure you put them in as deep as they are in the container. If you buy the rhizomes (as I have for this project), it's important to keep the roots hydrated until you plant them. The best time to plant them is at the end of the summer.

Start by digging a hole that's fairly deep. In the center of the hole create a mound that's level with the soil surface. Place the rhizome on top of the mound and drape the roots over it. This will help anchor the iris in place. Then cover the roots with soil.

Typically, the rule of thumb is to plant the rhizomes so that they're halfway under the soil's surface. However, this can be very unstable, and if there's hot sun, it could dehydrate the rhizomes. Mound the soil up around the plant- it keeps them nice and sturdy.

After about 1 month, the plant will have anchored itself. At this point you can remove the soil, exposing the rhizomes. Now it becomes even more important to keep your irises watered, but don't overdo it, and don't worry about fertilizer. They just don't need it.

If you want to keep your irises growing healthy, they need to be divided every 3 to 5 years. The best time to divide them is about 6 to 8 weeks after they flower.

A day or two before you divide the irises, make sure to water them heavily. This will make it much easier to loosen the soil around the plant. Be careful when you dig in - you don't want to damage any of the rhizomes. Loosen the soil around the irises using a pitchfork. Then carefully remove the clump, and shake off the excess dirt.

Wash off the roots and rhizomes with water to get rid of the excess soil. Then, using a sharp knife, cut your clump in half- this will make it easier to handle. Also, make sure you cut down the leaves, leaving about 6 inches. Create divisions with at least 3 to 5 leaves on each fan.

Before you replant your irises, it's a good idea to rinse all the rhizomes in a bleach and water solution: one part bleach to ten parts water. This will help prevent disease and rot. And again, make sure you don't let the roots dry out!

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