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How to Grow and Care for Iris Flowers

Updated on May 24, 2018
Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert is a Virginia Master Gardener, gardening magazine columnist, and book author. She is a full-time freelance writer.

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Grow and Care for Iris Flowers

Have you ever driven through the countryside or perhaps a suburban neighborhood in the springtime and seen great swathes of breathtaking, rainbow-colored iris growing along hillsides and banks? Named after the Greek goddess who rides rainbows, iris flowers come in a glittering rainbow of colors ranging from pure snow-white to the deepest black. Most flower once in the spring, but some return again for a second blooming period in the late summer. All will provide abundant, colorful and sometimes fragrant blooms if given the right conditions in which to thrive.

Choosing Iris Plants

You can grow iris flowers from either a rhizome or from a plant grown in a pot. The rhizome is a root part that looks sort of like a dried stick. It has to be planted correctly or else the iris won't grow. If you're new to planting irises, you may want to visit your local nursery and garden center in the springtime when the iris plants are in bloom and choose a container-grown iris that's ready to plant.

There are many types of iris, but the type shown here are German iris. Dutch iris look similar, but they're planted in the fall from bulbs. Japanese iris have a more open, flattened flower, and are grown from either wild or cultivated iris. When Americans think of iris, they typically think of the beautiful German iris shown in these photos (taken in my garden) or Dutch iris.


Where to Grow Iris

Iris need sun - and plenty of it. They must have at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight daily. When choosing the location where you want to plant your iris, choose it well, because you'll want to leave your iris there for several years so that it grows and spreads out naturally. After a few years, when the clusters of iris grow very thick together, you can divide iris and plant or give away the extra clumps.

Iris need rich, slightly acidic soil. Have your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension Office and add any amendments to the soil prior to planting. A good well rotted manure or compost added to the soil is helpful. I like to mulch around my iris plants because I live in the south, and summers are hot and dry; mulch helps the soil retain moisture, which cuts down on the amount of water the plants need in the summertime.

Don't cut back the iris' green leaves after it flowers. It needs the leaves in order to complete the process of photosynthesis. When the foliage dies back naturally in the fall, you can remove it to prevent iris borer infestation, a caterpillar that tunnels into the iris leaves and rhizome and damages the plant. Do not fertilize your iris; they dislike high nitrogen fertilizers.

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Planting Iris

Planting iris is the trickiest part of the entire process of growing and caring for iris flowers. Iris rhizomes must be planted in a shallow trench, not a deep hole. More iris plants have died or failed to thrive thanks to overzealous planting.

To plant an iris from a rhizome, purchase a rhizome in the fall. Dig a shallow trench about 2 to 4 inches deep and spread the rhizome out if it has finger-like projections. Loosely cover the rhizome with soil, but make it a very thin layer of soil. Be sure to leave at least a little bit of the rhizome exposed.

To plant a container-grown iris, dig a hole as wide and as deep as the container. You may want to mix compost or amendments into the soil to improve the drainage if the soil contains a great amount of clay. Place the plant inside the hole so that the rhizome is just about even with the top layer of soil, or slightly below. Back fill the hole and tamp down the soil with your hands. Water well.

Iris "Cherub's Smile" growing in my garden
Iris "Cherub's Smile" growing in my garden | Source

Best Iris Varieties

Which are the best iris varieties? That's like choosing the best chocolate - sometimes, it's all a matter of taste! However, some varieties are more popular than others. Some of the best iris varieties include:

  • Cherub's Smile (shown above) - a double, pink and light blue iris
  • Immortality - a double white flower that blooms twice, once in the spring and again lightl yin the fall
  • Feed Back and Earl of Essex - two popular purple iris that tend to rebloom
  • I Do - another fancy white iris that blooms slightly later
  • Jennifer Rebecca - stunning dark pink reblooming iris with frilled edges
  • Sugar Blues - a tall blue iris that blooms late spring to early summer
  • Harvest of Memories - (shown below) - yellow midseason iris that can be coaxed into reblooming

The best iris for your garden is the one that you love, and that is suited for your gardening zone. Visit your local nursery or garden center to find the best iris flowers for your garden.

Iris "Harvest Moon" growing in my garden.
Iris "Harvest Moon" growing in my garden. | Source

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    • profile image

      Kathy Carr 12 months ago

      I have always loved irises but thought they would take more time and talent than I had. Last year a neighbor asked me if I wanted some of het " extras: and of course I said yes. I am mediately went to the local nursery and asked what do I have to do to take care of these how do I plant them? He looked at me strangely and said oh you just have to stick them in the ground . I was surprised and didn't exactly believe him but I went home and stuck them in the ground. Two years later I found beautiful deep purple irises in my garden. I intend to buy more and plant them I love them and I'm so glad they seem to love me.

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image
      Author

      Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      A good look at maintaining iris in a flower garden!

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