The Q&A Archives: Overgrown Irises

Question: I have recently purchased a home with a marvelous perennnial garden. Everyday I discover something new. Yesterday I was weeding the side yard which is slightly hilly. The previous owner had planted rows of irises on two levels, one level right above the other. They are quite abundant and form two rows about 5-6' long. I noticed lot of dead foliage and weeds on the underside of the plants and when I started to weeded it out, the upright plants are all drooped over. The soil underneath seems to be worn away from erosion and I think the weeds were holding them upright. How do I bolster these plants? Should I add soil, rocks or some sort of border? Do I need to cut them back?

Answer: Sounds as though the time is ripe to renovate your iris bed! Iris grow from rhizomes that appreciate well-draining soil that 's been amended with organic matter. Dig the rhizomes, cut the foliage and the roots to about six-inches, divide the rhizomes by cutting off the ends (with the foliage attached) and discarding the old, leafless center portions. Then spread 3-4 inches of compost or other organic matter over the planting area and dig it in. Replant the rhizomes so the tops are just slightly below the soil surface. Roots should deeply penetrate the newly amended soil and hold the plants upright. Water well until fall rains take over. In the spring your iris should sprout new leaves, and glorious flowers.

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