Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
June, 2008
Regional Report

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Siberian iris show off with a cloud of color in the garden.

The Beauty of Siberian Iris

Most of us are familiar with the old-fashioned flag or bearded iris that bloom abundantly about this time of year. Similar but more diminutive are Siberian iris. Their flowers also have three spreading outer petals called "falls" and three upright petals called "standards," but the blossoms are much smaller and tend to be more open. Additionally, they have no beards -- the furry strips that are on the outer petals of bearded iris.

Siberian iris have more narrow foliage that grows in grassy clumps. They make a graceful screen in the landscape and are especially effective near water features. As the light shines through the mass of blooms, they paint a cloud of color on the landscape canvas.

Siberian iris break up the monotony and provide vertical lift in the perennial border from spring through autumn. Years ago, Siberian iris were available in only white and purple. Today, there are many choices including shades of blue, lavender, dark purple, wine red, pink, rose, and yellow.

Keeping Them Happy
As their name suggests, Siberian iris are very hardy and can survive winters in USDA zone 3 (-40 degrees F). They are not too fussy about our wide range of soils as long as there is abundant moisture. I've found it best to amend heavy clay or sandy soils with some good organic compost before planting. Compost, sphagnum peat moss, aged cow manure, or a combination of these organic amendments will help hold soil moisture and provide nutrients for the plants. This will allow them to become well established and return year after year.

Siberian iris are descendants of moist meadow conditions and need plenty of water. Don't let them dry out. They prefer full sun but can grow in partial shade. That's one of the reasons they combine well around water features and near the pond's edge, just as long their roots are not actually in the water.

If you haven't tried growing them, now would be a good time to plant some. Many garden centers and nurseries have container-grown plants. Spread loose garden mulch over the root systems to keep them cool and help the plants become well established the first growing season.

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