Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
June, 2009
Regional Report

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It's been a great season for the bearded irises. Now is the time pick some favorites and add them to your garden.

Add Irises to Your Garden

This year's display of irises are quite spectacular with vibrant colors and vigor. I can always depend on the iris garden despite the late spring frost that they seem to escape. If you don't have a few iris plants in your garden, I encourage you to plant some rhizomes within the next few weeks. It is a perfect time to pick among your favorite colors and forms.

Iris are so adaptable for our region since they can grow and thrive in a wide range of soils and varied climatic conditions. After the colorful rainbow display on the plains, irises will be blooming in their glory in summer at the higher elevations. The linear forms that iris add to the perennial garden make them a great utility plants throughout the growing season.

The mention of iris usually brings to mind the bearded hybrid irises, but iris vary greatly in form, size, flowering season, and flower color. The various types can fit in rock gardens, perennial borders, ornamental beds, accent plantings, and even containers.
There are irises that grow only a few inches tall and some giants that grow over 3 feet tall. Smaller varieties work well along the edges of pathways and ornamental beds.

You've probably already enjoyed the early blooms of Iris reticulata, and now it's time for the flag irises (I. pseudacorus). Flag iris grow 2 to 5 feet tall and bloom in clumps in wet areas or along the water's edge. They'll self sow and spread quickly if happy.

Bearded irises (I. germanica) have long been a part of my perennial garden. Their leaves are sword shaped and have a waxy coating on the surface that wipes off if rubbed. Roots are fleshy, modified plant stems called rhizomes. One or more flowers can be produced per stem.

Bearded irises are also called pogon irises; pogon is the Greek word for beard. The "beard" is the furry strip that runs longitudinally along the center of the falls, or lower petals of the flower. The three inner segments of the flower are called standards and are usually erect and arching, while the outer segments, the falls, are flaring or falling.

Planting rhizomes too deep can lead to rot. Here's how to plant bearded iris: Dig a wide, shallow planting hole with a mound of soil in the middle. Set the rhizome on the mound and spread the roots out around it. Fill in with soil, making sure that the rhizome is at the soil surface and just barely exposed. Water regularly. Rhizomes remain hardy and healthy when exposed to sun and air. A light mulching in the late fall and early winter will protect the rhizomes from severe winter desiccation.

One of the best times to transplant iris is after their bloom period, when the rhizomes are growing vigorously and storing nutrients for next year's growth and blooms.

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