Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Irises are true survivors despite the weather.

A Rainbow of Bearded Irises

Though the garden was pounded by hail last July, the autumn was dry, and the winter cold and unpredictable, the iris in my garden have returned with eye-catching blooms.

Bearded irises are some of the most rugged perennials and are true survivors I can always depend upon. You can find them growing at abandoned homesteads, unscathed by drought and wind. The old-timers often call these irises "flags," which aptly describes the movement of their blossom stalks in the breeze.

You can create a rainbow of tall bearded irises in your garden for a glorious show over a long season. Colors range from true whites through almost-reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, blues, purples and lavenders, to almost black. Many hybrids are available in exquisite combinations and patterns of colors.

Tall bearded irises can grow to a height of 27 inches or more and produce branched flower stalks with multiple blooms. Tall varieties bloom later than the shorter cultivars. Shortest of all and the earliest to bloom are the miniature dwarf bearded types.

When to Plant
One of the best times to plant and transplant irises is when they are in their semi-dormant stage; that is, when the flowering cycle has been completed and the rhizomes are fully developed. Mid-June through July is an excellent time to plant, giving the irises plenty of time to produce new root growth and become well established before soil cools down in the autumn.

Where to Plant
Bearded irises will perform at their best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. They are adapted to a wide range of soil types, but will produce a greater abundance of flowers in soils that have been enriched with compost. Good drainage is a must! As my Italian grandmother often said, "Better dry than soggy". I use compost, adding about one-third by volume to the iris bed prior to planting or renovating.

Once the blooms have faded, cut back the spent flower stalks. Iris foliage continues to make a nice backdrop to the perennial garden.

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