In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2003
Regional Report

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This lovely old-fashioned bearded iris came from a Missouri farmstead.

How Can You Help But Love Iris?

I've met few gardeners who are able to resist the magnificent display of purple, pale lilac, salmon, chocolate, white, yellow, and even red bearded iris. And, many like me also have an ongoing love affair with the old varieties with delicious scents.

They are stalwarts of the perennial border, and seldom will you find an old garden, even if wildly overgrown, that doesn't have a few of these beauties still blooming. You can purchase iris tubers to have the newest, latest hybrid varieties, or do like I do and scavenge to find old varieties to divide from friends and abandoned homesteads and farms.

Although iris will grow and increase their clump size happily by themselves, they bloom better if divided every 3 to 4 years. The best time to divide them is July or early August, several weeks after they finish blooming. Iris divided after mid-August may not flower the following spring.

Bearded Iris
Bearded iris grow best in full sun and very well-drained soil. Soggy soil, especially in winter, can be devastating. Rich soil will give the best results, so if you have poor soil, incorporate rotted manure or compost to enrich it. In subsequent years, a light application of a balanced fertilizer or compost is enough to keep them blooming at their peak.

If you decide to collect bearded iris, there are all sizes, from miniature dwarfs at six inches high to tall ones that can come in at three feet or more. What fun!

Siberian Iris
Another long-time favorite is the Siberian iris. Unlike bearded iris, the blossoms are a bit more delicate and come in shades of deepest blue, pale blue, all shades of purple and white.

These plants also are somewhat tuberous but grow as a large clump with grass-like leaves. They send up stalks from the base of the plant with three or four buds on each stem. They are best divided in the spring, but they grow slowly enough that division is seldom needed just for health. To share with someone else, yes, but otherwise they can stay where they are for years and will keep blooming happily with only an occasional side-dressing of compost or fertilizer.

Perhaps the best trait of Siberian iris, next to their elegantly refined blossoms and foliage, is that they are fairly immune to iris borer. Occasionally they will suffer, but the damage is not long-term nor is it devastating to the plant.

If you become absolutely overwhelmed with the beauty of iris and decide to become a collector, there are certainly plenty of other iris types to make you happy.

Other Types of Iris
Roof iris, Iris tectorum, is a beauty as is the Japanese iris that is so popular for oriental gardens. Sweet flag iris is found growing wild in wetland areas, and sweet iris or orrisroot is often found growing on old farmsteads. It was popular years ago and its somewhat flattened blossoms are lovely bluish purple. It, too, is somewhat resistant to borers, and although it is not as flashy as the hybrid bearded iris, there is something quite appealing about its old-fashioned toughness and beauty.

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