In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Add more irises to your garden this year.

The Beloved Iris

What with spending more time than usual in the garden this year, I've become aware of just how many different kinds of irises I grow, to say nothing of how many more I want. With just a little forethought, it's possible to have irises blooming in the garden from February to October. No wonder irises are among the most well-known and beloved of all flowers. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are also easy to grow, sometimes seeming almost indestructible.

Even the name, with its roots in mythology, is a delight, commemorating the Greek goddess Iris, who walked between heaven and earth over a bridge made by the rainbow. Legend has it that wherever Iris walked, her footprints bore flowers in the colors of the rainbow. Certainly, irises do seem to be in every color, although purples and lavenders predominate.

Explore the Different Types of Irises
Maybe you have some of the large bearded irises inherited from a grandmother or aunt. The plants are certainly prolific enough to have many "starts" to pass along. As you buy, barter, or beg plants for your garden this year, look to the many other possibilities of iris.

According to Allan Armitage in his book Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes, the genus iris "has been divided into 10 sub-genera which subdivide into 19 sections, 24 sub-sections, and 59 groups or series. Each series may have 5 to 25 species and each species may be subdivided into numerous cultivars." Whew!

One way to understand this complexity a little better is to visit the website of The American Iris Society. In particular, go to the page with iris classifications: From there, you can explore the site further. Find information on how to grow the different types of irises, see photos of many iris cultivars, and explore numerous links providing more information about irises.

The Fascination of Reblooming Irises
If we love the blooms of iris in the springtime, then it stands to reason that we would want them throughout the summer into fall. So it should come as no surprise that the Reblooming Iris Society has the largest membership of any American Iris Society section. There are irises mentioned in historical iris literature as having reblooming tendencies, but irises specifically bred to rebloom have become most readily available since the 1920s. Given the almost a hundred years since, reblooming irises remain a challenge both to hybridize and to grow and have reliably rebloom.

Part of the challenge is that there are different ways in which an iris will "rebloom." The Reblooming Iris Society has categorized four types: irises that produce two or more flushes of bloom each year; iris that produce flowers in spring and then again in autumn; irises that produce flowers soon after the first spring flush, thus extending the bloom season; and irises that produce flowers irregularly throughout the season.

The next part of the challenge is that the different types of reblooming are not always explained in the variety descriptions. Buying reblooming irises from sources that specialize is the best option. The final hurdle is climate, with reblooming declining in cold and warm climate areas. Companies that specialize in reblooming iris often describe the best climate conditions for each variety.

Keys to Success with Reblooming Iris
In addition to choosing the reblooming irises that are best for your area, there are additional steps you can take to ensure success. First of all, it's key to prepare the soil well. Then, during the summer, water them deeply at least every other week if rainfall is limited. Fertilize them with a balanced, low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, in early spring, then again after spring bloom. For an additional boost, apply a liquid fertilizer once or twice in September. It also helps to be patient, as many reblooming iris varieties require the plants to be well-established before they reliably rebloom.

Whichever you choose, be it to grow more iris varieties of just one type, more of the different types of iris, take on the challenge of reblooming iris, or all of the above, there's no denying the allure of these unique flowers in all the colors of the rainbow.

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