Iris is a popular garden flower, that has a genus of about 260–300 species of flowering plants with showy flowers. It takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, which is also the name for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.
Irises are perennial plants, growing from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous irises) or, in drier climates, from bulbs (bulbous irises). They have long, erect flowering stems, which may be simple or branched, solid or hollow, and flattened or have a circular cross-section. The rhizomatous species usually have 3–10 basal sword-shaped leaves growing in dense clumps. The bulbous species have cylindrical, basal leaves. The distinctive flowers have three large outer petals called “falls” and three inner upright petals called “standards.” The falls may have beards or crests. Bearded irises are so-called because they have soft hairs along the center of the falls. In crested iris, the hairs form a comb or ridge. Most irises flower in early summer. Some, mostly bearded hybrids, will re-bloom again later in the summer.
Irises need at least half a day of sun and well-drained soil. They will not bloom if they do not get enough sun. They grow well in most garden soil types providing it is a well-drained area. Bearded irises must not be shaded by other plants; many do best in a special bed on their own. Bearded irises have rhizomes (fleshy roots) that should be partially exposed, or thinly covered with soil in hot climates. Plant rhizomes singly or in groups of three with the fans outermost, 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on the size in mid to late summer. Dig a shallow hole 10 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep. Make a ridge of soil down the middle and place the rhizome on the ridge, spreading roots down both sides. Fill the hole with soil and firm it gently, then water thoroughly. When planting, top-dress with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Avoid applying high-nitrogen fertilizers to the surface or mulching with organic matter, which may encourage rhizome rot.
Keep iris rhizomes exposed and do not crowd with other plants, they need a bit of sun and air to dry them out so they will not rot. They are drought tolerant, but some watering will be beneficial during dry spells. Fertilize in spring before blooms appear, and deadhead once blooms are spent. Don’t trim iris leaves – they need to carry on photosynthesis for next year’s flowers. Cut off brown tips – and cut the flowering stalk down to the rhizome to discourage rot. Once they have turned yellow, the leaves can be removed. After 2 to 5 years, when clumps become congested or lose vitality and stop blooming, divide and replant sound rhizomes in fresh soil. The best time to replant irises is soon after bloom.
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