Growing and Caring for the Bearded Iris

Growing and Caring for the Bearded Iris
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Growing the Bearded IrisBearded irises are one of those flowers that are easy to share with family and friends. Many of us remember our grandmothers growing beds of irises, just as my mom does now. They tend to multiply quickly and I've been fortunate to "inherit" purple and yellow iris varieties from my mother and mother-in-law.

They make a beautiful cut flower and come in many different colors and heights. The classifications are miniature dwarf, standard dwarf, intermediate, miniature tall, border and tall.

They range in height from less than 8 inches to about 38 inches. The smaller varieties flower first, followed by the medium height, and then the taller irises. There are also reblooming irises available now, but let me warn you they are very expensive.

Though old fashioned bearded irises bloom only once in the late spring and early summer, they are easy to incorporate into your landscape. Plant clumps of dwarf varieties in rock gardens, and the others work well in borders, cutting gardens or where space allows, a sunny corner all to themselves!

They are easy to grow, but do have some quirky characteristics. As I was writing and putting together my information I realized my mother and grandma would no doubt be chuckling that I'm going to so much trouble to explain how to grow something that they just "threw in the soil" and grew year after year.

But I learned the hard way that sometimes that just doesn't work! A little bit of planning and knowledge is a good thing, especially when it comes to maintaining spring blooming flowers.

The rhizome of the iris isn't buried in the soil. It's a homely looking long "bulb" with roots coming out the bottom of it. The iris leaves and stalks come from one end of it. The roots should be beneath the soil, but the rhizome should be just covered to where you can actually see the very top of it. It needs to be exposed to the sunlight. This was on of my first lessons in irises.

One way to plant is to work your bed, dig a hole, then mound up a little pile of dirt. Set your rhizome on top of this mound with the roots draped over the dirt, then fill in the hole and cover the roots, leaving the top of the rhizome exposed.. Irises cannot not tolerate wet or damp soil, especially near the rhizomes which will rot or become diseased if kept moist.

Also, I found from experience that it's best to work your soil well, and plant carefully, checking them the first few weeks especially to make sure the squirrels, dogs etc. haven't knocked them around or moved them. If your rhizomes grow crooked them your irises will be lopsided. They grow well in raised beds, so consider that as well. Once they are established in the ground they are fine, but watch those first couple of weeks.

Irises tend not to like compost or manure (unless you dig it in at least 6 inches into the soil), but potash or a low nitrogen fertilizer is fine if done in moderation and if it's kept from directly touching the rhizome They shouldn't be mulched either. In other words, you don't want anything touching or blocking that rhizome. Full sun is best for location, but you may be able to get away with partial shade in some cases.

If they don't do well, then you can transplant them after they have bloomed during the summer-July through August is a good time to divide your irises too. Always use a knife to cut apart the rhizomes-don't break or tear. The same goes for cutting the blooms or leaves-cut crisply and cleanly. When planting new irises or dividing always inspect your rhizomes. Discard any soft or rotted looking ones, and watch for a nasty worm called a borer. These are bad, and the rhizome should thrown away.

I hope all this information doesn't seem overwhelming. Irises are an old fashioned flower that adds beauty and charm to our gardens year after year, and they can easily be handed down to future gardeners for their enjoyment. What more can we ask of a flower?


I have had bearded irises for years and this is the first time I have noticed an odd growth on one of them, looks like a small thin green pumpkin...what is this and what do I do with it? ~Naida

Those are seed pods and you'll begin to notice after they stop growing they will turn brown and start to open at the top. Inside are the seeds of the iris. You can either just cut them off now with the faded flowers or leave a couple on and let them ripen. Try putting them into pots as soon as they are brown and shiny. Keep them outside and in the winter move them to a more protected area. They'll need warmth then cold to germinate properly. You can cover them with straw in the coldest part of the winter for protection.

My Iris get leaf spot every year. Do you have any ideas for them? I have sprayed them, but they seem to get it again. I have a batch by the house which don't get them, but other places on the property do? ~Ginny

I wonder if you don't need to move them from that soil. From what I've found you need to remove ALL foliage that is infected and burn it-- plus in mild climates you may need to actually destroy the plants that have it because it can continue to live in the soil. That would explain why some of yours have it and others don't. I would start by removing all of the foliage now--and burning it--don't leave even a little piece on the ground. Then see what happens next year and if they still have it I'd try moving to a different location.



About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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