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Connecticut Garden Journal: When growing irises, location is key

Variegated Siberian Iris flower with rich veining visible in purple and gold on the foreground sepals.
Photography by Alison Dunn/Getty Images
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Variegated Siberian Iris flower with rich veining visible in purple and gold on the foreground sepals.

“Then we have the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash. . .” This Margaret Atwood quote depicts the beauty of this spring flower. Irises come in many types. Bearded iris are most common with large, colorful blooms. The clump-forming, Siberian iris has smaller, blue, pink, yellow or white flowers. Japanese iris flowers resemble colorful butterflies floating on the breeze.

Whatever iris you choose to grow, it's important to find the right spot. Select a full sun location on well-drained soil, although Japanese iris grow well in wetter soils. Siberian iris are a little more forgiving of shade, but they will flower better in sun. Well drained soil is key. If you have clay soil either amend it heavily with compost or create a raised bed for good soil water drainage.

Plant bearded iris so the tops of the rhizomes are at the soil line. Don't bury them. Plant Siberian and Japanese iris as you would any perennial. Over time the iris plant will get overcrowded and stop flowering. Divide clumps in summer, removing any diseased or damaged rhizomes, replanting the rest in fresh soil. The clump forming irises, such as the Siberian iris, form a dead area in the center of the clump when overcrowded. Divide in summer removing the dead area and splitting up and replanting the live growth.

Enjoy your iris flowers in gardens matched with other spring beauties such as peonies, salvia and geraniums. Cut flowers for arranging indoors as the first flowers on the stalk begin to open.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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