Julie Jacobson: Plant iris for spring color
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Julie Jacobson: Plant iris for spring color

Aug 07, 2023

Iris is one of the most popular and beautiful of garden flowers. With the wide range in plant type, size and adaptation, there is an iris for almost any location.

The standard iris, Japanese, Siberian, bearded German, spuria and yellow flag types are all suitable for Nebraska soils. Their blooms extend from early April through June.

Early September is the best time to divide and move iris. This ensures adequate root growth and establishment before winter. If your iris bed has become too thick and is producing fewer flowers, then plan to divide and conquer!

Before you begin, decide where you will be planting the new divisions. Iris desire a sunny planting location with good air circulation and well drained soil. Sandy loam is best, but other types can be improved with organic matter to be suitable. Renovation is a great time to add soil amendments such as compost to improve quality and vigor.

We have been busy maintaining our gardens and yards in August with increased heat, so we are busy watering and treating plants for disease and pulling weeds.

It may seem hard to believe that now is the time to start planning for the future when looking at our perennials and wanting that burst of spring color that will last with little effort.

One way of dealing with this dilemma is to plant things that reward you with the most beauty with the least work. One of my special favorites is the tall bearded or Siberian iris. They bloom in early summer after the spring bulbs have faded and before the annual flowers are at their best. They grow to about two feet tall and thrive in sun to part shade. They do best in well drained soil, and are tolerant of both heat and cold.

There are several advantages of planting these lovely flowers in your garden:

They come in a variety of colors: pink, rust, purple, yellow and many shades of blue.

They are one of the few tall flowers that support themselves. Even after a hard shower or high winds, you will find them standing straight and tall and beautiful.

The foliage remains an attractive background after the flowers have faded. Cut back to about 6 inches after the leaves begin to die back.

They make wonderful cut flowers if you enjoy bring the beauty of your garden into the house.

They are bothered by very few pests or diseases and these are easy to avoid.

Iris borer can be treated by spraying — do this on Tax Day, April 15, according to a local expert on growing iris. Soft rot can be avoided by keeping them open and airy. Keep dead leaves away from them. Do not let the tops of the rhizomes get covered with soil or other debris.

Tips for iris growers:

Plant them carefully. You will have a rhizome with roots extending from it. My recommendation is to loosen the soil, spread the roots out from either side of the rhizome and cover the roots with soil, pack it down round them with your hands. But leave the top of the rhizome exposed to the sun.

Feed annually after blooming with a balanced garden fertilizer, such as 5-10-10.

Dig up and separate your tall bearded iris every two to three years — they will become too crowded otherwise — and this way you can share their beauty with friends and neighbors.

After they bloom, do not cut back the leaves. They are busy providing nourishment to the rhizome, and they provide an attractive background for other flowers. Cut the leaves to a 6-inch fan when dividing or when they’ve begun to die.

For additional information on how to plant or divide perennials or answer questions on the Master Gardener program, contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683, fax 308-532-2692, email [email protected] or go to lincolnmcpherson.unl.edu.

Julie Jacobson

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