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Bearded iris needs right planting touch


There is one bulb – to be perfectly proper, a rhizome – that deserves a column all its own, not only because of its beauty, but more importantly, because of its popularity.

I’m referring to the bearded iris, also known as the German iris (you don’t confuse it with the Dutch iris). All iris flowers look quite a bit alike, but there are many different kinds of irises and each has its own following. There is the wonderful water iris (Iris pseudocorus) that is fantastic in the shallow water of a pond or fountain; there is the exquisite Japanese iris (Iris ensata) that, to grow here at all, must be used as a shallow water iris; and the iris that grows as a wildflower in the Rocky Mountains (Iris douglasii).

But the iris that almost all the Iris societies around the world sing praises to is the bearded iris.

The Dutch iris, which grows from a small bulb, shoots straight up early in the spring with a few very slender leaves with the stalk topped by a small group of medium-size flowers, each lasting three to five days. Dutch iris are usually limited to light or dark blue, golden yellow or bronze in color. Planted en masse, they are spectacular. Planted as surprises in a color bowl or an annual garden, they are just that – delightful surprises.

But the bearded iris is a plant of substance. It is in evidence for at least half of the year. It is more of a perennial plant that deserves a bed of its own so that it can spread and multiply.

Bearded irises grow from a rhizome, which is a fancy name for a type of bulb that isn’t round and looks kind of strange. The rhizome has always reminded me of a foot and an ankle. And that leads me to the best way I have to describe to folks how to plant them. When you get your iris rhizomes, they will have a flat side with some dried up pieces of root left on. The opposite side has an arched top (think of it as the top of the instep) and the ankle, which goes up an inch then disappears into a fan of foliage that consist of a half dozen fat, flat leaves that have been cut off a few inches above the ankle. When you plant these strange creatures, think of them as walking across your flower bed, the heel and sole sinking into your prepared soil, and the instep ande ankle remaining above ground level. Simply enough, if they are planted deeper than that, they will rot and fail!

Bearded iris like a well-prepared flower bed, very similar to what you would do for annual or perennials. Dig 12 inches deep, incorporate 25 percent organic material (compost) and work in bone meal or rock phosphate for a long-lasting source of phosphorus, and preferably in an area that gets at least five hours of good sun each day. (A bit of light feathery shade in the middle of the day is fine.) The majority of newer varieties of iris are “re-bloomers,” meaning they bloom more than one round of flowers. They come in almost every color of the rainbow so it’s easy to see why they have such a following.

Now, armed with your knowledge, go forth and multiply – your iris, I mean!

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.



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