Garden irises are hardy, long-lived perennials that need a minimum of care. They are an established ‘backbone’ of the home garden because they bloom when few other plants do – right after spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips and before peonies, delphinium and phlox. They are usually poisonous to animals therefore most wild animals leave them alone including our Arizona Javelina. The iris is known in the community as the one flower that does not usually need to be fenced for protection from the wild critters; however in some areas, this may be the exception to the rule. Iris varieties adapt well to Prescott’s four seasons. They produce graceful flowers in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colors.
Bearded iris grow from thick, underground stems – called rhizomes (pronounced rye-zomes) which are a thick fleshy root about like a tough potato in texture, that store food produced by the leaves. When you buy a new iris, you will probably receive a rhizome with clipped roots and leaves. It can remain out of ground for a week or two without serious harm, but the sooner planted, the better. Rhizomes grow slightly below the surface of the ground or at ground level. Many small roots penetrate the soil deeply. Every year, underground offshoots develop from the original rhizome. Offshoots may be divided and transplanted to grow new irises. A rhizome that will produce a plant has at least one bud or growing point (also known as an increase). Each bud produces a large fan of leaves and a flower stalk. Irises grown from rhizomes should bloom the next spring after planting.
Irises may be grown from seed. A seedpod may develop below a pollinated flower that is left on the stalk after blossoming. Most seedlings do not bloom for 2 or 3 years after planting. The slow process of growing plants from seed is used chiefly by hybridizers to develop new varieties. Because irises are hybrids, flowers of seedlings rarely look like flowers of parent plants.
From the several thousand varieties of irises available, select varieties that will provide the colors you want in your garden. Many new varieties are introduced each year. Commercial growers' catalogs and the American Iris Society Iris Encyclopedia website describe as well as show photos of many popular irises.