Irises (EYE-riss-ez) are one of the delights of spring. These striking, colorful perennials are usually grouped with hardy spring bulbs because of their plant structure. Like tulips, daffodils and crocuses, irises grow from bulb-like organs, although in their case the "bulb" is a modified stem called a rhizome. Appropriately named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris flowers come in almost every color combination.
Today's bearded irises are the result of complex cross breeding over hundreds of years. Because one of their original parents was German iris (Iris germanica) they are sometimes called German iris. They come in so many sizes that they are divided into 6 classes: Miniature Dwarfs, Standard Dwarfs, Intermediates, Miniature Talls ("table irises"), Border Bearded, and the Standard Tall Bearded which is a care free staple of so many suburban and rural yards.
Iris Height And Spread
Tall bearded irises grow from 2 to 3 feet tall. After two or three years, a clump of these irises will spread to 3 feet. Dwarf versions of bearded iris grow from 8 to 12 inches tall and spread about as wide. Those of the other classes fall in between in size.
Bearded iris leaves are smooth, green and characteristically sword-shaped. They may be from 4 to 16 inches long, depending on the type of iris. They grow directly from the rhizome at the soil surface and provide texture and drama all season long.
All irises have unique, six-petaled flowers: 3 of the petals, called "standards", are erect while the other 3, called "falls", hang down. Bearded iris are so-called because they have fuzzy, caterpillar-like tufts of hairs, or "beards", on the upper portion of their falls. They are often referred to as garden "orchids". They fall into two categories according to when they bloom. The dwarfs and intermediate bloom early when the tulips do; the taller types bloom a bit later when the roses begin.
Iris blooms emerge sequentially along tall stalks over a period of about 2 or 3 weeks, depending on the type. Each flower lasts only 2 to 4 days (depending on how warm the weather is). Originally lilac and purple and/or white with yellow beards, these irises now come in just about every color except pure red. There are ruffled, tinted, and dappled types. Recent breeding efforts have created reblooming iris that repeat their display during the summer and into the fall. They are available in specialty nurseries.
How do I care for my reblooming Iris?
The trick to getting them to rebloom is to fertilize right after June bloom and to water during the summer dry spells.