Gardeners, don’t you just love late spring flowers? The air is lush with fragrances from sugary sweet, reminiscent of grape soda to the deeper, heady floral aromas. Colors explode from dainty pastels of pale pinks and soft yellows spanning the spectrum to regal hues of bold oranges, deep purples, and vibrant bi-colors. But one flower in particular fits this bill. It’s Bearded Iris!
Iris germanica is the scientific name for Bearded Iris, also known as German Iris. These beauties are an herbaceous (non-woody), long-lived perennial that grows from a rhizome (a thick, fleshy underground stem), that is hardy in USDA zones 3 – 10. They are also the most commonly planted Iris (when compared to Siberian and Japanese Iris). This particular perennial is easy to spot in a landscape with their long sword-shaped leaves. But when they send up their flowering stalk; the large, colorful flowers are sure to be the center of attention in your spring landscape. Besides looking great in the landscape, they make an excellent, albeit short-lived cut flower. Imagine gathering an armful of these fragrant beauties to display throughout your house?
Irises are one of the easiest perennials to grow. They are a delight whether you are a just beginning to garden or your thumb is as green as a spring lawn. They like at least five hours of sunlight per day for maximum bloom. However, they will tolerate some shade, but do not plant them in deeply shaded areas; otherwise, you will have a plant that simply produces foliage, leaving you longing for blossoms. Also be sure to plant them in a well-drained location as they do not like to be in soggy soil as the rhizomes can be prone to rot. To avoid this issue, consider planting them on a slope or even in raised beds to ensure good drainage.
Nurseries, garden centers and online retailers have them in stock beginning in early spring. Most retailers that have irises on hand have grown them in containers rather than having just the bare-root rhizomes. However there are some dig-your-own iris operations. Along the Front Range of Colorado, you can stop by Longs in Boulder to tromp through their fields with a shovel in hand. The key is to plant them so the roots have time to become established before the growing season ends.
German Irises come in several different sizes. Miniatures can range in size from 2” – 8” in height and are the earliest bloomers of the bearded. Expect these plants to begin blooming in late March or early April. Since they are such early bloomers, they do very well in regions with a cold season and are wonderful additions to rock gardens. Dwarf Bearded Iris may range in height from 8” – 15” and usually bloom after the miniatures. Both the miniatures and dwarfs are excellent choices for a front-of-the-border planting. Intermediate is the next size up and can vary in height from 16” – 28” tall. And lastly are the tall bearded with heights spanning 28” – 40”. In our region (Front Range of northern Colorado), these back-of-the-border plants generally begin blooming from late May through early June.
Armed with this knowledge, consider adding this time-honored perennial to your landscape. Their beauty as well as heady aroma make them a garden must-have. Whether you have one bed or dozens, irises will continue to delight you for years to come.