Irises, in a way, are like men: They come in all shapes and sizes; some are bearded, and others aren't. The colorful perennial will soon begin popping up and flowering in gardens throughout central Ohio. Now is a good time to take note of the types you might like to buy - or borrow from a neighbor - to try in your garden. The ideal planting and dividing time is fast approaching.
Irises, in a way, are like men: They come in all shapes and sizes; some are bearded, and others aren’t.
The colorful perennial will soon begin popping up and flowering in gardens throughout central Ohio.
Now is a good time to take note of the types you might like to buy — or borrow from a neighbor — to try in your garden. The ideal planting and dividing time is fast approaching.
“There are many types of irises,” said Jody Nolin, a Rushsylvania resident who is a member of the American Iris Society and an officer of the Society for Japanese Irises. “It’s a pretty wide family, the iris, and there are types suited to a variety of gardens — some for shade, wet, arid, you name it.”Bearded
The most popular type is the bearded iris — its name a reference to part of the ruffled petals at the base of the flower. Bearded irises range in size from miniature to tall and come in many colors, such as traditional blue and purple with yellow centers, white, yellow, peach and red. The smaller varieties generally bloom earlier in the growing season; the tall varieties, later, according to the Clemson University Extension.
Bearded irises prefer full sun and rich soil with plenty of added compost, peat and manure, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. But they need more care and are more prone to pests and disease than other types or irises.
“They take more work, weeding and borer control,” Nolin said. Jo Lucas, a Guernsey County master gardener, detailed the work involved: “They need regular removal of old flowers — daily, in many cases — as each individual bloom usually lasts only one day. Irises are sometimes bothered by borers and root rot. Dark streaking in the leaves is evidence of borers; prune off the leaves and dig out affected rhizomes (roots) and discard them."
The Cornell University Extension also notes the need to divide the rhizomes every three to four years, as bearded irises don’t like excessive crowding.
Some less well-known beardless varieties of irises are easier to grow and more adaptable to challenging locations. Japanese irises, for example, are slower-growing, are less prone to disease and prefer moist locations and frequent watering. (Note that rainwater should be used, because chemicals in city water can harm them.)Japanese irises do well near streams and ponds, with the flowers growing up to 8 inches wide.Siberian
Considered the easiest to grow, Siberian irises — once estabilshed, easily overcome encroaching grass and weeds, according to the Cornell University Extension. They have spiky, dark-green foliage dotted with large, colorful blooms. They make an excellent architectural addition to gardens. Siberian irises also tend to become stubbornly established in one spot for many years, even decades.Spuria
Spuria is the tallest variety, reaching up to 5 feet, and the most likely to attract bees, according to the Spuria Iris Society. Once established, spuria irises are virtually unsusceptible to drought.Some irises do well even in shade. The Japanese roof iris (Iris cristata or Iris tectorum), Nolin said, can be planted near hostas.
Planting a potpourri of iris varieties can lead to an ever-blooming garden. “I like to plant lots of different types, as that spreads my blooming season from now to July,” Nolin said. “I have some that bloom with the crocus, and my Japanese and spuria (irises) bloom in June.”
In Ohio, iris rhizomes should be planted or divided in August and September. Popular varieties of rhizomes, though, are already starting to sell out at online nurseries. If you want the beauty of irises this year but didn’t plant any in the fall, you needn’t worry. Many nurseries sell potted irises — already sprouted and ready to plant.
Denise Trowbridge is a Columbus freelance writer who covers garden topics.