Irises steal the show

Tulips may rule in Amsterdam, but irises reign supreme in North Central Texas.

These bulbous perennial plants score points for their ease of cultivation, durability, beauty, variety and ability to withstand weather extremes.

Many other spring flowers are pretty, but irises simply steal the show with its exquisite blooms.

No garden should be without irises, particularly since they are so easy and inexpensive to obtain.

Every few years, gardeners dig and divide their irises to encourage more blooms, which often results in divisions ready for sharing.

Irises are generally classified as bearded or non-bearded, with numerous sub-classes. The common name bearded iris relates to the blossom structure. Each bloom consists of three upright petals, called standards, and three drooping sepals, called falls.

FUZZY BEARD

A fuzzy “beard” adorns each fall. Blossoms come in myriad colors. Bearded irises grow well in dry, neutral-to-alkaline, well-drained soils in areas with little humidity.

In Texas, the most commonly grown non-bearded types are Louisiana irises. They are fairly easy to grow statewide, having been bred from native species.

Their culture is different from bearded irises in that they thrive in poorly drained soils and in areas with high humidity, including alongside streams, lakes and the Gulf coast. While Louisiana irises perform best in lightly acidic soil, they typically adjust well to a higher pH.

Both Louisiana and bearded irises have sword-like foliage that emerges well before the flower stalks. Most irises range in height from 2-3 ft.

The rhizomes of bearded iris can withstand considerable heat and drought. Each bud opens separately, and blossoms last for 3-4 days.

Plants remain in bloom for 2-3 weeks, depending upon the number of buds. Louisiana irises tend to bloom slightly later than their bearded counterparts, but both finish their bloom by early summer.

After irises complete their bloom, trim the stalks to the rhizome. Many irises go dormant during summer. Allow the foliage to fade and brown naturally before tidying the plants. Irises perform best if left undisturbed for 2-3 years, so prepare the soil before planting with organic matter, such as compost.

When planting, place bearded iris rhizomes with their tops barely covered with soil. Plant Louisiana irises with their rhizomes just below ground level. Use drip irrigation to keep the foliage dry.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.