IRIS HISTORY — Native from Europe to Nepal, bearded iris are one of the world’s oldest cultivated flowers. They were carved on the walls of Egyptian temples, grown by the monk Walafrid Strabo in the ninth century, and included in Gerard’s great Herbal of 1597.
Colonial gardeners grew a handful, but the real glory days for bearded iris began in the mid-1800s when breeders in France developed scores of exciting new varieties such as ‘Madame Chereau’. British and American enthusiasts soon joined in, and by the 1920s iris ranked as one of the top three perennials in American gardens.
HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! We’ve been members of the terrific Historic Iris Preservation Society since its founding in 1988, and if you love heirloom flowers we think you’ll find it well worth joining.
IRIS ARCHIVES — For customer tips and raves, the stories behind the flowers, links and books, history, news, and more, see our Iris Newsletter Archives.
IRIS AS CUT FLOWERS — For tips for longer lasting bouquets, see our Bulbs as Cut Flowers page.
IRIS PLANTING AND CARE — Unlike most sources, we ship our iris as bare-root plants in the spring. (See an example here.) Plant them right away. They’re freshly dug the day we ship them, they can take light frost, and to bloom their first summer they must get growing again ASAP. If necessary, store in the fridge for 2-3 days or “heel in” briefly in moist sand or soil.
Iris like lots of sun. Give them half a day, at least, or more for increased bloom and better health. Good drainage is essential, too, so plant in sandy to average soil. Avoid or improve heavy (clay) soil or plant on a slope or in raised beds.
Space 10-18 inches apart. Iris grow/expand outward from the leaf end of the rhizome (bulb), so keep this in mind when arranging and planting them.
Don’t plant too deep! Leave the top of the rhizome exposed. Dig a hole, mound soil in the center, set plant on top, and spread roots down the sides of the mound. Fill in and firm soil, making sure that the top of the rhizome remains exposed (or barely covered in extremely hot climates). Water well.
Though iris are drought-tolerant and will rot in soil that’s too wet, they’ll need regular moisture the first few months after planting as they reestablish themselves. So water them, but not too much. Let your green thumb be your guide.
After flowering, cut bloom-stalks to the ground. Weed carefully to avoid damaging shallow feeder-roots. For best bloom and health, trim or remove dead or disfigured leaves (but not healthy green ones!), especially in late fall and early spring, so air can circulate freely and sunshine can warm the rhizomes.
After a few years of vigorous growth, your iris may get so crowded that their bloom and health begin to suffer. To thin or divide them, wait 4-8 weeks after bloom and then either open up the clump by removing the oldest rhizomes from the center, or dig it all, replant the best new rhizomes, and give away or destroy (don’t compost) the others.
Iris have relatively few pests or diseases that trouble them. You can get helpful advice on the most common ones — iris borer (which is a problem east of the Rockies only), leaf spot, and root rot — at the excellent Iris Garden website sponsored by the iris societies of New England.