The word iris comes from Greek word for rainbow, an apt term for a bloom that comes in such a large range of color combinations. The iris has been a valuable source of perfume ingredients and herbal medicines for centuries, but today's gardener treasures irises for their reliable spring performance and hardy vigor in the landscape. Choose one or more of the seven popular iris types for your garden, and incorporate this symbol of faith and wisdom into your spring cut flower arrangements.
01 of 07
Bearded irises like the pictured 'Striking' cultivar are so named not for the downward facing petals, or falls on the blooms, but for the fuzzy beard that looks like the flower is sticking its tongue out. You can grow bearded irises exclusively and still achieve a garden with any color scheme you desire, and if you add some reblooming irises to your collection, you will enjoy that color show all season.
When you've decided on one of the more than 60,000 cultivars available, plant it in late summer or early fall in full sun. Plant the rhizomes so that you can see them above the soil, for they thrive with good air circulation and sunshine. With good drainage and occasional dividing to prevent over-crowding, your irises can thrive for years.
02 of 07
Dwarf Bearded Iris
What's not to love about these little powerhouses that illuminate your border and rock garden? Growing only eight to fifteen inches tall, dwarf bearded iris varieties like the 'Tarheel Elf' pictured multiply quickly, so you can populate many areas of the garden with an investment in a few plants. Some growers think these irises tolerate shade better than their standard cousins.
03 of 07
Dwarf Crested Iris
Iris cristata, the native dwarf crested iris, has a special appeal to woodland gardeners, as it requires partial to full shade for healthy growth. The six-inch tall flowers appear from March to May, and will attract hummingbirds and bees to the garden. Provide an acidic soil to mirror the conditions of the pine groves where plants grow in the wild.
04 of 07
Gardeners often overlook the small, simple flowers of Dutch iris like the 'Apollo' variety in this photo, but the diminutive plants have the advantage of acting as a good companion plant. Try growing them among early salad greens, which will obscure the fading foliage of the iris after bloom. Plant the bulbs deeply in the fall, at least six inches under the soil, and then sow lettuce after blooms have peaked.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Iris ensata plants are not as well known as bearded irises or Dutch irises, but gardeners who want large irises should seek them out, as some varieties like 'Amethyst's Sister' and 'Freckled Peacock' routinely exceed four feet in height.
The Japanese iris demands constant moisture, full sunlight, and rich soil, so these plants would make a good addition to pond or stream side garden where the soil stays wet.
06 of 07
Gardeners new to irises will love easy Siberian irises. Unlike Japanese iris, the Siberian iris is very drought tolerant, and may succumb to crown rot if the soil stays too moist. Most Siberian iris flowers are blue, violet, or purple, and petals may be very ruffled. You will see Siberian irises described as diploid or tetraploid, which is in reference to the number of chromosomes in the plants. A diploid plant has two sets of chromosomes, but a tetraploid has four sets, resulting in stocky plants and large flowers with an excellent vase life.
07 of 07
Yellow Flag Iris
Iris pseudacorus is a vibrant and vigorous plant, sometimes to a fault. This wetland iris is invasive in many parts of the United States, so gardeners should cultivate the yellow flag iris responsibly in the landscape, and prevent it from escaping into nearby lakes and wild areas. Yellow flag iris spreads aggressively by rhizomes, and may be best controlled in a container water garden.