Plant Characteristics and Care of the Reticulated Iris

Why You Might or Might Not Want to Grow Harmony, Related Bulbs

Reticulated iris flower early in spring.
David Beaulieu

Harmony reticulated iris is a dwarf or "miniature" plant and one of the earliest bloomers in spring. Its tricolored flowers exhibit a design that is fun to study on warm days in early spring when you are looking for an excuse to spend time outdoors. You will also marvel at the beauty of the unopened flowers, just before the petals unfurl: Long, narrow, and tapering to a point, they are a dark purple lined with golden-yellow stripes and remind you of exquisitely decorated, miniature spearheads.

Plant Type and Taxonomy of the Reticulated Iris

Plant taxonomy classifies this dwarf as Iris reticulata; it is a spring bulb plant. One of the common names is "reticulated iris"; another is "netted iris." Harmony is a hybrid cultivar of this species and I. histrioides, and the information here pertains only to this cultivar unless otherwise stated.

What the Plant Looks Like

The flowers of this dwarf are purplish-blue, yellow, and white, but the purplish color is dominant enough for us to classify them as purple flowers (the yellow and white can be considered accents). The grassy foliage reaches 9 inches during the blooming period (over 1 foot afterward), but the flowers stand, at most, about 7 inches off the ground. The width of the plant is initially much less than the height, but a reticulated iris can spread a little via offsets over time.

Reticulated iris does not have the aroma that some of the bearded types do; the latter can be truly one of the most fragrant plants.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Needs

Indigenous to southwestern Asia, this dwarf can be grown in planting zones 5 to 9. Plant these flowers in full sun to partial shade. They will grow best in well-drained ground. Supply a bulb fertilizer when planting.

Plant Care and Uses in Landscaping for the Reticulated Iris

As with most spring-flowering bulb plants with small flowers, it is best to plant this dwarf in masses if you desire immediate impact. Plant the bulbs in fall. Space the holes 3 to 4 inches apart and make them 3 inches deep.

Drought-tolerant, reticulated iris is an appropriate choice for spring rock gardens. The fact that it is a deer-resistant bulb makes it valued by many gardeners who reside in eastern North America. Fertilize with a bulb fertilizer after blooming is done.

To rejuvenate a patch of reticulated iris that has evidently petered out over the years, divide and replant the offsets after the plant finishes blooming. Some do so immediately, in spring; others wait till fall.

By summer, the leaves will die back as the plant becomes dormant. Allow this die-back to occur naturally, rather than "helping it out" by removing leaves prematurely: The plant is taking in and storing nutrients as long as the foliage is green. It is also important that the bulbs be resting in dry soil during their period of summer dormancy.

Help Deciding Whether to Grow Reticulated Iris

The fact that it is a drought-tolerant perennial makes it useful for gardeners with dry soils and/or who are trying to conserve water. Reticulated iris is a possible plant selection for xeriscaping. Avid early-season gardeners seeking to extend their repertoire beyond the more common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and Crocus will also appreciate it as one of the first flowers to bloom in spring.

But a drawback of this plant is its tendency to peter out relatively quickly. If you like the type of bulb plant that you can just plant and leave alone for years, with little if any drop-off in flowering display, then this is not the plant for you. The decline of Iris reticulata Harmony is not gradual. You will need to divide the plants and buy additional stock every few years to maintain anything like a peak display. Snowdrops and crocus are more low-maintenance in this regard.

The Reticulated Iris Group

Although Iris reticulata is the namesake reticulated iris, other types do exist. The universe of species, cultivars, and hybrids of these dwarf types of irises is known collectively as "the reticulated iris group." Other plants in this group include the I. danfordiae species and the following hybrids:

  • Katherine Hodgkin
  • George
  • Sea Breeze

Meaning of the Name

The genus name is derived from Greek mythology. It is the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow. She is also the messenger of the gods (the female counterpart of "Hermes," known as "Mercury" in Roman mythology). This derivation apparently pays tribute to the very colorful flowers borne by the various types of irises that grace our gardens (as in "the colors of the rainbow"). Meanwhile, the species name, reticulata, means "netted" or "reticulated," a reference to the netted pattern that can be discerned on the plants' bulbs.