Colors of iris flowers



from our stores – Pickupflowers – the flower expert

Some Interesting Facts about Iris

  • Irises come in many forms, shapes, colors and sizes and the sword-like foliage is attractive when the plant is not in bloom.
  • The Iris was named after the Greek goddess who is considered to be the messenger of love and uses the rainbow to travel. Iris was probably named after the goddess because of the numerous colors it is available in.
  • Irises are among the best-known and loved among garden plants. Irises are hardy herbaceous perennials.
  • The genus Iris is a large genus of bulbous and rhizomatous perennials.
  • The Iris was named after the goddess of the rainbow because of its many colors.
  • A flower on the Sphinx is considered to be an Iris, and another appears on a bas-relief of the time of the 18th Egyptian dynasty.
  • Pliny also knew the Iris and praised its medicinal virtues.
  • The Iris was also a favorite flower of the Moslems who took it to Spain after their conquest in the 8th century.

The Iris flower’s characteristic feature is having three petals often called the “standards” and three outer petal-like sepals called the “falls”.

Types of Irises

Irises are classified into two major groups, Rhizome Irises and Bulbous Irises. Within those groups are countless species, varieties, cultivars and hybrids, according to the American Iris Society.

Rhizome Irises are thickened stems that grow horizontally, either underground or partially underground. After planting, iris rhizomes produce sword like leaves that overlap, forming flat fans of green foliage. Three popular irises in this group are Bearded, Beardless and Crested Irises.

  • The bearded iris has four distinct parts: the Standards, Falls, Stigma flaps, and Beard
  • The beardless variety has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps, but usually have crests
  • The crested Irises or Evansia Iris has: Standards, Falls and Stigma flaps and in addition to a ridge on the falls of the blossom, they have ridges like crests instead of beards

Crested irises are often considered in the same manner as the beardless iris. These plants spread freely by underground stems and produce flat flowers in the shades of blue, violet and white. Often the flowers and leaves are found on bamboo like stems which can vary in height from 5-200 centimeters in height.

Varieties of Bearded Iris Varieties of Beardless Iris
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris Siberian Iris
Dwarf Bearded Iris Japanese Iris
Intermediate Bearded Iris Louisiana Iris
Border Bearded Iris Dutch Iris
Miniature Tall Bearded Iris Yellow Flag Iris
Tall Bearded Iris Blue Flag Iris

Bulbous irises grow from bulbs that require a period of dormancy after they have bloomed. The bulbous irises are typically smaller than rhizome irises and usually produce smaller blossoms.

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Growing Irises

Before planting Iris, improve the soil conditions by using a slow release fertilizer. To increase the organic matter content, use compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure. Fertilizer and organic matter should be worked thoroughly into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.

  • Wooded areas with good drainage and partial shade are ideal spots for the crested iris.
  • Irises are grown from both seed and root separation.
  • The roots or rhizomes, are easily separated and replanted.
  • The rhizome looks like a long, thin potato with roots underneath.
  • When transplanting, separate the rhizome. Make sure to have some root and a leaf or two in each section.
  • Plant the rhizomes near the surface with the roots below.
  • Divide the clumps and plant single rhizomes, spacing them 8 to 18 inches apart according to the effect desired.
  • Spade a planting hole about 10 inches deep and work 1 tablespoonful of fertilizer into the soil in the bottom of the hole.
  • If the soil is heavy, some drainage material such as gravel or broken pottery should be placed in the hole.
  • Fill the hole with loose soil and place the root section so that it will not be covered more than 1 inch deep.
  • Most Beardless Irises can also be propagated from seeds.

The Dykes Medal is awarded annually to the finest iris of any class. Tall bearded irises have won the Dykes Medal more often than any other class.

Iris Plant Care

  • Apply a thin layer of compost around the base of plants each spring, leaving the rhizome exposed.
  • As flowers fade, cut back the flower stalks to the base of the plant.
  • To encourage a second bloom on re-blooming varieties, promptly remove faded flowers and maintain consistent watering throughout the summer.
  • In autumn, trim away dead foliage and prune back healthy leaves to a height of 4 to 5 inches.
  • Once the soil has frozen, apply a layer of mulch to help prevent roots from heaving out of the soil during alternate freezing and thawing.
  • If heaving occurs, don’t try to force plants back into the soil. Instead, cover rhizomes and exposed roots with soil.
  • Divide bearded irises every 4 to 5 years, preferably in late summer. Each division should have one or two leaf fans. Older rhizomes that have few white feeding roots should be discarded.

Want to learn more about growing Irises and other flowers? View books on Gardening

Other Uses of Iris

  • The juice of the fresh roots of Iris, bruised with wine, has been employed as a strong purge of great efficiency in dropsy.
  • Iris roots are used to treat skin diseases. The juice of Irises are also sometimes used as a cosmetic for the removal of freckles on the skin.
  • The fresh root of the Iris germanica is a powerful cathartic, and for this reason its juice has been employed in dropsy. It is chiefly used in the dry state, being said to be good for complaints of the lungs, for coughs and hoarseness, but is now more valued for the pleasantness of its violet-like perfume than for any other use.
  • Iris flowers are used as a liver purge.

Purple Iris

  • Purple Iris Flowers bloom for two to three weeks in the late spring to early summer.
  • The Purple Iris is the state flower of Tennessee.
  • The Purple Iris can be grown in your home, in containers.
  • The majority of Iris flowers are in Purple.

Also have a look at some other Flowers

Rose Flower Daisy Flowers Jasmine
Tiger lilies Lily Flower Marigold
Cosmos Flowers Morning glory Larkspur Flower
Peony Flower Sampaguita Daffodils
Lisianthus Agapanthus Gladiolus
Carnations Tulips Summer Flowers
Exotic Flowers Tropical Flowers Spring Flowers

Iris Story & Origins

The iris is represented in Greek mythology. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and a messenger for Zeus and Hera, and many believe that the flower is named after her. She carried messages from heaven to earth on the arc of the rainbow, and was a companion to female souls on the way to heaven. To this day, Greeks plant purple irises on women’s graves so that Iris will guide them to their resting place in heaven.

Iris Meanings

  • The iris commonly means wisdom, hope, trust, and valor. It can be found in a variety of temperate zones around the world, as such, its meanings have been adapted to fit various cultures.
  • During the 16th century BC, irises were introduced to Egypt from Syria, and stylized versions of these flowers began to decorate the scepters of pharaohs as representations of victory and power.
  • The iris inspired the fleur-de-lis, a decorative symbol used by French royalty. It originated in the Middle Ages. During this time the fleur-de-lis became tied to the French Monarchy, and appeared on their coat of arms, coins, and shields. Some believe that the three petals represented the three social orders: nobility, clergy, and peasants.

Iris Symbolism & Colors

Associating irises to the goddess of the rainbow like the Ancient Greeks did is fitting because there are over 200 species of irises that come in a wide variety of colors. Specific iris symbolism depends on the flower color:

  • Purple irises symbolize royalty and wisdom.
  • Yellow irises symbolize passion.
  • Blue irises symbolize faith and hope.
  • White irises symbolize purity.

Iris Cultural Significance

The beauty of irises inspired many artists. One of the most notable works on irises is Van Gogh’s Irises. In this piece, he carefully studied the flowers to capture their unique twisting and curving lines.

Iris Facts

  • The iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and is also the February birth flower and the 25th wedding anniversary flower.
  • Most iris varieties bloom in early summer.
  • Irises have three large outer petals called falls, and three inner upright petals called standards.

Iris Uses

Around the nineteenth century, especially in Italy, orris roots, the roots of germanica and pallida species, became an integral part of the perfume industry. These roots, when left out to dry, develop a violet-like scent, which improves over time. Because of its pleasant smell, orris roots were used in many cosmetics until people noticed that it caused allergic reactions. Today, the roots are often used in potpourris and sachets.

Orris roots were also used for medicinal purposes as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and for teeth and skin health.

With its great diversity of colors and meanings, irises are great gifts for all types of people in your life. You can give purple irises to a parent or mentor, yellow irises to a significant other, and blue irises to someone who needs a little extra encouragement.


Image Sources

Middle image: top right CC Image courtesy of François Philipp on Flickr

Bottom image: top CC Image courtesy of Bill Reynolds on Flickr; bottom middle right CC Image courtesy of ✈ amade_a ✈ on Flickr; bottom right CC Image courtesy of Manu on Flickr

Color Changing In Irises: Why An Iris Plant Changes Color

Irises are old-fashioned garden plants with hardiness and persistence. They can delight for decades, if divided and managed properly. There are many colors and several sports and cultivars of each species, allowing for a palette of tones. If an iris plant changes color, it could be a combination of things or simply a random accident. Here are some things to investigate that mysterious hue change.

Why Iris Flower Loses Color

Occasionally, we hear that an iris has changed color. There are several possible reasons why an iris flower loses color, but it generally doesn’t change color entirely. Temperature changes, chemical drift, transplant issues or even a random rhizomes dug up by a dog can cause a stand of iris to change color.

Irises do not always bloom every year and an older variety may be asserting itself in your cultivar’s fallow period too. Several other explanations exist to account for color changing on iris.

Loss of color, or fading, is common when the plant experiences extreme heat or cold. Additionally, the color can be influenced by lack of or excess light – for instance, when a tree has grown over to shade the bed. There is little evidence that soil pH or type will cause irises to fade.

A deep purple iris turns color when it matures and begins to die. Most of these options for an iris flower changing color change over time and the plant will resume its usual flower tones. Unexplained instances of an entire bed that was purple and turned white the following year will need to be delved into further.

Permanent Color Changing in Iris

When you find the entire iris plant changes color, the explanation is more complex. Irises grow from rhizomes which are just beneath the surface of the soil. In fact, old stands will have rhizomes growing right on top of the soil.

These are easily broken away and can establish in any part of the garden they end up in. This happens when children play, during division or transplant, or even when the dog is digging in the yard. If a piece of rhizome ends up in another variety of iris, it can establish, taking over the bed and causing the iris flower changing color.

More notable still, would be the presence of a sport. This is when the plant produces an offset that is not true to the parent. In these cases, the sport may bloom an entirely different shade.

Transplanting and Why Iris Turns Color

Another thing to think about is the strange issue of transplanting. You or someone else may have planted iris in the landscape years ago. Perhaps it didn’t bloom anymore because it needed division or the site was not conducive to flowering.

If any of the rhizomes are still alive and you transplant into the location after amending the soil, the conditions are now optimum. Even a piece of the old rhizome can rise from the ashes and reestablish. If the older iris is a stronger cultivar, it may take over the new iris patch, making it appear the new iris plant changes color.

The same thing can happen if you transplant your purple iris from a bed but inadvertently move others of a different color. Lo and behold, the next year you may have several different colors in the bed.

The ease with which irises establish themselves make them valuable, consistent performers. This same thing can cause some anxiety when they seem to come up a different hue.

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Aptly named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods, the flowers display every color of that multicolored arc in the sky. There are iris for nearly all growing zones and a variety of locations within those zones, from wet-footed sites to bone dry ledges. And there’s no better time to select and plant iris than now.

According to Breck’s Bulbs and National Garden Bureau, you should plant an Iris when you are looking for a showy flower to add to your garden. These flowering plants are among the easiest perennials to grow. There are hundreds of iris species in almost all the colors of the rainbow.

Irises come in three forms, rhizome, bulb and root:

The rhizome-type iris produce larger flowers and include bearded and beardless-type flowers, while the bulb-type iris produce smaller flowers and are often used in rock gardens or in the front row of borders to provide color early in the year. Floral designers use Dutch iris most often for spring flower designs. Siberian, Louisiana and Japanese iris come in a root form.

Bearded and beardless:

The bearded iris is identified by thick, bushy “beards” on each of the falls (lower petals) of the blossoms. Most of these types are native to central and southern Europe. Beardless iris does not have the “beard” and mainly originated in Asia.

Decide which type of flower you’d like in your garden and when you want them to bloom, and then consult the flowering chart below to pick your perfect iris:

Dwarf Bulbous – Late winter/very early spring

Dwarf Bearded – Early to mid-spring

Tall Bearded – Mid to late spring in general, although this varies slightly per varieties

Siberian – Late spring to early summer

Dutch – Late spring to early summer

Japanese – Early summer

Louisiana – Early to mid-summer

Reblooming Bearded – Mid-spring and again in late summer to early fall

Standard dwarf bearded iris

This is one of the first iris to bloom in the spring and will rebloom in early to mid-fall. These rhizome-type iris make nice, bushy plants with short, sturdy stems, making them perfect for garden edges or borders. These rhizomes are shipped in the summer months of July, August and September and are planted in the fall for an early spring display. When planting iris rhizomes of any type in the garden, set the rhizome so the bottom half is below ground level and the top half is exposed. Plant where they will get at least five hours of sun per day.

Tall bearded iris

When an Iris flower comes to most people’s mind, they think tall bearded iris, a stately, large, beautiful specimen that dominates the garden or cut flower arrangement. Generally, the first tall bearded iris bloom in the U.S. starting in April and the last ones start their display in June. The blooming period will vary depending on geographic location.

Reblooming bearded iris

After the main flowering period in spring, rebloomers will bloom again in late summer to fall! The number of blooms you will get later in the season varies by variety and local conditions. Here is how rebloomers work: The rhizome of an iris can produce only one flower stem and it usually takes an entire year to mature and bloom. The reblooming iris has an accelerated growth cycle. Their new growth matures and blooms within the same calendar year. You will generally find the best reblooming occurs in warmer and dryer climates. For example, you will see more reblooming in Zone 8 than in Zone 4.

Japanese iris

This stunning iris variety blooms in early summer, about a month after the bearded varieties, and loves moist soil conditions. They do very well near water (this is where they naturally grow) or where the water table is high. They like the soil to be acidic. The modern hybrids that are now available have very large (up to seven and a half-inch) flowers that open flat and are available in many different colors. Japanese hybridizers have worked with them for more than 500 years.

Siberian iris

Naturalize your garden with Siberian Iris. This easy-to-grow iris are smaller and more delicate than the large statement flowers. They bloom from late spring to early summer, which is the perfect time when you need some color before the annuals start to bloom.

Dutch iris

Grow your own spring flower arrangement with a Dutch iris. This easy-to-grow Iris grows from a bulb (not a rhizome) and can be planted in both fall and spring. These Iris are a florist’s favorite and flower in late spring to early summer. These Iris can be grown in sun or partial shade and are hardy from Zone 3 to 9.

Healthy roots on this bearded iris corm are what anchor them. Tops of these iris corms should be on the surface with the roots buried. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)Japanese iris produce large, attractive blooms. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)White Siberian iris join peonies for an early summer display. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)

All About Irises

Learn About…

  • Spring-Planted Beardless Irises
    Siberian, Japanese, & Louisiana Irises
  • Summer-Planted Bearded Irises
    German Irises
  • Fall-Planted Bulb Irises
    Dutch Irises

All Kinds of Irises: They’re Easy, Dependable, and Bring the Goddess of the Rainbow into Your Garden

By Ray Allen, Founder of

With about 200 different species scattered worldwide, gardeners probably know fewer of these flowers than any other popular group. It’s all because of the intense interest in just a few of the species, for centuries. Today, of course, everything is dominated by our oversized, “bigger is better” passion for the tall Bearded Iris, also called German Iris (Iris germanica) .

Anyone who studies Greek mythology learns that Iris is the name of the Goddess of the Rainbow, surely one of the best assignments on Olympus. And because of the great elegance of the iris bloom, it has been the symbol of monarchs and royal families throughout history. In fact, one of the earliest known artworks of an iris is a fresco in King Minos’ palace on the Greek Island of Crete. The palace dates from 2100 BC.

Of course, the most famous royal use of the iris as a symbol of power and position was that of the Bourbon Kings of France, including Louis XIV. The iris was adapted on royal banners as the “Fleur de Lys”, the elegant, three-sectioned symbol that disappeared from the French flag with their Revolution, but is still quite common in the decorative arts. In fact, today it still proudly adorns the beautiful flag of the French-founded Province of Quebec in Canada.

The famous “Fleur de Lys” is an ancient graphic representation of the Iris bloom. It was used as the symbol of French royalty for centuries.

Great Britain also borrowed the motif. Edward III added the iris to his royal coat of arms during the 14th Century. And a famous painting of Elizabeth I shows her in a gown embroidered with irises.

Irises also have a medicinal history, the roots being used in preparation for medicines for skin infections, syphillis, dropsy and stomach problems. Today, it is still a drug widely used to purge the liver.

The Iris in Art

The iris has probably second place as the favored flower in great art. After the rose which is surely No. 1, irises appear in paintings by Leonardo daVinci, Durer, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh, (whose famous painting “Irises” set an all-time auction price in recent years, selling for over 53 million dollars), Gauguin, and of course, Claude Monet.

Growing Bearded Irises

Bearded Irises have been popular forever, and no wonder. They are very easy to grow, and, especially in recent years, put on one of the truly great flower shows in the garden. Bearded Iris bloom is in “late spring,” after the tulips and daffodils, and often with oriental poppies and peonies. There are six official classifications of Bearded Irises, based mostly on their heights, but the one everyone is interest in is called, not surprisingly, “Tall Bearded Irises.” They grow from 27 to 41 inches tall. And the spectacular flowers measure from 4 to 7 inches across.

Unlike many other perennials, Irises are happy to bloom lavishly over a very wide area of North America. They are hardy into Canada, and are equally beautiful in gardens in places like Dallas, Texas, and even further south.

They are famously easy to grow, and are some of the most persistent perennials of all. Like oriental poppies, they will withstand grass, weeds, and other plants, even if a perennial garden is untended for years. You may well see an old garden with almost nothing left but the weeds, and often there, sticking up out of the tough invading grasses and brush are the healthy sword-like leaves on an iris.

The Bearded Irises. These are examples of the most popular irises – the large-flowered tall ones that are planted in late summer. The popularity of these, with thousands of varieties and hybrids available, tend to overshadow the wonderful “Beardless” irises discussed below. Bearded Irises are also called “German Irises.”

Bearded Irises grow from a root called a rhizome, an enlarged, elongated sort of lumpy bulb-like affair that is often right on the surface of the ground. In fact, Bearded Irises like to have their rhizomes somewhat “exposed,” usually running along like a sausage half buried in the soil. These rhizomes multiply horizontally, forming new sections and finally, a mat of rhizomes from which rise the beautiful fans of leaves and spectacular flowers.

Division is Important — and easy.

This is another characteristic Bearded Irises share with their blooming companion, oriental poppies. Both must be divided every few years. Both form larger and larger colonies, and as the colonies become thick and leafy, there is less and less bloom. Dividing irises is easy, and should be done after bloom. Simply dig up the whole mass of roots, and cut the rhizomes apart with a sharp knife. Then replant them, either singly, or maybe in small clumps a few inches apart — and transfer your “extras” to other parts of the garden. These newly planted irises will have time to grow and establish themselves for the rest of the summer and fall, and will be ready to bloom for you next spring. An old clump of bearded irises will yield enough tubers to create a whole new garden of irises, if that’s what you want. Plant each rhizome or rhizome group with the top of the rhizomes showing atop the soil, and keep the area moist for a few weeks. They’ll quickly send down their roots in the new locations.

The Rainbow of Varieties grows every year.

Today, there are thousands and thousands of Tall Bearded Iris hybrids, with new ones every year. Before World War II, most new hybrids came from Europe, but since, it has been an American passion. Today, the trade is led by the famous Shreiner’s Iris Nursery in Oregon and others. But of course there are other Bearded Iris experts and hybridizers all over the world.

Growing Beardless Irises

Japanese Iris

First, let’s dispel the confusion that surrounds this group: Once they were known as Kaempferi Irises, today many call them “The Butterfly Irises”, but the correct common name is simply “Japanese Iris.” In luscious colors of purple, pink, and endless bicolors, they have been cultivated in Japan for over 500 years, and were once restricted to enjoyment by royalty only. Though many think they are, they are not water dwellers. They require about the same conditions as ferns, astilbes or impatiens—just moist ground, which most all gardeners can easily provide. As you can see by the photos, these iris blooms are quite different from the tall “stand-up” flowers of the big Bearded Irises. With Japanese Irises, both sets of petals are more flat, forming a simpler, flatter—and many think more beautiful—flower. Japanese Irises form large lavish hardy clumps and are highly decorative. They’re also great for cutting.

Siberian Iris

This is the iris favored by many landscapers over the Bearded group. And the reason is obvious. Hardy as oaks, Siberian Irises form very handsome clumps of grass-like foliage with a host of blooms rising on elegantly thin stems. The flowers are smaller than the Bearded Iris blooms, but once they’re gone, the foliage of this group remains a highlight in the garden all season long, as decorative as almost any ornamental grass. Siberian Iris’ hardiness and longevity are also big plusses. Once established, they will grace a garden for generations. There are fewer hybrids here, compared to the Bearded group, but there are now some quite glamorous bi- and tri-colors. Still, purist gardeners usually prefer the classic blue, purple and yellow flowers from this elegant group. They can be planted in spring or fall.

Louisiana Iris

One of the most under-used groups in gardening, these magnificent irises are our own native plants’spectacular wildflowers from the bayous and wetlands of the Gulf Coast. The have large flowers, often from 4 to 6 inches across, and a form more like the Japanese type’s flatter and wider than the tall up-and-down Bearded Iris bloom. The hybrids of these beauties are often hardy all the way to Canada, so gardeners almost everywhere can enjoy them now. They enjoy conditions similar to the Japanese types, so all you need is a moist area, rich soil, and partial shade. Any well-watered partially-shaded perennial garden will do. This group is world famous for its large flowers and wide palette of coloring, featuring some colors found in no other group. The dark ‘Black Gamecock’ is known everywhere, and the Louisianas are justly famous for the very dramatic markings, called ‘flashes’ of gold in their centers, clearly seen in the famous, ‘Sinfonietta’.

Wild Iris

Many of the ‘species’ or wild irises are among the Spring-Planted beardless group. The two best known are our own Wild Iris, ‘Blue Flag’ so common and loved in the Northeast. And the taller ‘Yellow Flag’, native to England. The Blue Flag is a perfect plant for your wildflower meadow, or anyplace else in your landscaping where there is plenty of water in spring. They cannot be submerged, but enjoy wet meadow and wet woodland locations. The very strong-growing Yellow Flag is also useful, but be aware that it can be invasive, and end up choking shallow waterways, much like cattails. Be sure it is not considered a pest in your area before planting.

The Beardless Group includes pretty much the rest of the irises, and that means several kinds: most importantly Japanese, Siberian, Louisiana, and certain Species (or Wild) Irises. As you can tell by the names, beardless irises occur worldwide. They also require certain growing conditions.

No pond or stream necessary: This photo shows the happy combination of Japanese Irises with astilbes, daylilies and other perennials. No pond or stream in sight.

The misconception about “Water Iris”

You may have heard that many of the beardless irises are “pond irises” or “water irises”, and that’s because many of them can actually grow in shallow water. But that is not a requirement. Certain Japanese Irises, Louisiana Irises, and many of the Wild Irises love moisture, but none of them must be planted actually in the water. If you have a pond or steam, they’ll love that location, but most people don’t. And all these plants are perfectly happy in a well-watered perennial garden. Just give them locations where they’ll get plenty of moisture throughout the season.

The one big exception in the group are the Siberians. They like moisture too, but are perfectly happy with normal perennial conditions, and don’t resent drying out from time to time.

Mulching Spring-planted Irises, Sun/Shade, and Companion Plants

Mulching is important with this group. Since most of them enjoy the same moist, partially-shaded conditions as hostas, ferns, astilbes and impatiens, mulch their roots to help them retain moisture during warm dry periods. Bark chips, peat, or any good moisture-retaining mulch will be a big help. Full sun is ok, too, but no irises should be in blazing hot dry areas.

Fertilizing Spring-planted Irises

They need no more than the usual feeding, like most flowering perennials. For feeding perennial gardens, my favorite perennial expert, Frederick McGourty, recommends familiarizing yourself with standard perennial flower fertilizers, which are always labeled with three numbers in a sequence, such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10, or 10-10-10. These numbers on the bag refer to percentages of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, in that order. McGourty explains that the most important element here for flowering plants is the middle number, Phosphorus, so he recommends choosing a fertilizer with the middle number no lower than the other two.

If your garden is new, try to rake in your fertilizer a week or two before planting. And in later years, one feeding in spring (remove the mulch, and rake it in) should do. If you use dry granular fertilizer, remember to scatter it when the soil is wet and the foliage of your plants is dry. Dry fertilizer sticking to stems and leaves can burn the plants.

If you’re new to the neighborhood, it’s always good to give your local county extension agent a call, and discuss soils and feeding with him or her. That’s what they’re there for. It’s great local advice, and it’s free. You’ll find the number in the phone book under US Govt, Cooperative Extension Services.

Dividing Spring-planted Irises

These irises have a variable root structure, but all are quite obvious when it comes to dividing. Of course, you may never choose to divide yours. If you’re like me, you love large expanding clumps of Siberian Iris, for example. I’ve never seen the size of the clump interfere with the bloom. And the incredible photo of that purple Japanese Iris at the top of this page proves that an older, larger clump of that iris blooms just beautifully.

But you may choose to divide. If you do, just after bloom is a good time, since then your divides will have the season to regrow and prepare for next summer’s flowering. As with all dividing, try to keep your clumps large; don’t reduce your plant to little bits that will take years to grow back to blooming size. If your iris root is a mass of rhizomes (like Blue Flag will be), simply cut them with a sharp knife, leaving several rhizomes per clump. But most of this group will have a mass of fleshy roots, similar to daylilies. A sharp spade will do the trick, and to disturb the growing plant as little as possible, you may do what I do. For a Siberian for example, don’t dig it up. Just sink the spade directly down in the middle of the clump and cut straight through the roots. Then pry up one of the halfs, take it out of the ground, and then fill in the hole. Your undisturbed half will then be very little affected by the whole operation. Then take your removed half, chop it into (large) pieces and plant them. Water before and after all this, and you should have no problems. It’s really easy. If your clumps are large, though, it can be heavy work.

Wintering Spring-planted Irises

One of the names says it all: Siberian Irises are as hardy as oaks, and really need no winter cover or care. Blue and Yellow Flags are the same. Japanese Irises are much the same, too but some hybrid varieties may need some winter protection. Louisiana Irises are the ones to watch when it comes to winter hardiness. Since they’re from the Gulf Coast area, some are hardy only a few zones north. However, many of the most popular hybrids have been bred for hardiness all the way into Canada. So when you choose yours, check the hardiness of your favorites.

Growing Bulbous Irises

Still other irises are the ones that grow from bulbs, as easy to plant and grow as a tulip. The common ones are called Dutch Irises, and their bulbs are small, about half the size of a tulip bulb. (Photo at right is the famous Dutch Iris named ‘Sapphire Beauty.’ )

These are the florist’s favorite, and if you ever order a “Spring Arrangement” from a flower shop, you can bet these will be in there. They’re the really beautiful irises on long, thin stems in the familiar blue with the bright flash of yellow, but also in reds, whites, yellows, and bicolors.

Whenever you buy tulips or daffodils for fall planting, be sure to also get some “Dutch Iris.” They’re usually listed in bulb sales under “other bulbs” or “minor bulbs.” They’re amazingly inexpensive, and you’ll love them in spring.

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Purple and Yellow Bearded Iris Collection

Bearded iris, Iris germanica, is a hardy, long-lived perennial that require a minimum of maintenance. The flowers have six petals; three upright petals (called standards) and three hanging petals (called falls). A fuzzy line or beard runs down the middle of each fall. Flowers come in many colors including blue, pink, purple, reddish, white, yellow, and bi-colors. Most bearded iris flower in the spring (April to June depending on cultivar), but some of the new cultivars re-flower in the summer and fall. The second flower display is not as showy as the spring display but last into the fall. Many re-blooming iris are fragrant.

Bearded irises are classified into several types: miniature dwarf (height 8 inch or less, 1 to 2 inch diameter flowers), standard dwarf (height 8 to 15 inches), intermediate (height 16 to 27 inches), miniature tall (height 16 to 25 inches, small flowers), border (height 16 to 27 inches), and tall (height 28 to 38 inches). The shorter iris flower first, followed by the intermediate, and then the taller irises.

Growth Habit

Iris have thick, fleshy, underground stems (called rhizomes) that store food produced by the sword-shaped, semi-evergreen leaves. The rhizomes grow best when planted at or slightly below the soil surface with feeder roots penetrating the soil below. Each year underground offsets develop from the original rhizome. Buds produce a large fan of leaves and several flower stalks. Success with iris depends on keeping the rhizomes firm and healthy. In general, this is done by providing the rhizome good drainage while the feeder roots below remain moist but not wet.

Site Selection and Preparation

A full sun exposure is preferred; however, some of the delicate pink and blue iris hold their color better in partial shade. Excessive shade will reduce or prevent flowering. Good soil drainage is essential to prevent rhizomes from rotting. It may be necessary to plant the rhizomes in raised beds (at least 6 inches high) to obtain proper drainage.

Iris will grow in many soil types but a light, loamy soil with a pH of 6 to 7 that has been amended with organic matter is preferred. A tight clay soil may keep the rhizome too wet and should have organic matter (pine bark, compost) incorporated to improve drainage. Manure is not usually recommended for iris but can be used if well-rotted and incorporated at least 6 inches deep into the bed (should not come in contact with rhizomes).

Fertilization of iris is important to obtain best results, but must be done in moderation. Nitrogen, potash, and phosphorus are essential for iris, but excessive nitrogen promotes lush growth that is more susceptible to rot diseases. At planting, incorporate ½ lb of a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 per 50 ft2 (1 ½ oz per 10 ft2). Taking and following the results of a soil test is the preferred method to determine fertilizer amounts.


The best time to plant bearded iris is July through September. This will allow them to become well established before winter. Container-grown iris can be planted in the spring. In a well-prepared bed, dig a shallow hole large enough to accommodate the rhizome or clump of rhizomes. Form a mound of soil in the center for the planting base. Make the mound high enough so the top of the rhizome is slightly above soil level. Spread the roots around the mound, fill with soil, and water. For a mass of color, plant at least three rhizomes (spaced 8 to 10 inches apart) or plant undivided clumps; point each fan of leaves away from the center of the group. Clumps should be spaced 18 inches apart. Mulch should be applied to fall-planted iris to reduce heaving during the winter.

Care and Maintenance

Before flowering, water plants often enough to keep the soil moist but not wet. Reblooming iris should be watered during the summer, while spring-flowering iris will tolerate drought. After flowers fade, cut flower stalks back to an inch or two above the rhizome to prevent seed formation. Plants that are growing well (good green foliage) may not need fertilizing. If you fertilize, apply ½ cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer per iris clump after flowering. Fertilizer can burn the rhizomes; it should be applied around but not directly on them. Reblooming iris should be fertilized in the spring as new growth begins and after spring flowering ends. Iris respond to shallow (1 to 2 inches) cultivation and should not be mulched. In early fall, cut leaves 6 to 8 inches from the ground, especially if foliage disease occur.

After 3 to 5 years, iris generally become crowded and should be divided. Iris can be divided any time, but many growers prefer to divide 4 to 6weeks after the flowering period. Cut the leaves to one-third their length. Dig the clump and wash soil off with a hose. Cut rhizomes apart so that each section has at least one healthy fan of leaves and firm, white roots. Older rhizomes may seem firm but should be discarded since they have limited flowering capacity.

Common Bearded Iris Problems

Poor flowering — is normally due to planting in excessive shade, using excessive nitrogen fertilizer, or planting the rhizomes too deep. Limited flowering may also occur if plants become too crowded and need dividing.

Bacterial soft rot — is the most serious iris disease. Bacteria enter through injuries or cuts to the rhizome. Soft rot causes the rhizomes to become mushy and have a disagreeable odor. Use of fresh manure or excess nitrogen, coupled with poor drainage, contribute to soft rot development. Dig up and destroy diseased rhizomes. If the rot is not extensive, cut off and destroy diseased plant parts.

Crown rot fungus — causes a rot at the base of leaves where they join the rhizome and causes them to fall over. It is identified by reddish-brown “mustard seeds” which are produced by the fungus. Trim leaves to admit more sunlight and air movement to the rhizomes; carefully remove and destroy all diseased leaves.

Leaf spots — After flowering, leaves may become dotted with small, brown spots. Bacterial leaf spot has a watery, streaked appearance. Water-soaked margins around the spot turn yellow. Fungal leaf spots are rust-colored, drier, and more confined. Since disease organisms overwinter on old foliage, cut and destroy leaves of infected plants in the fall. Spray with a registered fungicide during extended periods of high humidity or rainy seasons.

Mosaic — is a viral disease that causes a mottling of leaves and flowers. It is transmitted by aphids. Remove and destroy infected plants and control aphids.

Iris borer — The first symptoms of iris borers are small notches on the leaf edge or small accumulation of sawdust frass in early spring. Iris later develop loose, rotted bases and holes in rhizomes. Bacterial soft rot readily attacks borer-infested plants. Carefully remove and destroy old leaves, stems, and plant debris in the fall. A registered insecticide can be applied to the rhizomes in the spring as new growth occurs.

Garden Fundamentals – become a better gardener

Iris are very common in the garden and often people ask for help to plant, grow, move or divide them. The answer to such questions starts with iris identification. There are many different species iris and they do not all grow the same way. Some have tubers and need to be divided regularly. Others are bulbs and hardly ever need to be divided.

Learning how to grow your iris starts with identifying the type of iris. I am not talking about finding out the actual cultivar name, but you do need to know which type of iris you are dealing with.

In this blog I will help you to identify the type of iris you have. In a future blog I will provide cultural advice for each type of iris.

An easy way to identify the type of iris you have, source

What is an Iris?

When you mention the word iris to most gardeners they will immediately think about the German bearded iris. This iris was so popular in the past that many gardeners think that all iris are German bearded iris. Nothing could be father from the truth. There are many different types of iris and in my opinion, some of the the others are a better choice for the garden.

From Wikipedia we have the following description for an iris. It is a genus of up to 300 species of flowering plants. Iris are perennial plants, growing from creeping rhizomes or from bulbs. They have long, erect flowering stems which may be simple or branched, solid or hollow, flattened or have a circular cross-section. Iris with flattened leaves, forming a fan, are the most common in gardens.

As you can see from this description iris plants can vary quite a bit.

The term iris is both the name of the genus and a common name used for iris and iris-like plants.

Iris Types

My segregation of iris into types is not based on scientific taxonomic characteristics. Instead it is based on cultural requirements and their popularity in the garden. I will be discussing the following types.

  • Bearded iris – also known as the German bearded iris.
  • Beardless iris – which includes the Siberian, Japanese, and Louisiana irises as well as Iris pseudacorus.
  • Crested iris – Iris cristata and Iris tectorum
  • Dutch iris – Iris hollandica
  • Reticulata iris – early spring bloomers

Iris Identification by Bulb and Rhizome

Iris grow from either bulbs or rhizomes. This difference separates iris into two main categories as shown in the above flow diagram.

How do you know if your plant has bulbs or rhizomes? The surest way to know is to dig one up and have a look at it.

You might not have to dig up the whole plant. Since most iris have rhizomes, start by looking for a rhizome. Look at the soil right at the base of the leaves. Some iris will have the rhizome sitting at soil level or even above soil level, as in the picture below. If you don’t see it, remove an inch or two of soil towards the center of the plant. If you don’t find a rhizome the iris is probably growing from a bulb.

The length of rhizome between fans of leaves can be several inches long or it can be so short that some people will conclude that the plant has no rhizome.

Bulbs will look mostly round or pear shaped and have a size equal to the tip of your thumb or smaller. They are usually 2-5 inches below ground but they can be more shallow than that.

Bearded iris rhizomes in the center of the picture


There are two common types of iris that grow from bulbs and these are easily distinguished from one another by their bloom time.

If your plant has a bulb and blooms in early spring along with snow drops and before tulips,it is a reticulata type.

If your plant has a bulb and blooms in mid summer it will be a Dutch type.


Most iris grow from rhizomes and if you have one of these you will need to have a closer look at the flower in order to identify its type. See the next section for more details.

Iris Identification by Flower Characteristics

Most iris have similar looking flowers but there are a couple of unique characteristics that are used to identify different types of iris with rhizomes and these include the ‘beard’ and the ‘crest’.

An iris has two types of petals called ‘falls’ and ‘standards’. The falls are the three petals that are curved downwards – they are falling away from the center of the flower. The standards are three petals that are standing straight up. In this picture the standards are white and the falls are purple.

Bearded iris with white standard petals and purple falls petals

In many iris the standards and falls are quite distinct, but in some, like the Japanese iris, the standards are mostly horizontal and start looking like falls. In all cases the standards are the three upper most petals.

What is a Beard?

The beard is a fuzzy patch at the base of each falls petal. Locate the falls petal and look at it near the center of the flower. The beard is usually quite distinct and you can feel the fuzzy hair-like feature.

Don’t be fooled by a color patch in this same location. If the petal is not fuzzy, it is not bearded.

Iris beard – yellow hairy extension on the falls petal

What is a Crest?

A crest is raised tissue that is located in the same spot as a beard. It has been described as a ridge or cockscomb. You can see and feel the higher crest but it will not be fuzzy.

Iris with crests are less popular in gardens than iris with beards or iris lacking both a beard and crest.

Iris crista showing the raised tissue known as a crest, photo by Dennis Kramb

Iris Identification

There are three main types of iris with rhizomes. Bearded iris have a beard. Crested iris have a crest. If your iris has neither a beard nor a crest it is a beardless iris.

Iris Identification by Bloom Time

Bloom time is not a very precise way to identify an iris type but it is a useful to confirm your identification in some cases.

Early Spring

An iris that blooms in early spring will bloom along with snowdrops, and glory of the snow. Flowers appear as the snow is melting and before other common spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils. If your iris blooms this early it is a reticulata type.

Late Spring

In late spring tulips and peonies are flowering and this is the time when the bearded iris type flowers. Very short bearded iris will flower earlier, before peonies, and the taller bearded iris flower at about the same time as peonies.

Recent breeding of bearded iris has produced cultivars that are repeat bloomers. This means that they can bloom at various times of the year, including late fall. But late spring is their main bloom time.


Once the bearded iris are finished blooming it is time for the summer iris. The Dutch type usually flower first, followed by several different species of beardless types. If you grow several different beardless types you can compare their flowering time and use this information to identify the species. But if you only have one of the summer flowering types it is difficult to identify them.

Growing of Iris

Iris are generally easy plants to grow in the garden and most of them take very little maintenance work. Except for the iris borer, pests are not a big concern. With careful selection you can have iris blooming from early spring to mid summer.

In future posts I will have a look at each type of iris and help you select and take care of your iris.

  1. Photo source for iris rhizome; Rhian
  2. Photo source for iris beard; James Jordan
  3. Photo source for Iris crest; Dennis Kramb, posted on Species Iris Group of North America

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Primary Significance: faith, hope, wisdom, courage, and admiration.

With striking uniqueness and beauty, irises have rich meanings, and when given as gifts, they can convey deep sentiments. With over 200 varieties in a wide spectrum of colors, the iris, which fittingly takes its name from the Greek word for “rainbow,” can be found in virtually every part of the world, growing both naturally and in farms. While garden irises can come in any of these many varieties, the flower’s cut versions are mostly blue (the most popular type), white, and yellow.

The iris’s history is rich, dating back to Ancient Greek times when the Greek Goddess Iris, the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead in their journey. Ancient Egyptian kings marveled in the iris’s exotic nature, and drawings have been found of the flower in a number of Egyptian palaces. During the Middle Ages, the meaning of irises became linked to the French monarchy, and the Fleur-de-lis eventually became the recognized national symbol of France. From their earliest years, irises were used to make perfume and as a medicinal remedy. Today, they are primarily seen in gardens, in bouquets, and in the wild all over the world.

Through its intricate history, the meanings of the iris has come to include faith, hope, and wisdom. Depending on factors such as color and region, irises may bear additional meanings as well. In some parts of the world, the dark blue or purple iris can denote royalty, whereas the yellow iris can be a symbol of passion. Irises may also express courage and admiration. The many meanings of the iris makes the flower a great choice for an array of gift giving occasions: corporate, sympathy, get well, just because, and birthday are just some of the occasions for which irises might be the perfect choice.

Today, the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and the Fleur-de-lis is the emblem for the city of New Orleans. Irises are cultivated all over the world, and they can be found naturally in Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa, Asia, and North America.

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