Digging and saving iris bulbs

Care of Iris Rhizomes

These iris care directions were written with the northern Colorado and southern Wyoming areas in mind. If you have longer, shorter or wetter growing conditions, adapt to your area and particular growing conditions.

New Rhizomes

The most important rule to remember when you get your irises is to plant them immediately when you receive them. If you have to wait a few days, keep them spread out in your house in a cool, dry place. Never put the rhizomes in a refrigerator. If rhizomes are kept out of the ground 7 days or more, the chances of survival are dramatically reduced.

Time to Plant

In our zone 5 here, irises need to planted by the end of July ( August 10 at the latest), to get optimum root development before a hard frost, (around Sept. 25 here in Colorado). Planting on time increases the chance of blooming next spring.

Location

Full sun is best, but irises will still bloom with half days of direct sunlight. Do not plant irises in waterlogged areas. Rebloomers can be planted as a group, make sure they are same variety in each group.

Soil Preparation

Irises need to be planted in well-drained soils. If your soil has a lot of clay content, till in sand until your iris bed comprises of a 50/50 clay sand mix. We feel that using mulches, compost, or manure of any kind contribute rot and weed seeds and is very detrimental to the iris plant. We have a neutral PH in our soil here which is okay for iris.

Depth, Spacing and Watering

Cover rhizomes with one inch of soil where the white-green division line on the rhizome is. Plant about 24 inches apart and give them an inch of water the first time, then 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water per week until new growth appears. After the iris are established, apply 1/2 inch of water per week till mid to late September. Deep watering at larger intervals is better than frequent shallow moisture.

Fertilizer

We have used and recommend rabbit feed (pellet form) for fertilizer. Rabbit feed has the phosphate, micronutrients, and protein that the iris plant needs. Spread the fertilizer around each plant (never directly on the plant), and immediately water it in. Fertilize in mid to late March and again in late July for rebloomers and newly divided plants. Iris plants need very little if any nitrogen, and if too much is used rot will start and you will have very few blooms. Phosphorus is the main ingredient iris use to promote blooms and good root growth. If you use a garden fertilizer, use a 5-10-10 or similar proportions. Never, never use manure as fertilizer.

Foliage

Do not ever cut leaves back in the fall. Brown leaves will help protect rhizomes in winter and they also catch much needed moisture. Clear out all dead leaves and debris from iris beds in early spring and dispose of it. Completely disposing of leaf trash will reduce rot and leaf spot substantially.

Stalk

Remove bloom stalks after blooming to prevent color distortions in your blooms the following year. If you want to keep the color of the iris the same as originally purchased, bloom stalks must be removed soon after blooming.

Dividing or moving

Iris clumps need to be divided about every 4 years. The best time to divide them is at the end of July or first week of August. Trim the leaves to about 6 inches, fan shaped, on the rhizomes you wish to keep, air dry them overnight, and plant them as quickly as you can.

Hope these have been helpful!

Happy and healthy gardening,
Charlette and Tim Felte

Iris divisions stored in peat moss. George Weigel

Q: What is the best way to store bearded iris rhizomes until next spring? I just cleaned out my overgrown iris bed and now have three dozen excellent specimens to expand my garden. I want to make sure they survive the winter in good shape and start well in the spring.

A: I’ve never dug irises this late in the season nor attempted to store them inside over winter, so I can’t give you any good first-hand information on this one. The ideal time to divide irises is right after they bloom, i.e. early summer. That’s when I’ve always done the job.

It’s not a bad idea to divide irises every 3 or 4 years and definitely if/when they stop blooming well. Dig up the rhizomes with a digging fork and use a knife to separate into smaller sections that include at least one set of leaf “fans” with roots growing out of the bottom.

Rinse off the pieces and get rid of the oldest sections and any that are rotting or unhealthy. Then cut back the leaves to a couple of inches and replant the rhizomes fairly shallow… no deeper than an inch under the soil. Tamp and water. Irises don’t like a lot of mulch so no more than 1 inch of that (if any).

I’d be concerned about the rhizomes drying over winter inside if you’re thinking about storing them. So if I had dug up rhizomes now, I’d get them back into the ground ASAP before it freezes, then watch to make sure they don’t push up out of the ground during winter freezes and thaws. Tamp back down if they come up. Covering the soil with leaves might help.

If you do try to store the rhizomes inside, I’d try the same routine as dahlias… cool, dark place and in sawdust, peat moss or vermiculite. Check every few weeks, and if it’s getting so dry that the rhizomes are shriveling, add just a little water to the medium. Storage temperatures in the 40s would be ideal.

Here’s an excellent web site with more details on iris care and division by Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, one of the world’s leading iris growers: http://www.schreinersgardens.com/about_iris.shtml#iriscare.

How to plant and grow iris

We plant lots of iris bulbs at Perch Hill to start off a long bulb flower succession. They’re beautiful and successful in pots, at the front of borders, or in grass.

Planting

Soil and Site

Full sun in well drained soil – for maximum flower set, iris rhizomes need to be warmed by the sun in August and September.

Spacing

Iris (bearded), plant 30cm apart.

Iris reticulata and Iris histroides, plant 7cm (3in) deep and 10cm (4in) apart.

In the garden

Plant bearded iris with the upper part of the rhizome partially exposed to get a summer baking, particularly important in August and September to bake the rhizomes ready for next year’s flowers. If the soil is unsuitable – heavy clay – growing in raised beds may be successful.

For containers

Iris reticulata and Iris histroides are lovely in pots for the house (out of reach of marauding sparrows which tend to pick at their flowers) and will be in flower in February forced on a sunny windowsill. Once in flower, it’s essential to keep them cool or they go over in 4 or 5 days. Kept cool, you should triple this flower life.

Aftercare

Avoid overcrowding of plants as this shades the rhizomes, meaning fewer flowers. When clumps become congested divide every three to five years, six weeks after flowering – around the end of August – in order for the plants to establish before winter. The rhizomes grow outwards, so clear the centre of the plant to remove the oldest parts.

Remove dying foliage in the autumn.

Cut Flowers

Stand in deep water after cutting. Remove fading flowers and buds will continue to emerge.

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TIPS & GROWING INSTRUCTIONS: IRIS

The best time to plant iris is July through September or early fall. The rhizomes will need a cooler but warm temperatures to settle in to their new home before winter. In a well-cultivated bed, dig a shallow hole large enough for the rhizome clump. Create a mound of soil in the center of the hole. Make sure the mound is high enough to allow the top of the rhizome to poke out slightly above the soil level. Spread the roots around the mound, fill it with soil and water. For a colorful group planting, plant at least three rhizomes (about 8-10″ apart) or plant undivided clumps. Be sure to point each fan of leaves away from the center of the group. Before flowering, water plants often enough to keep the soil moist but not soaked.

In early fall, plant your Dutch Iris (Iris Xiphium) bulbs 3-4″ deep and 3-4″ apart in light, fertile, well-drained soil. Dutch Iris prefer bright, sunny locations but can live in partial shade. If you have clay-heavy soil, add some coarse sand and humus.

Japanese Iris prefer bright, sunny locations but can live in partial shade. They require high soil moisture and a fair amount of feeding throughout their growth period. Space plants 2 feet or more apart in heavy soil, amended with compost and peat. No lime! Wait until you see new growth before fertilizing, then feed again just before bloom. Japanese Iris are also a favorite water plant grown in containers in pond shallows.

Siberian iris are usually planted in the spring or summer. Siberian iris can be planted in part shade or full sun. They tolerate the cooler weather and can be planted in moist soil areas or even around ponds.

Although iris do not need a lot, a small serving of specially-designed iris fertilizer can make your display grow even stronger and healthier. Breck’s® Iris Lovers All-Natural Iris Food uses a 4-4-2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively. Our iris food is well-balanced, so your irises won’t be over- or underfed. Nitrogen is vital for healthy growing, but too much can cause soft, disease-prone growth. A small dose of phosphorus is useful when producing flowers and developing roots, and some potassium helps bring out those rich, vibrant colours that make iris so lovely. Our iris fertilizer has less phosphorus and potassium than our other fertilizers, and just enough of all three key nutrients to give your bearded beauties the boost they deserve! If your asking yourself “why are my irises not blooming” apply Breck’s Iris Lovers fertilizer or check the depth of your rhizome. Iris planted too deep or iris planted in full shade will cause it not to bloom.

Winterizing Iris

After the iris blooming season is when you can cut back iris once they die back in the early fall. After apply low nitrogen fertilizer like Breck’s® Iris Lovers All-Natural Iris Food and water in. Next apply mulch to fall-planted irises to reduce winter heaving.

Dividing Iris

Over time iris clumps become crowded and the blooms may suffer. But it is easy to spread out your irises and encourage new growth. In late summer, carefully lift the entire clump with a garden fork. Cut apart the new, younger sections from the original center rhizome, then replant. You may want to let the rhizomes dry in the sun for a day before replanting. Unless you see new buds coming off the center rhizome, discard it — it is past its prime and unlikely to bloom a second time. The “babies” are what you want to save.

Bearded Iris Care: How To Avoid 5 Common Growing Problems

Problem #4: Pests & Diseases

Pests and diseases in Bearded Iris often vary by geographic location and gardening conditions. One general rule of disease prevention is to keep your garden clean from debris and weeds as much as possible. Having said that, pests and diseases can show up in even the most pristine gardens, so it is good to learn how to diagnose and treat these issues.

Bacterial Leaf Spot (Disease)

How To Identify: Bacterial Leaf Spot (or Bacterial Leaf Blight) shows up on the edges of the leaf tips as small, pale spots. They then grow larger and develop white centers. This disease usually shows up when there has been a particularly mild winter.

How to Prevent: Bacterial Leaf Spot can be tough to prevent. Keep a close eye on your Iris after a mild winter and work to identify the disease at its earliest onset, removing infected plants as soon as you notice them.

How To Treat: While there is no cure for this disease, there are measures that can help to control the spread of the bacterial leaf spot on Bearded irises.

Because the disease can be transmitted via garden tools and water, always be sure to wash your tools with a 10% bleach/water solution after dealing with infected plants. Remove any diseased plants and dispose of them in the trash or municipal compost center, but avoid adding them to your home compost.

Fungal Leaf Spot (Disease)

How To Identify: Fungal Leaf Spot appears somewhat similar to Bacterial Leaf Spot, but the small oval spots on the leaves do not grow in size. They do, however, form a distinct red/brown border. This disease is prevalent in wet, rainy weather so be sure to pay extra close attention during spells of rain-filled and high-humidity days.

How to Prevent: Always give plants plenty of room to grow and be sure to divide them as they begin to spread and naturalize.

How To Treat: If Fungal Leaf Spot appears, simply cut the tops off of the affected leaves. If disease persists, you can use a natural fungicide, spraying in the fall and early spring, as a last resort.

Aphids, which are small green or gray insects, appear on the Iris leaves and suck out the leaf sap. Aphids can also spread disease between plants. (Credit Don Graham/Flickr)

Aphids (Pest)

How To Identify: Aphids, which are small green or gray insects, appear on the Iris leaves and suck out the leaf sap. Aphids can also spread disease between plants.
How to Prevent: There isn’t much you can do to prevent Aphids, but attracting beneficial insects (such as lady bugs) that eat these pests can be an effective solution. Marigolds are a great variety to add to the garden to help attract beneficial bugs. How To Treat: These little pests are large enough to pick off your leaves or crush between your fingers. Spraying a mixture of liquid dish detergent and water is also effective.

Iris Borer (Pest)

How To Identify: Common in the Eastern and Midwestern parts of the country, the Iris Borer can wreak havoc on your Bearded Iris. Iris Borer lays its eggs in the fall on old foliage and neighboring debris. The eggs survive the winter and hatch in the early spring, finding a home on new Iris foliage. They are often hard to identify but can be seen on the foliage, often leaving a slimy trail behind them.

How to Prevent: Keeping your garden clean and debris-free is the best way to prevent an Iris Borer infestation.

How To Treat: If you catch them before they’ve made a home in your rhizomes, simply squish them between your fingers (fun, right?)

Make a homemade soapy spray by mixing one tablespoon or less of dish soap (we recommend Seventh Generation’s Free & Clear) per one quart of water.

Irises are arguably some of the most beautiful flowers to plant in your yard or garden. Learn how to store iris bulbs so you can replant them in a new place.


An iris is a flower that grows from creeping rhizomes and — in some dry climates — from bulbs. They have a long and erect flowering stem that can be simple or branched. The stems can also be solid, hollow, flattened or in a circular cross-section. The iris flower usually has basal leaves.

The flower is instantly recognizable by its unique characteristics of deep purple- and blue-colored petals and its unique shape and structure. This beauty of the iris flower has led to its incredible popularity among gardening enthusiasts as a garden flower.

Nearly all of the 41 types of the iris flowers are found in the Northern Hemisphere in the European, North American and Asian Continents. And while its ecology is very diverse, it tends to be found in areas that are predominantly dry, such as cold, mountainous areas or semi-desert areas. It can also be found in grassy slopes and meadows, as well as river banks and bogs.

The flower is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Coincidentally, the word Iris also means rainbow in Greek and is the source of the word iridescent.

Storing Iris Bulbs

Irises are extremely beautiful flowers perfect for backyard decoration, so some people like to store them for very short periods of time for replantation. This could be due to moving or waiting for replantation for some other reason. Storing the bulbs can be a tricky process if you’re a novice, however, it can be learned pretty easily if you try. The trick is to pay careful attention so that they don’t rot or dry out. You can keep your bulbs safely indoors if you follow the detailed process to the letter. They can be kept safe for up to a month if you do so.

Step 1: Remove the Bulbs

Dig up the Bulbs

The first step is to remove the bulbs carefully without damaging them. Start by using a spade. If you have one in your toolbox already, then use it only if it’s clean and not rusted — or just get a new spade altogether. Next, dig a small hole, which is about two to three inches deep around the area where the irises are growing. You should dig until you reach a bulb and then set aside the spade. Continue digging and uncovering the bulb with your hands and completely unearth it without damaging it.

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Make sure that you watch out for the following things:

  • The bulb may have some roots growing from it. In such cases, be careful and try to keep as many roots intact as possible. These are part of its growth system and can affect its survival and preservation.
  • Wear gloves when you handle bulbs. This is necessary to avoid the bulbs getting damages or being scratched by the ridges on your fingers and palms, and also to prevent any itching or allergic reactions from irritation of the skin.

Brush Off Soil

Next, you should brush off any excess soil that covers the bulb with your own hand or a scrub brush. Any soil on the bulbs and roots should be removed while still trying to not damage them in any way. After this, remove the bulbs from their original place. If you use a bag to transfer the bulbs from their point of origin, carry them carefully and avoid dropping or shaking the bag too much.

Inspect the Bulbs

If your bulbs have any damage or suffer from a disease, then you shouldn’t bother storing them. You should check beneath each bulb for any holes and other signs of disease or damage from a pest. Signs such as rot or visible infestation shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the bulb should be discarded. Any bulbs with signs of disease will surely begin to rot in the container and damage any of the surrounding bulbs.

Trim the Leaves

Use pruning shears to trim any leaves to about three or four inches. If your bulbs have leaves that are intact, then you should carefully trim them without damaging the bulbs. This will prevent them from drying out and rotting. It will also allow the bulbs to conserve any energy while they’re being stored. However, if your bulbs don’t have any leaves when you dig them up, you can naturally skip this step.

Dry the Bulbs

It is necessary for you to place the bulbs in the sun for a day or two to dry. The bulbs need to be completely dry before the curing process. Placing them in the sun allows them to be dried without excessive damage, as is the case with artificial heating. If it isn’t sunny on the days that you’re storing them, then you should place them near a window and continue drying them for about three to four days.

Step 2: Cure the Bulbs

Place the Bulbs in a Cool and Dark Environment

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It’s important to place the bulbs that have been harvested in a cool and dark place so that they can cure for about two weeks. Once the bulbs are dried out, they have to be cured before storing. This is to adjust the bulbs from their previous environment. If they are placed in an environment with a temperature of 21C with a lot of ventilation, they will slowly adapt to it.

It’s also important to keep them away from sunlight. Excessive drying can lead to the bulbs dying when replanted. Choosing a windowless room — like a garage or a basement — is the best for this task.

Store in a Shallow Container with Ventilation

A good storage container will have enough space to store the bulbs in a single layer. The container won’t need to have a lid or any sort of coverage because the bulbs require access to air. You can use a box or plastic container, as long as it’s dry and clean. Wipe it down to make sure and avoid storing the bulbs in layers because this will cause rot.

Make a Mixture of Sand, Damp Peat Moss and Wood Shavings

Fill your container with peat moss, sand and wood shavings. Make sure you use equal parts of each. This will cover your bulbs in a single layer. Then mix the medium together using your hands.

Coat the Bulbs in Antifungal Powder

Once the curing is done, you should coat your bulbs in antifungal powder or sulfur powder. This will prevent them from rotting. Remember to wear gloves while doing this, and also remember to be in a well-ventilated area when handling chemical powders.

Check the Bulbs Every Few Days

It’s important to check on the progress of the bulbs every day to make sure they’re not rotting or drying out. The bulbs can develop signs of disease after they’re removed from the ground. You should look for browning and soft bulbs in this instance.

Long-term storage can begin two weeks into curing.

Step 3: Preserve the Bulbs Indoors

Wrap the Bulbs in Newspaper

If you don’t have storage mix, you can use newspapers to store the bulbs. Wrap each bulb separately in one layer of newspaper.

Place the Container in a Cool Location

Place the container with the wrapped iris bulbs in a cool, well-ventilated location. Make sure the container is uncovered and that there are no pests living near the container.

Mist Drying Bulbs with Water if Browning Occurs

Mist the surrounding mixture with water if you notice that any of the bulbs are browning. Avoid getting water on the bulbs that aren’t drying out because this can cause rotting.

Discard Mushy Bulbs

Rotting bulbs are soft and feel less firm than healthy ones. If you notice one or two of these in your collection, you should remove them and the surrounding storage medium. A good way to check for rotting is once per week by pressing on the medium around the bulbs. If you’re able to press down all the way, your bulbs have begun to rot.

Step 4: Replant the Irises

After the irises have been stored, you should replant them. They won’t last very long in storage and so you should consider where you’re replanting them before you begin this process. Forcing their growth indoors for around three or four weeks is a bad idea. If you notice that a lot of your bulbs are beginning to rot, consider replanting them immediately.

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How to store (Iris)-rhizomes?

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How to Winterize Iris Plants

Irises bloom for a short period of time in early summer, then the leaves remain until fall to collect nutrients for next years blooming. Irises require minimal maintenance, making them a favorite in many home gardens. Some of this maintenance takes place in fall to prepare the plants for winter. Winterize iris once the foliage begins to brown and die back in mid to late autumn. This prevents iris borers from killing the rhizomes as well as improving the look of your garden over winter.

Stop watering the iris after the last blooms fade in early summer, or late summer for double blooming varieties. Natural rainfall and moisture is all that is needed at this time.

Let the foliage yellow and die down naturally. Avoid removing any of the foliage until it is completely died back or until the first light frost in autumn—whichever occurs first.

Cut off all dead leaves with gardening shears 1 inch above the soil surface or rhizome, if it is visible. Leave the small ring of new, green leaves at the base of the plant in place, as they collect nutrients over winter.

Inspect the new leaves for dark brown streaks, as this is a sign that iris borers have laid eggs on them. Remove any affected leaves but allow the healthy ones to stay on the plant.

Cut off any remaining flower stalks in the center of the plant. Remove them at the base of the plant.

Remove leaves, grass and other garden debris from the base of the plant. Brush away any soil covering the rhizomes so they are just visible at the soil surface.

Inspect the visible rhizomes tops for signs of rot such as softness or bruised spots. Remove any damaged or rotted rhizomes so they don’t spread infection to the healthy ones.

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