Planting & Transplanting Iris Plants

Planting & Transplanting Iris Plants

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Unique and upright, the dramatic Iris plant is an incredibly versatile and adaptable ornamental perennial that has captivated gardeners for centuries! Gently spreading and colonizing areas in your garden and adding an elegant touch anywhere it is planted, the Iris is a garden standard with all the modern advances and resistances needed for today's urban environments. 

There are so many varieties of Iris these days that it is enough to make your head spin! From the most blinding pure white blooms to the deepest darkest near black and every color range and combination you can imagine in between! These include some of the true-blue flowers on the market today! Perhaps that’s how they got the name ‘Iris’ which stems from a Greek word used

 to describe a rainbow.

We know you will want as many of these spring-to-summer-blooming perennial plants in your garden as possible so that you can fill your outdoor world and your indoor floral arrangements

with vertical elegant color! 

So it’s important to know how to care for these great plants and how to plant, divide and transplant them!

The Mighty Iris

Found growing ornamentally in gardens dating back to 1469 B.C. in King Thutmose III of Egypt's gardens, and documented here in the US in Virginia in the 1600s. However, there are also a great many native varieties that span forests, meadows, and wetlands throughout the entire continental US and even Alaska! 

The Iris is a versatile spreading perennial that colonizes areas both moist/wet to average soil locations by way of underground rhizomes. These rhizomes are actually modified stems where roots form from and new plants shoot up, while also acting like a bulb to store food and moisture underground. Dutch Iris is an exception because they grow from bulbs like Tulips and Hyacinths, which are also modified stems but are more similar to that of an onion.

This modified stem allows Iris to adapt to a wide range of climates and soil types, plus an incredible array of moisture conditions! The coldest USDA growing zones 2 - 4 suit these plants just

black iris

 fine, and they are equally adaptable to hot zones 9 and 10!

Sword-like foliage that remains upright all growing season, and forms fan-shaped clumps of green, to variegated green and white stands. The slender buds shoot up in late spring to early summer and often have multiple blossoms per stem. Each Iris bloom is comprised of 3 upright 'flags' or 'standards' and three spilling 'falls' or petal-like sepals. 

They can be ruffled, striped, veined, fuzzy, tow-tone or even tri-colored! Many are fragrant and some even smell just like sweet grape jelly! It's no wonder the pollinators can't stay away.

Basic Iris Care & Location

Iris plants should be planted in an area with full direct sunlight. While some Iris can tolerate partial shade, you’ll notice the blooms will not be as large or last as long as plants that are in at least 6 hours of direct light a day.

  • Japanese Iris tolerates sandy and clay soil, so long as it is well-drained
  • German Bearded Iris does best in sharply drained soils that won’t ever have standing water
  • Bearded Iris is also highly drought tolerant once established 
  • Native or Louisiana Iris is a carefree and easy-going native wildflower of North America and tolerates a wide range of soil and moisture conditions
  • Siberian and Flag Iris love moisture and occasionally wet soils 
  • There are even reblooming Iris like Eternal Bliss and some Tall Bearded Iris
  • Many tolerate being planted under and around Black Walnut trees and juglone
  • Iris are deer-resistant perennials - usually passed by except when desperate 

Careful attention to moisture and well-drained soil is necessary to prevent the bulbs or rhizomes from rotting. If poor drainage is suspected, mound up the soil to create a berm 18-24 inches higher than the surrounding soil and plant into that mound.

It is recommended to divide Iris, or clean out old rhizomes, every 3-5 years to keep the clumps smaller and stress-free.

best bet iris

When the foliage dies back in the late autumn and turns brown/tan, then it is time to remove it. Gently tug any old brown leaves clear from the roots and trim away any stubborn ones to about 3 inches above the ground. Pick up and discard all trimmings and old leaves to prevent harboring mold and disease. Sanitation is very important. Mulch the site well in preparation for winter snow. 

Transplanting New or Established Iris Plants

Nature Hills offers Iris in both container forms during the growing season and as bareroot (dormant) selections now for fall through early spring planting. While best planted in the autumn as you would other fall-planted ephemerals and Peony roots, you will still have a successful transplant during other times of the year with proper attention and care.

Bareroot Iris will arrive at your doorstep dormant and grow the next spring. However, potted Iris arrive in leaf and you may enjoy a bloom or two their first summer in the ground, but let those roots settle in before you see a great display the following year.

Planting Bulb Form Iris

The Iris x hollandica or Dutch Iris arrives in bulb form and is planted just like planting any other bulb plant. Preferably in the autumn so they can enjoy warm soil and cool fall air to form strong root systems. Planting depth is generally 3 to 5-inches deep and apart, keeping the pointed side up, backfilling with well-draining topsoil, and then watered in well until the ground freezes.

Often naturalizing and fragrant, these spring delights are favorites of florists. Let them be free in a small wildflower or prairie setting, Rock Garden, around water features or for general garden use. Create groupings or winding rows throughout your planting beds where they politely spread and fill in all the gaps.

Rhizomatous Iris iris rhizome

When transplanting Iris that arrive in rhizome forms, such as your Siberian, Japanese and Bearded Iris varieties, be sure to not plant them too deep. Work a handful of bone meal or slow-release organic fertilizer below the roots, then plant so the top of each rhizome is just an inch or so below the soil surface. You’ll see the bumps or shoots of next year's leaves on one side, so be sure to plant with those facing up. The upper 1/3 of the rhizome should be exposed to sunlight. 

Basic Planting & Location for Iris

  • Select a sunny spot with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day
  • Choose an area where the soil is well-drained
  • Dig a hole about a foot across and deep (or the depth and width of your pot)
  • Add fertilizer or bonemeal at this time
  • Mound soil up in the bottom of the hole back up to about 8 inches or so
  • Lay the rhizome horizontally on top of that mound to check the depth
  • So very important that the top one-third of that rhizome will be exposed to the sunlight
  • Spread the roots out around that mound and backfill the hole with your soil
  • Tamp down to remove air pockets
  • Thoroughly water the soil to settle it around the roots
  • Mulch with some sand mixed with a bit of Arborist wood chips just to keep the roots from heaving during the winter

Careful attention to only water the Iris when it gets dry or they will rot if too wet for too long. Although some Iris love standing water, most do best in moist, well-drained locations. 

Iris that can grow in water include Siberian Iris varieties and both Yellow and Blue Flag Iris. Tuck these plants into your Rain Gardens or that soggy area where the gutters always drain!

When it gets cold, top with a layer of clean, dry leaves, compost or a few inches of arborist mulch over the rhizome for winter insulation. In spring, pull back the mulch to expose the top one-third of the rhizome once again.

When planting Iris in bulk, it is important to ensure that all the rhizomes are facing the same direction. This will prevent crowding.

Transplanting of established clumps of Iris can also be performed if they are not growing well or seem sickly. Iris that are not getting enough sun should be transplanted into an area of the garden or landscape that will provide direct sunlight for the entire day.

The Harvest of Memories Iris is a great pick to add to your summer or fall garden to add a burst of yellow foliage. The Iris has a subtle, sweet scent that attracts pollinators to its blooms. This choice is a great addition to brighten up any garden and bring happy memories to all gardeners who plant it. 

Dividing Iris

Dividing Iris is a pretty straightforward process as well. It is very similar to the act of transplanting other plants, but there are a few differences that make it require more effort. 

Dividing keeps rhizomatous Iris blooming year after year and should be done every three to five years.

First, the plants must be carefully dug up so as not to pierce the rhizomes below the ground. Sort out your roots and gently wash the soil off with a hose. The rhizomes should be divided so each section has a fan of stems sprouting out, and a good amount of healthy roots each. You can dig up and divide your Iris clumps right after flowering is finished for the year. For Tall Bearded Iris, divide in July and August for best results.

Cut off dead flower stalks and shriveled leaves with a sharp knife or trimmers and then trim the remaining healthy leaves to about 4 to 6 inches in length. Check your rhizomes for any mushy, rotting, old and withering, and suspiciously diseased-looking sections and cut them out cleanly with a knife or sharp spade (sterilize your trimmers and spade between cuts to prevent the spread of anything from plant to plant). Dispose of these possible troublemakers far away from your garden. 

Once cleaned up and sorted, choose the youngest, healthiest and most vigorous rhizomes for replanting. These are usually on the ends or outsides of the older central clumps. Replant as noted above for Transplanting new Iris, grouping the young roots to include one or two of the younger bunches of leaves each. Tamp down, water and mulch as noted above.

Elegant Easy-To-Grow Iris! purple iris

Both formal and upright, space-saving and modern, and beautifully fun and cheerful, the elegant Iris is a must-have classic garden perennial that we’re sure you’ll love including in your garden this year! 

For those gardeners who already have a few Iris, you already know the ease and versatility of these delightful garden ornamentals! So start your own collection today for neighborhood bragging rights!

With names like War Chief, Jurassic Park, Glamazon, Lord of the Rings, Fruit Cocktail, Gnu Again, Celestial Explosion, Disco Music and my favorite colored Iris Social Graces, you are sure to have a hard time picking just one!

So head over to to check out all the gorgeous Iris we have available for shipping today! Check back often because growers are constantly offering new and exciting varieties and colors every year! We ship your plants at the right time of the season and at the perfect planting time for your area! 

Happy Planting and Transplanting With Nature Hills!

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