Growing Bearded Iris in the Deep South

Evey's Blissful Garden * Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Checklist to prepare a Southern iris garden

 

1) Select which bearded iris cultivars to order

2) Find a source for these cultivars and place orders

3) Plant the rhizomes in prepared soil in 4-6" pots as soon as received

4) Set the potted rhizomes in a partially shaded area to acclimate

5) Prepare the raised beds with soil mixed specifically for your new iris

6) Remove the small iris plants from the 4-6" pots and place in beds

7) Pray ;-)

 

Need some help with any of this? Then read on…

Links at the bottom of this page will direct you to sections to help you with each part of this checklist, with notes specifically addressing our special needs for the South. So start clicking!

 

Evey

 

 

 

Grow Where You Are Planted
The Quest for Bliss

 

There's an old expression my Grandpa Park used: "Grow where you are planted." Grandpa was a man of few words, but he communicated volumes with the ones he chose. From a very early age, I have fond memories of traveling from my deep south Louisiana home up to Kansas, where my farmer-turned-lawyer grandfather created a cornucopia of growth in his tiny back yard. My brother and I would argue over who got to be the farmer and who had to be the horse as we took turns tilling rows with Grandpa's old plow in the vegetable garden! I could tell that Grandpa was happiest when he was in his garden, and he wanted to share that bliss with my brother and me.

 

One of the things Grandpa shared was a rhizome of his favorite bearded iris: Cliffs of Dover (Fay 1952). With the faith of a child, that rhizome was planted in Louisiana. No one told me bearded iris wouldn't grow here, and no one told me it shouldn't be placed under a tree, and no one told me I shouldn't plant the rhizome too deep. Nope… that rhizome went in under the fir tree covered with mulch so that it wouldn't get too hot! Over the years, the iris didn't seem to catch on that it wasn't supposed to grow here either. Like clockwork, it bloomed every May… reminding me of Grandpa and happy times we were to share. That iris sparked a gardening glee in me that was seldom matched by any other activity. Though my parents weren't too big on the yard thing, I saved my allowance to buy annuals. I brought home a seedling tree from the woods and planted it in the most inappropriate place (and, of course, they COULDN'T cut down my "baby" when the tree did what trees do… and grew!). I created patches of green all over the place, with pumpkins in the side yard and marigolds running by the driveway. But the one plant that held my attention best was that iris. Miraculously, it went through its yearly cycle of bloom and decline, a tiny little teacher with the message that all things have a time; that even when things look stark and ugly, beauty can be just around the corner; and that with enough love and attention, you CAN grow where you are planted. Every year, Grandpa would get the word that the iris had bloomed, up until May 3, 1975, when it bloomed on the day Grandpa died.

Sadly, the college years took a toll on old Cliff. My beautiful iris did not survive when I was no longer there to care for it. But the memory of its beauty and the bliss I felt in Grandpa's garden stayed with me as I moved from home to home, always searching for the "perfect" thing to plant for absolute joy. At our first home, it was perennials and roses. Our second home was the years of azaleas, cultivated wildflowers, flowering trees and woodland plants. I also discovered the instant thrill of container gardening there. Home #3 brought the fish pond and fountains. Our Louisiana iris were carefully dug with each move and brought along for the journey. We are now in our fourth home… and this is where we plan to stay for good. The yard is smaller, but we have spots of shade, spots of full sun, and spots in between. Best of all, the beds that existed when we purchased the home were horrendous, so they could be completely ripped out guilt-free. I had an empty canvas!!! In went the Louisiana iris. In went the roses and perennials. In went the azaleas, woodland plants, and containers. In went the fish pond and fountains. In fact, in went everything I'd ever dreamed of playing with in yards of the past. Everything, that is, except the bearded iris. Soooo, here we were, full circle. Without that childhood faith, it was easy to be discouraged by the local gardening gurus who were certain that bearded iris will not thrive in our heat and humidity. But with the words of my Grandpa ringing in my ears, I knew it was time for me to quit wishing and begin the great experiment of finding the bearded iris cultivars that WILL grow in the deep South. New cultivars have been introduced that just might make it. Rebloomers actually enjoy a bit more moisture, and a few Southern hybridizers have added their creations to the mix. New gardening products have been introduced to fight a host of problems that might occur. Soil testing, water analysis, bio analysis… it's all at my fingertips. Even if my irises never rival those of the more northerly regions, the personal growth, knowledge, friends I have met through research and correspondence, and beauty of those flowers that do bloom here have all helped me grow where I am planted.

This website was born out of my desire to share that growth along the way. I welcome any suggestions or contributions you may offer to help in this endeavor. Below you will find links to a directory with photos and details of every cultivar that was included in my original experiment. The selection process was limited to those cultivars that were reported as good bloomers in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 or above, as well as those that were hybridized in the South. Over the years, I will update the website as cultivars are added or removed from the garden. In this way, I hope to create a reference for other Southern gardeners, so that we may accurately identify those cultivars that can succeed in our heat and humidity and those that cannot. I have also compiled information on bearded iris culture, editing it to create a planting guide for deep South gardens. Finally, I have included a list of links to many other iris-related sites. I invite you to explore what is offered here.

 

 



NOTES FROM THE GARDENER:

MARCH (year 1) - Iris bug hit hard as the short-lived blooms of our Louisiana iris once again made me wish for rows and rows of bearded iris!

APRIL - Wishes turned to action as I began researching and ordering cultivars that were more tolerant of heat and high humidity.

APRIL to JUNE - Corresponded with several irisarians to learn as much as I could!

JUNE - Learned more about garden products that will help alleviate Deep South iris problems, including horticultural vermiculite and available granular fungicides.

JULY - Rhizomes started arriving and were planted in 4" pots to acclimate, per Mr. Walter Moores' suggestion.

SEPTEMBER - Prepared the garden with appropriate soil and amendments.

OCTOBER - Planted acclimated rhizomes in the garden.

MARCH (year 2) - Checked rhizomes for level in soil and incidence of rot. Analyzed plant performance and noted any blooms (knowing that many cultivars will not bloom until after they have spent a full year in the garden). Decided which ones to keep, which ones to toss, and which ones to add. Perused the catalogs, placed new orders and started the process over again!

 

 

 

A Very Special Thank You

 

 I would like to thank Mr. Walter Moores, pictured at left with his cultivar, ASCII ART, evaluating the last bloom on the stalk at an AIS Convention in Ft. Worth (photo by Anthony Lange). Mr. Moores has been the most knowledgeable, most helpful and kindest person I have encountered while researching for this website and preparing a strategy for my bearded iris garden. His encouragement and advice got me off to a wonderful start, and I truly appreciate his time and his very giving spirit.

 

Thank you!!! Evey

 

 

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