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How to prepare for next spring’s iris bloom

A large grouping of “Orangelo” iris from Burgard Iris Farms grows happily under the willows in Connie Pillsbury’s garden. A bed of “Poly Gone” and “I’m in Stitches,” hybrids of the former Scott’s Iris Farm, are in the background.
A large grouping of “Orangelo” iris from Burgard Iris Farms grows happily under the willows in Connie Pillsbury’s garden. A bed of “Poly Gone” and “I’m in Stitches,” hybrids of the former Scott’s Iris Farm, are in the background.

I became acquainted with the iris when Jack and Bonne Scott operated Scott’s Iris Farm in Atascadero from 1995 to 2004. They had such a show of their hybridized iris with magnificent colors that I purchased several of their award winners.

Those blooms still amaze me each April when they burst into full bloom, reaching upward and splashing color to welcome spring. They are true to their namesake, Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

From Emil and Catherine’s Burgard Iris Farm in Templeton, I have added to the Scotts’ varieties and developed a large bed of the Burgard’s hybrid, “Orangelo,” a dreamy soft, peachy orange that blooms twice a year.

My favorite tall Bearded Iris varieties now run across the back span of our garden for about 100 feet, along a low-railed fence that separates our yard from the Salinas River basin.

The secret to a spectacular iris garden?

▪  Plant large groupings of eight to 12 bulbs of the same variety to make a strong color statement. For example, create a bed of a deep indigo purple, then a bed of orange or yellow, and a third bed of softer lavender blue. Try to plant in a clump rather than in a straight row. Iris will do fine with as much or as little care as you want to give them.

▪  Fertilize them with a 5-10-10 mix in the first week of March, six weeks before blooming. After the three-week bloom, I trim the fans to eight inches, just because they look better that way, but it’s not necessary. Every third year in early August, I dig up the ones I want to propagate (labeled with green plastic tape during bloom).

▪  After digging up the rhizome, you will find a large central bulb, the mother plant, with small new rhizomes growing out of it. Break off the new rhizomes and discard the mother plant, which will not bloom again. Immediately plant the new rhizomes quite near the surface, cover with a little mulch, and don’t worry about watering until spring.

Iris are pest free, need little water and require at least a half-day of sun. When planted under a deciduous tree with dappled sun, they will grow taller and appear more majestic. Since the fans, the foliage, are not highly attractive the rest of the year, it’s optimal to plant the iris behind other perennials. The tall bearded iris will stretch up to three feet and give you a show worth waiting for in April.

How to create an iris garden

▪  Purchase iris from a catalog with accurate photos or during bloom season, April, when you can see colors. The tall bearded variety is the best performer, planted in single color groups for maximum visual effect.

▪  Be sure to plant bulbs in July or August whenever you dig them up and divide them, or when shipped from your iris supplier. Do not store the bulbs over the winter or wait until January.

▪  Plant in sun or half-day sun and in well-drained soil that is dry, not damp.

▪  Buy iris at the Burgard Iris Farm in Templeton, 840 Climbing Tree Lane, or through its catalog: burgardirisfarm.com. Call 805-239-1959.

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